From the parking lot of the Maple Street Park on any warm, summer night, you can hear kids laughing and screaming as they splash in the pool, no worries in sight as school is still ages away.

Last Friday night, though, if you were to enter the gates and head over to the lap pool, you would have found kids – and adults – of all ages and abilities competing in Essex Jct.’s annual community swim meet. Events ranged from 25 yards of butterfly to 100 yards of backstroke and everything in between. Swimmers seemed tireless as they finished one race and quickly clambered out of the pool to compete in the next one, participation ribbons fluttering behind them.

Annie Cooper of Swim with Annie ran the meet Friday night with a contagious enthusiasm that pumped up both swimmers and onlookers. Cooper announced each competitor as they lined up at their starting mark, knowing almost every name since she has taught most of them through the Essex Jct. Parks & Recreation Department. Cooper explained how grateful she is for the department for having a “yes” mentality and allowing her to run this event that brings the community together through swimming.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

While the event was considered a swim meet, the atmosphere was light and encouraged fun and participation over skill and performance. Cooper still helped out swimmers who needed a refresher course on a stroke and boosted their confidence as they prepared to jump off the blocks. Fellow competitors high-fived after every race and cheered each other on from the sidelines. There were no tears after any competition, only smiles.

Parents were also appreciative of the swim lessons and these community meets for the inclusivity they provide for their kids.

“That’s Annie’s program strength; it really gears towards everybody,” explained Lisa McClellan, mother of Haydn, 8 and Grady, 7, who competed in the meet.

Jeff Harton, father of Eva, 7, echoed McClellan’s sentiments.

“It doesn’t matter how bad or good you are,” he said. “It’s very supportive, and it’s a great atmosphere.”