The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) is known for many things: A diverse student population. High achieving students every year. Successful alumni dating back to the district’s founding.
This year, it became known for something not often considered. In February 2019, DCSD became the home of the Class 4A-5A State Champions in girls’ swimming.
Chamblee Charter High School’s Lady Bulldog swim team claimed its first state title in February, marking the first state swim title for DCSD since 1987. The Lady Bulldogs defeated local rivals St. Pius at Georgia Tech’s McCauley Aquatic Center, fulfilling a destiny four years in the making for a program known for being welcoming, hardworking, and supportive.
“This is a great thing for DeKalb County, for Chamblee,” said Lorri Reynolds, head coach for the Lady Bulldogs for the past six years. “It’s one of those surreal things. It’s your ultimate goal, it’s always there. And when it happens, it’s like, ‘Wow, we did it.’ It still hasn’t sunk in yet.”
According to Reynolds, Chamblee’s girls swim team—amounting to approximately 150 students—is one of the largest in the state of Georgia. Together with Chamblee Middle teacher and fellow coach, Greg Valley, the team has a policy of welcoming anyone willing to jump in a pool and compete.
“If you can swim, we can work with you,” Reynolds said. “Getting that many kids—it’s all about making them feel part of something. It’s challenging, but it’s something we do very well. We recognize personal bests—that’s something we celebrate and make a big deal out of every meet.”
This foundation has provided a great platform for Chamblee’s elite group of swimmers, made up of Jade Foelske, Teresa Maloney, Kyla Maloney, Sophie Bell, Anna Blankenship, Catherine Smart, and Hannah Heetderks. These swimmers also compete as part of Dynamo Swim Club, a year-round swim team headquartered in Chamblee.
According to Reynolds and Valley, these swimmers often train on their own time—and in their own pool—as they require fine tuning rather than fundamental training. The majority of the swimmers, who have shattered record after record in Chamblee’s rich swimming heritage, have been in the pool since age four.
The swimmers’ self-motivation, hardworking attitude, and natural leadership also allow them to stand out on the Chamblee Lady Bulldogs swim team.
“This is a great group of girls to work with,” said Valley. “They’re not only excellent swimmers, but excellent students, great role models, and fantastic teammates.”
Jade Foelske, a senior at Chamblee Charter High and competitive swimmer since age 7, has shattered every record in program history. In her career at Chamblee, she has claimed six gold state medals, which places her in second for the most ever earned in DeKalb County.
“My dad used to swim as a teenager. When he had to quit, he wanted his kids—me and my brother to take it up,” Foelske said. “It’s something I do every day. If I have a bad day, I feel much better once I get in the pool. It helps me feel more accomplished. It gives me a sense of balance.”
Foelske was part of the Chamblee Charter swim team that was named runner-up in 2017. She said it is amazing to return to the state competition two years later and bring home a state title. Foelske credits the overall team atmosphere, coaches Reynolds and Valley, and the system of support that never waivers at competitions.
“It’s really amazing—we have a large group of athletes, and it’s the largest in the state, but you know everyone,” Foelske said. “You cheer each other on at competitions, and it makes for an amazing atmosphere. It’s an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport.”
Foelske committed to Arizona State University during the 2017-2018 school year as a junior. She chose the school for the chance to work with Bob Bowman, the famed coach of swimmer Michael Phelps who currently coaches at the Phoenix-based college.
Fellow senior Teresa Maloney has a similar background and philosophy toward the sport. She, too, has swam competitively since age 7 and divides her time between Dynamo Swim Club and Chamblee Charter High School for practice.
Maloney’s parents also swam competitively in college. She says it was only natural that she eventually dived in and took up the sport herself. Maloney never imagined that she would eventually make school history at Chamblee Charter High School.
“It hasn’t set in yet,” Maloney said. “We it was announced we won and we were awarded, there was so much adrenaline and so many things happening at once. When we came back to school, teachers, staff, students—a lot of people I don’t even know—recognized us and said congrats.”
Maloney also credits the overall atmosphere within the Chamblee Charter swim team as a main ingredient in the team’s success. Being such a large school that incorporates students from throughout the district, it’s often hard to get to know people at Chamblee. Maloney said the swim team is often a great place to forge friendships.
“We always tell people and new swimmers that you should focus on having fun,” Maloney said. “When you’re having fun, there’s no pressure. There’s a saying: ‘Fun is fast, and fast is fun.’ Having fun is the most important part of swimming.”