The Coast Guard Blue Dolphins (CGBD) and SEVA Seahawks, two USA Swimming club teams in Virginia, have agreed to merge swimming operations under one umbrella, effective September 1, 2020. The combined team is expected to have more than 325 year-round swimmers and 20 employees serving Newport News and surrounding areas in Southeast Virginia.
At the 2020 Virginia Senior Championships in early March, one of the last meets before competition across the country was shut down, the CGBD team finished 3rd overall while SEVA finished 13th overall.
At the last Age Group Championships for the LSC, CGBD placed 5th and SEVA placed 14th.
This merger will follow a trend in Virginia of clubs combining into multi-site mega clubs. The club that finished 1st at those Senior Championships, NOVA of Virginia, is the product of a merger between two clubs: the prior NOVA program and the Virginia Association for Competitive Swimming, or VACS. The two merged in 2013 after NOVA previously spun-off from its prior club.
Other major mergers in the area include the combination of Poseidon Swimming and Burkwood Aquatic Club in 2015, though the Burkwood club 4 years later would ‘de-merge’ itself and resume independent operations as Hanover Aquatics. Several other big mergers have happened in Virginia’s neighboring state (and LSC) to the south, North Carolina.
Jack Bierie of the Coast Guard Blue Dolphins will emerge as the head coach of the combined program.
“I am very excited about the unification of the two programs,” Bierie said. “I feel that combining our coaching staffs and programs will have a positive impact on the swimming community and make us one of the premiere programs in the US. It has been a long time coming and I look forward to working with their staff and families.”
Bierie, a 1984 US Olympic Trials qualifier, joined the team’s coaching staff in 2006. He works under the club’s CEO and senior coach Steven Hennessey, who has been with the club since 2000 and served in his leadership position since 2008.
“Bringing together the talent, experience, and spirit of each organization will create a new chemistry of swimming excellence on the peninsula,” Hennessey said. “Discussed many times in the past, we have finally made it happen because of the vision, courage, and determination of the leadership of both teams. Unifying our programs is exciting for the swimmers, the families, coaches, and our swimming community. Working alongside outstanding swimmers, families, and staff as one is a dream come true for those of us who have labored long at creating a united program.”
Dave Henderson, the head coach of SEVA, also expressed excitement about the merger.
“It is exciting to start working with the combined resources of both teams including swimmers, staff and member parents,” Henderson said. “Together, we will offer expanded programming and achieve a higher level of competitive success. The combination of our programs will offer the Peninsula and Hampton Roads community learn-to-swim, stroke technique instruction, Masters (adult) swimming and additional options for youth competitive swimming. We will have programs for very young children all the way to adults that are well into their 90’s and all ages in between. The staff will become the most experienced not only in our area but in the United States. Our community will benefit the most and will want to be a part of the team. I look forward to being a part of a new beginning.”
Henderson has 37 years of coaching experience and has been the head coach at SEVA for 18 years. His primary on-deck focus is the team’s age group elite program.
Among CGBD’s most accomplished alumni is 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Christine Marshall, who trained with the Blue Dolphins in her youth until matriculating to Texas A&M, and continued to represent the club in USA Swimming competition.
A spokesperson for the club says that the conversation began in late January of 2020, before the global coronavirus pandemic took hold in the US, and that both clubs are currently back in the water practicing.