The headquarters for youth swimming in Charleston will change addresses next summer, as its decades-long home will close its doors.
The University of Charleston recently announced that, due to planned renovations at the Gorman Athletic Facility, it will close the university's indoor swimming pool. According to UC, because of the pool's age, the university would need to make a significant investment for it to remain functional.
The university does not field a swim team, but it does have a roster of more than 500 student-athletes in various sports, so Charleston will re-purpose that space, with renovations beginning in August 2018.
With that, the community swim programs housed at UC's pool will move to the YMCA of Kanawha Valley. Among those is the Huntington Y Charleston Aquatic Team (HYCAT), which holds the annual City Meet pitting club pools around the Kanawha Valley against each other.
As for the team, HYCAT executive director Greg Olson said the plan as of now - "It's a fluid situation, he said - was for HYCAT to move to the YMCA under a new name and operate under YMCA logistics and policies.
Name changes aren't new to the organization, which started as the Greater Charleston Swimming Association, became SUN Aquatics in 1976, the University of Charleston Aquatic Team in 1992 and HYCAT in 2002. But the UC pool has been HYCAT's home for more than 40 years.
"Change is always hard, said Olson, who said he will not be making the move to the YMCA with HYCAT. "We just want to see the kids succeed. With our Learn to Swim' program that we started 42 years ago, we've taught probably 50,000 people how to swim.
"It's really gratifying when you have a parent come to the program and say, I learned to swim here and now my kids are learning to swim here,' he added.
The City Meet will be held once more at the UC pool next summer, but the options for the event after that are numerous. YMCA youth development director Cindy Hemsworth said the age divisions and alignment will remain the same, but they've tossed around the idea of moving the City Meet outdoors, having pools bid to hold the meet or holding it at a pool the YMCA oversees, like at Coonskin Park or Pioneer Park in East Bank.
"We're thinking outside the box about what we can do, Hemsworth said. "Nothing is finalized. We're just exercising a couple of options.
Changes are ahead not just for youth swimming but for prep swimming as well. Several teams use the UC pool to practice: Nitro, Charleston Catholic, Capital, Herbert Hoover and Riverside. Starting next season, they'll need to find a new practice site.
"That's something the schools will have to figure out, with our help, YMCA of Kanawha Valley aquatics director Collin Meadows said. "With [the UC] pool closing, there will be an even greater demand for an indoor 50-yard pool in the area. We'll try to accommodate all of them, because we want to keep high school swimming going strong.
Among the indoor pools the YMCA oversees is the former WVU Tech pool in Montgomery.
Hemsworth said she hopes that will be accomplished by next August or September, with the 2018 prep swimming season beginning in October. Meadows said there have been good lines of communication going between everyone involved.
"Ultimately, what we want to do is what's best for the swimming community, he said.
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