Feet are kicking and water is splashing as the Tahlequah Stingrays swim team practices at Northeastern State University's fitness center.

The team consists of 40 members, ages 6 to 18, and is a competitive, official USA Swimming club.

The Tahlequah Stingrays is an entirely nonprofit entity of the Boys & Girls Club of Tahlequah, with Coach Kevin Burns volunteering to lead the team.

"All of our fundraising, we have to do ourselves," said Burns. "The cost to be on the team goes straight to renting these lanes at the NSU pool. My kids are a part of it. If I wouldn't have volunteered, there wouldn't be a team."

Burns has coached the Stingrays for nearly three years and volunteers based on his firm belief in the necessity of swimming.

"Every child should learn to swim," said Burns. "You have to respect water. We're surrounded by it. With kids going to the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller, they have to know how to survive because it can be dangerous."

While parents can teach their children to swim, they will learn much more from a special instructor, whether it be a private instructor, or from a swim team, Burns said.

As an official USA Swimming team, the Stingrays compete according to the same rules as Olympic swimmers. They travel to Tulsa, Jenks, and Springdale and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and other areas for swim meets.

"Swim meets are always fun," said Stingray Eric Burns, 15, Coach Burns' son. "You get to meet people from all over and get to hang out with your team. It keeps me physically fit and is one of the best workouts you can get."

While the Stingrays love competing, it is entirely optional for members, with Coach Burns stressing that everybody swims at their own pace.

The team has mass tryouts twice a year, usually in April and September, but Burns offers tryouts at any time for anyone interested in joining.

"Tryouts consist of swimming freestyle, then backstroking down and back across the lanes," said Burns. "Swimmers cannot touch the floor, but they can take short breaks when they reach each wall. I want to challenge them. As long as they're trying their best, that's all I can ask of them. We don't use negative words like 'can't.'"

Burns fully embraces a positive attitude when the team trains.

"I grew up with coaches yelling at players all the time," said Burns. "That's not how I want to do it. A lot of my swimmers have self-esteem issues. I'm here to give them encouragement and build their abilities. I want them to be better swimmers and better people."

Another positive feature of the Tahlequah Stingrays swim team is that it costs less than many other extracurricular activities, according to Burns. It costs $25 for the first child, and $10 for each additional sibling, per month.

Additional, variable costs are required for competition, but are not required to swim and receive lessons.

Learn more:

For more information, visit the Tahlequah Stingrays Facebook page, www.facebook.com/TahlequahStingrays.

To try out for the team, call Coach Kevin Burns at 918-704-4960.

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