The Angels League swimming group meets at the Waxahachie Family YMCA every Tuesday and Thursday and helps prepare young athletes with special needs for the Special Olympics.

The program is great for helping prepare the athletes who aren’t old enough to compete in the Special Olympics, said Jennifer Smolka, who is in her first year of helping teach the young athletes.

“They don’t yet compete for the Special Olympics, but they’re able to start to learn the skills needed so that when they turn 8 years old they can compete,” Smolka said. “This is a great program to step them into the Special Olympics program, but they don’t have to be in the Special Olympics if they don’t want to.”

Right now, the group has 10-12 volunteers helping teach the nearly 14 special needs swimmers, she said.

“Every swim practice they get to come in and stretch their muscles, so we are teaching them the importance of stretching before working out,” Smokla said. “Then we get in the pool and do warm-ups, which include kicking activities, as well as arm activities. The nice thing about this is that we use those lanes as gauges of who can do what based on their ability levels.

“So we have one side that have been swimming for a long time and are all independent swimmers, so they just go and they practice. Then as we go down to the first lane, we have more one-on-one youth who are swimming with each individual kid. So those are our kids who haven’t been swimming as long and don’t have as much skills.”

The group that meets at the YMCA teaches athletes who are as young as 5 years old through teenage years, she said.

Smolka’s son is one of the special needs swimmers in the group, she said.

“My son Jared, who is 7 years old, has mosaic down syndrome and loves swimming,” she said. “He has an older brother, who was captain of the high school swim team, and he just grew up going to swim meets and watching him compete. He just wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps, so we got to the point to where he was able to swim well enough that we felt this would be a great activity and transition for him to do.”

Smolka, who was a swimmer growing up, loves all the aspects the Angels League teaches the special needs swimmers, she said.

“I love the fact that this individual program is based on individual abilities and everybody is cheering all the kids on,” she said. “There’s just this great, little bit of competition because they do get to do races after we do warm-ups and learn strokes. They are racing and have those competitive pieces, but they’re just a lot of team play.”

The Angels League is open to anybody who wants to sign up. Anyone intrested is welcome to call the Waxahachie Family YMCA at 972-630-6179 and register their special needs athlete up for the classes. The classes go from 12:55 p.m. to 1:55 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday with Special Olympic swim meets being on Friday nights.