Thursday, June 9, 2011
Recreational swim teams in San Diego made it through a wave of budget cuts this year. But one team could still see its funding go down the drain.
SAN DIEGO If you want to make it to the Olympics, you have to start somewhere. For about 25 kids at Memorial Pool in Logan Heights, that place is the City of San Diego’s Blue Level Swim Team.
On a recent Friday evening the kids jumped into the water, grabbed their kick boards and started warming up for their two hour practice, their fifth one of the week.
At first, 16-year-old Christian Garcia didn’t know if he would be good enough for the team. Now he says they’re like his family, and he thrives on the competitive nature of the sport.
"I like that whole idea of adrenaline pumping," he said. "You know, am I going to get first? Racing against your own time and everything. I like to be on the edge."
Winning races doesn’t come without a lot of practice. And Coach Art Gutierrez drills the kids on everything from stroke formation to their starting dives. He explains San Diego offers recreational swimming at two levels, White and Silver. Then it gets more serious. "The Blue (Team), which is only offered here at Memorial Pool, is actually licensed through USA Swimming, which is basically a competitive level of swimming," Gutierrez said.
USA Swimming is in charge of organizing the U.S. Olympic team. It licenses swim teams all over the country. The Blue Team at Memorial Pool is the last city funded competitive swim team in San Diego. The club level team used to operate at four different city pools, but budget cuts reduced it to two and now it’s down to just Memorial.
Twelve-year-old Sophia Greco has been swimming since she was little and has made her way up through the recreational levels. She doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.
"I used to be on Silver, and now it’s Blue," she said. "It’s a level up and it’s kind of more competitive, when you want to start getting dedicated to swimming."
But the Blue Team’s days are numbered. San Diego spends $15,000 a year to support the team. The city has agreed to continue paying for public pools and recreational swim teams through its General Fund. However, money for the Blue Team came from Council District 8’s discretionary budget. But discretionary funds aren’t being used right now because the city attorney has questioned their legality. That means when the current money runs out on June 30, the Blue Team will be out of luck.
The Parks and Recreation department points out that it doesn’t fund any other club level sports. And there are many private swim teams in town that offer the same competitive level of swimming. But many of the families at Memorial can’t afford them, and actually most of the families receive fee waivers. Adrian Gonzalez’s 8-year-old daughter is on the team. He said, apart from the financial aspect, the kids are just friends.
"She’s really grown to love the team. They’re kind of more a family more than just a team now. So to break them up would be pretty devastating for all the children. This is something that they really enjoy to do," he said.
And the kids on the Blue Team would argue their program is worthy of city funds. Eight-year-old Joel Sanchez took a break from practice and stood shivering on the pool deck, his swim goggles gleaming on his forehead. He explained why he spends two hours a day, five days a week paddling back and forth across the pool.
"I dream about going to the Olympics," Sanchez said.
And with that he plunged back into the water as his coach began reviewing the next set of laps. Soon the team took off, swimming furiously through the pool, as they’ll do every week, at least until June 30.