Op-Ed

Thank you, council members, for saving our city swim teams

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It all started in April with an online petition. That was how we heard about proposed budget cuts to Parks and Recreation’s aquatics programs. The cuts reduced pool hours, discontinued swim lessons, dissolved swim teams, and closed Picadome pool. The online petition drew almost 1,500 signatures, which prompted a press conference and a brief news burst, but little else. While most Lexingtonians returned to their routines, city swim team parents huddled together to pore over the proposed cuts and to configure a plan to stop them.

Calls and emails began pouring into the mayor’s and city council members’ offices. Phones at Parks and Recreation rang off the hook. Concerned parents voiced support for Lexington’s pools, swim teams, and swim lessons. We did this out of a shared belief that swim programs are transformative in the life of a child. We had witnessed city swim programs, particularly swim team, build confidence, train safety skills, and make lifelong swimmers out of our own children. We thought all of Lexington’s youth deserved these same opportunities. And we wanted our kids to get their dissolved swim team back.

Never underestimate the power of organized, outraged swim team parents. By the end of April we got news that city council members had heard us. The city’s two dissolved swim teams, Woodland and Shilito, would be reinstated for a partial season. The city’s remaining swim teams would have a full six-week season, spanning June and July, including a final city championship meet. Woodland and Shilito were given swim team for four weeks in June only. This was a good start. We celebrated swim team in June, and then brainstormed ways we could get July too.

After more emails to city council and countless conversations with Parks and Recreation about bake sales and sponsorship drives, we finally got some good news. At the end of May, a motion was made by city council to fully fund the Parks Aquatic programming, restoring pool hours and swim teams for the summer. Summer was saved! Or so we thought. As practices began, we learned that the decision to fully fund the swim teams had not yet been voted on, and was still vulnerable. So while kids practiced their strokes, parents made more phone calls. Finally, Parks and Recreation gave Woodland and Shilito pools the green light for a full swim season and a chance to compete in the city championship meet. Cue the celebration music.

How did the kids on a dissolved swim team respond to all of this uncertainty? At Woodland pool, the kids showed up and swam hard. Despite brand new coaches (all of Woodland’s returning coaches switched to city teams with full seasons), and a smaller team (some of their returning swimmers followed suit), all put in the effort to overcome. The older kids swam extra legs in their relays to make up for missing swimmers. Coaches went above and beyond to instruct while learning new roles. Swimmers competed in every event possible to give their team a fighting chance. The Woodland team practiced in rain, in cold (remember June?), and finally, sun. They had a blast; and they won some too. In the end, Woodland won three of their five regular season meets and placed third in the city championship meet. More importantly, the kids grew in confidence and ability as swimmers and teammates. Woodland emerged from the ashes of dissolution and matured into a formidable force of competition in a single season. I can’t wait to see what this team does next year.

Thank you city council for listening and for making this team possible. Thank you Parks and Recreation for making city swim teams happen. Thank you for keeping pools open and swim lessons going. Thank you for keeping swim instruction and competition affordable and accessible for all.

Shannon Randle is a speech pathologist and mom of four, including two Woodland Pirates.

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