By Jerry Reid
The constantly smiling Crozet Gators rookie coach Alex Rayle was seen last Friday and Saturday patrolling the sidelines at the Virginia Aquatics Center at UVA looking for all the world like a guy alternating between frazzled and joyful.
To the uninitiated, the epic championship event capping the Jefferson Swim League’s 50th season would have seemed a form of chaos, but it was instead a successful choreography of 18 teams rivalling the energy of a Broadway musical. This feat was accomplished in the face of high winds, downpours, lightning and thunder that chased all of the teams indoors from their tent city. The meet went on until the last swimmer climbed out of the pool.
For the Gators, the ending also put to rest the old saying that nobody remembers who finished second.
The team was a well-oiled machine, racking up the points without record-setters, instead relying on the depth and breadth of great coaching, excellent athletes and solid volunteer backup. Coming on strong Saturday afternoon, the Gators kept pushing, eventually closing in on leader Fairview’s 2,363 points with a strong runner-up performance, netting 2,195.75 markers. Their surge no doubt had the Fairview staff checking their rearview mirrors.
Rayle, a 21-year-old senior marketing major at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington who has already signed on for a repeat Gators coaching engagement for 2017, was ecstatic over the whole performance. His love of the sport couldn’t be clearer.
A former Gator swimmer himself, the Western Albemarle graduate was attracted early to the swim game in and out of the pool. “I started Junior coaching when I was 12 years old and immediately fell in love with helping swimmers and giving back to the sport. I credit that with making me the person I am today, giving back to the kids—it’s a great exchange,” he said.
Rayle was keenly aware of being the rookie, and knew the glory of Crozet’s big championship win in 2013, ending a 23 year streak for Fairview. Fairview has now won 25 chamionships in the 50 years since the Jefferson Swim League was founded in 1966.
“I’m not going to lie; being the new kid on the block can be a little intimidating. Being around some of the coaches who have been here for over a decade… I think I handled it pretty well for the most part,” he recalled. The response from the kids to this coach was obviously good, and the fact that he is still a student made him more like a guy who was one of them. Rayle has also felt the ups and downs of competition more keenly than most. He lost a year and a half to a hip injury requiring surgery. He can relate to the kids as a young man and as a disappointment survivor.
This year, the Gators won the swim league’s annual sportsmanship award. “The award is based on the results of a survey of all of our opposing teams rating us as a host team and as a visiting team,” CGST co-chair Nancy Addison explained. “We were so happy and honored! It was our first time winning as a Division 1 team,” The last year the Gators received the award was in 2003, as a Division 2 team, which was also happened to be Rayle’s first year on the team as a swimmer. The swim league is split into three divisions of six teams based on size.
Still competitive, Rayle swims the individual medley and breaststroke events for UNCW, which provides great experience for him as a person interested in coaching. He is completely sold on positive role modeling, practicing what he preaches, and is also an ardent supporter of sportsmanship as a non-negotiable. And he would be the first person to tell you that this sport is all about the kids, and his performed very well indeed.