Poplar Bluff Swim Team to start practice with hopes of having competitive season

Olivia Kirkman competes in the backstroke at the Junior Olympics qualifier June 22, 2019 at Hillcrest Park in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

Poplar Bluff’s summer swim team is diving into the season with a few unknowns and a few changes to keep swimmers safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shannon Bradley, president of the board that oversees the Poplar Bluff Piranhas, said the team will follow the protocols set by USA Swimming and local health officials during practices.

As for competitive meets against other teams, Bradley said that is a big unknown right now.

“Nothing has been canceled but nothing has been set in stone either,” he said.

The team opened registration this week on its website,, to kids age 4-18 who are able to swim 25 yards unassisted. The first practice will be Monday at the Black River Coliseum.

The Southeast Missouri Swim Conference and area teams are working to “develop safe, competitive meets for the summer season” but if meets are not available the team will hold intra-squad meets for the swimmers, the Piranhas said.

Poplar Bluff hosts the Amateur Athletic Union’s Junior Olympic qualifier in late June. The AAU suspended all events March 12 and has said it is evaluating reopening events in certain areas of the country.

The Piranhas also host a meet the first Saturday in June at the Coliseum. It is one of six Saturday events swimmers use to qualify for the end-of-season SMSC championship meet held in Cape Girardeau.

With a shorter season and the prospect of not having competitive meets, the Piranhas board decided to lower the registration fee this summer, Bradley said. To offset costs, the team is looking for sponsorships.

Bradley said coaches will not be permitted to be in the pool to assist swimmers due to social distancing guidelines. The number of swimmers allowed in the pool for practice at one time will also be reduced to keep everyone safely apart. Only three swimmers per lane will be allowed at the Black River Coliseum pool.

“Depending on how many sign up, we could have two practices,” Bradley said. “We won’t exceed 18 kids (per practice).”

With fewer swimmers in the water, the three Piranhas coaches will be able to have more time working with individuals.

When the R.W. Huntington Pool at Hillcrest Park opens, more swimmers will be able to practice at the same time in the larger pool. The facility is currently getting upgrades while closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

USA Swimming issued guidance for teams and clubs to use when holding practices so that swimmers stay at least 6 feet apart at all times.

The Piranhas announced several changes as well with swimmers who feel ill encouraged to stay home and anyone coughing or running a fever not being permitted to practice.

Swimmers are encouraged to come to practice already dressed, rather than changing in the locker room. Practices will be consider closed to spectators and parents.