Coach Jorge Blasini looks on recently as members of the Kingsport Piranhas swim team practice at the Kingsport Aquatic Center. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
Hurricane Katrina dealt New Orleans a deadly blow in 2005. The collateral damage was felt far and wide. Jorge Blasini was one of the thousands of individuals affected by Katrina’s devastation.
“I had been swim coach at a private school in New Orleans for 22 years,” said Blasini. “Although the school was not directly impacted by the storm, a lot of changes had to be made in order for it to stay open.”
One of those changes was a reduction in the coaching staff. And Blasini was one of those coaches let go by the school.
“I looked around and saw that Dobyns-Bennett and the local Barracudas Swim Club was looking for a coach so I applied and moved to Kingsport,” added Blasini.
The tragedy of Katrina turned out to open a great opportunity for Blasini, but moving to the Tri-Cities in 2006 was an adjustment.
“It was a big change. There are still a lot of things I miss about New Orleans, but the Tri-Cities has grown on me. It’s such a great place to live.”
When Blasini arrived in the Tri-Cities, the Barracudas Swim Club had swimmers in both Johnson City and Kingsport. But when the Dobyns-Bennett pool was closed for renovation, the numbers in Kingsport fell off dramatically.
“We lost a lot of swimmers at that time so it was a struggle to get our numbers back up,” said Blasini.
Blasini used his Swim America school to begin the long process of returning the Kingsport swim program to its previous numbers.
“Last summer when the Kingsport Aquatic Center at MeadowView opened, Dobyns-Bennett swim coach Nathan Love and I saw an opportunity to begin something special," Blasini said.
Blasini and Love decided it was time to start their own swim club, and thus the Kingsport Piranhas was formed.
“The Piranhas train at the Kingsport Aquatic Center and at Dobyns-Bennett. Part of what we are trying to do is rebuild the Dobyns-Bennett varsity program and make it more competitive.
“Three years ago I started the middle school swim program in Kingsport and that has proven to be very successful. Once we get the younger swimmers interested, we want them to continue in the program all the way through high school.”
The Piranhas have 61 yearround swimmers with another 23 involved in the swim school.
The newly built Kingsport Aquatic Center, which the Piranhas share with the Barracudas and Aqua Jets Swim Clubs, has been a big plus for the growth of swimming in the area.
“We have hosted two big meets there and the Barracudas have hosted two and have another one coming up,” said Blasini. “Visiting teams can’t say enough good things about the facility.”
Additionally, the Kingsport Aquatic Center will host the upcoming U.S. Swimming Association Southeast Regional coaches’ meeting.
“There will be more than 100 coaches from Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia and Kentucky coming to our area,” said Blasini. “It will be an opportunity to let them see what a great swimming venue we have here in Kingsport.”
With several of the top swimming facilities in the Southeast within 200 miles of the Tri-Cities, Blasini hopes that the Kingsport Aquatic Center can become a part of the competitive swim meet circuit.
“It’s a great opportunity to get exposure for the facility,” added Blasini. “The community has been very supportive in this project and we know the U.S. Swim coaches will be impressed.”
The bottom line is to grow the sport of swimming in Kingsport and the Tri-Cities.
“We are trying to get more community identification for the Piranhas Swim Club,” Blasini said. “This is another way to make a name for ourselves. Coach Love and I are working together to build a program that benefits not only Kingsport, but the entire Tri-Cities."
For more information on the Kingsport Piranhas, go to their website at www.kingsportpiranhas.com.