There has been a shark attack at Hazelwood’s Shark Tank (competition pool) at the White Birch Bay Aquatic Center. The City of Hazelwood’s municipal swim team, known as the Sharks, devoured the team from Dellwood at the last home meet, giving them three consecutive swim meet victories.
The person who has made a big difference with the team is Coach Todd Ankenbrand. He has been coaching the Sharks for about four years. Ankenbrand also plans to coach the boys’ swim team at Hazelwood West High School in the fall.
“Now that my son is on the team, I decided to start coaching again,” Todd Ankenbrand said. “I coached the team once before between 1990 and 1994, and then moved to Chicago. We’re now back in Hazelwood again and I got the urge to get back into coaching.”
Ankenbrand points out that it was during the early 1990’s when they decided to give Hazelwood’s swim team the name of Sharks. “We were looking for a way to unify the team and to build the confidence of our swimmers. During our brainstorming, we decided to use ‘Sharks’ because it best described how aggressive we wanted the team to be in winning swim meets. And, the name has stuck with us ever since,” Ankenbrand noted.
It was a stroke of genius to name the competition pool at Hazelwood’s Aquatic Center as the Shark Tank to go along with the team identity. “But I have a few little kids on the team who are still afraid of getting in the pool because they think real sharks are in there. So we have to be careful about using the term ‘shark tank’ in front of the young swimmers,” Ankenbrand said jokingly.
Hazelwood’s winning record this season can be attributed to Ankenbrand’s coaching philosophy. “My philosophy is always about having fun. Winning is secondary. As long as they can go out, have fun and improve by beating their [swim] times, that’s what success means to me. This is what I tell the parents, which helps relieve the stress off them too and allows them to enjoy watching their kids swim a little more,” says Ankenbrand.
The Hazelwood Sharks’ victory over the Ferguson team occurred during the second meet. This was huge because of the big rivalry between Hazelwood and Ferguson. It’s been at least 20 years since Hazelwood beat Ferguson in a municipal league swim meet. Ankenbrand had a goal this year of winning the meet against Ferguson and his team performed superbly. “I’m so proud of them. They are a great bunch of kids and great swimmers too,” Ankenbrand said.
He says for the past several years, the Sharks have ended up in third place out of five teams in the league. His goal this year is to capture second place. They have four more meets before competing in the Conference preliminaries and finals.
Unfortunately, the Hazelwood Sharks experienced a minor setback by losing a very close swim meet to Florissant on July 24. The Florissant team has 206 swimmers that can fill every age group. “We have another chance to redeem ourselves on July 1st when we compete against Florissant again in a swim meet. This time around we’ll be having the event on our own turf in the Shark Tank. So we hope a big crowd of residents will show up at the pool to cheer us on to victory. Another major hurdle we face is a swim meet against Ferguson for the second time on July 11, Ankenbrand noted.
Although Florissant has a huge team, Hazelwood’s team is just as strong with at least 130 members who are good swimmers. “We have a good mix of kids, including older and younger. Our team is a little short on younger kids, age 8 and under. But we’re stocked full of teenage swimmers and they’ve helped us keep our competitive edge,” Ankenbrand said.
Ankenbrand’s advice to parents who would like to have their kids join the Hazelwood Sharks swim team is to come out in the morning during one of the team’s practice workouts at the Hazelwood Aquatic Center. Talk to the coaches and some of the parents. “They will find that we have a really good family atmosphere. The parents support their children and do everything they are asked to do. The kids work hard to improve their swim times and enjoy hanging out together. We’ve got super junior coaches who relate well with the kids. And, everybody helps each other out. It’s a fun time for all,” Ankenbrand noted.
To be eligible to join the Hazelwood Sharks swim team, children must be between the ages of 5 and 18. Swimmers should be able to swim one lap of the pool, free style and have the desire to swim and have fun. Parental involvement is essential for greater team spirit and coordination of activities. Those interested in learning more about the swim team can contact Hazelwood’s Aquatic Center Manager Jake Junghanel at (314) 513-5079.