The Swimming Crisis in West Virginia

wesleyan-swimming-d-and-e-swimming
Photo Courtesy: Facebook, @WVWCSwimming The Battle of the Hills 2018

By Sarah Noll, Swimming World College Intern

West Virginia is best known for its country roads and beautiful scenery. When people think of swimming in West Virginia, they might not even imagine a pool so much as a river. However, the swimming community in West Virginia is growing rapidly. While it’s great that swimming is gaining more momentum, there is one big obstacle for young athletes in this state: a lack of pools to swim in.

Charleston, WV

Greg Olson was the head coach of the University of Charleston Swimming team from 1973 until the program ended in 2002. When the program was cut, Olson incorporated the college swimmers into the Huntington YMCA Charleston Aquatic Team, a program he had been building since 1976.

Over his decades of work, Olson has seen over twelve area pools close and attributes this to the high maintenance costs. The available pools are also old and outdated.

university-of-charleston-pool-two

Photo Courtesy: Facebook, @hycat.org

Interest in swimming has increased, but pool space has decreased. During his time as aquatics director at University of Charleston, Olson rented out the pool to other club teams, high schools, or YMCA teams to use for practice. Seven other teams along with his own club team practiced in the pool. Scheduling was difficult, as each team needed room to practice but did not have enough time or space to do so.

When the University of Charleston swim team was cut due to “the program not being one of the top 25 in the country” by the president at the time, Olson kept the team going by making it into an intramural team. Olson’s team got priority in scheduling, and the other teams – three of which traveled from upwards of an hour away – would get three lanes, another would get the other three lanes, and they would have the pool from 4 in the afternoon until 10 at night.

High School Swimming

alayan-thompson-diving

Photo Courtesy: Facebook, @hycat.org

This story is not unfamiliar. There are no high schools in southern West Virginia that have a pool in the building. All high school swim teams in that area have to travel off campus in order to practice. Only two high schools in the panhandle area have pools. In surrounding states, most teams do not have to travel so far.

Kaycee Wheeler, head coach of George Washington High School’s swim team, has to take her team to the local Young Mans Christian Association for practice. In order to get to practice, swimmers must travel across town six miles. The school does not provide transportation, so the teenagers must carpool in order to get to practice. George Washington High School is widely regarded as one of the biggest and best high schools in the state. The team has a roster of 50-plus swimmers. Wheeler describes the team’s current practice situation:

“We are at the liberty of another facility and thus bound to their schedule and plans. We can not easily host meets, because again we are at the will of the facilities we have access to and they are not always open or flexible.”

Although the team faces hardships in scheduling pool time, she says attendance barely affected. “My attendance is still really good, even though we have to practice off site and so late.” The high school does not get to start practice when they want. They swim “anywhere from seven p.m. to as late as starting at nine p.m. in past years.” Due to the late start time, Wheeler tries to keep practices short so her high school athletes can still have time for scholarly pursuits. Wheeler dreams of one day having their own facility so that the team could continue to build their winning tradition.

A Possible Solution

greensboro-aquatic-center-construction

Photo Courtesy: Greensboro Aquatic Center

In 2018, the University of Charleston decided to shut the pool down for good. The Huntington YMCA Charleston Aquatic Team and seven other teams needed to find a new pool in which to practice. There is an outdoor fifty-meter pool at the local state park. All it would need is a dome to cover and it could be used year-round.

Olson doubts that this solution will actually work. West Virginia state laws prohibit pool domes from being up for longer than 180 days. According to Olson, there is no way to schedule a time for the dome to be up that would work for everyone. West Virginia experiences harsh winters that last well into April. The pool itself is also very old and maintenance costs are high.

Despite Olson’s fears, the Kanawha Valley Young Mans Christian Association has raised the money to begin construction of a dome over the pool. Doming will begin in the fall of 2019.

Olson proposed a plan for a 50-meter competition pool to be built in a mall in Charleston, WV. He outlined his plan in a recent open edition for the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Although hopefully the doming will help the situation, more needs to be done. Wheeler believes that interest in swimming would only increase if more pool space was available. Because of the difficulties in scheduling practice times, young talent from the state of West Virginia is dying out.

College Swimming

howard-wesleyan-swimming

Photo Courtesy: Facebook, @WVWCSwimming

This is most apparent when looking at the rosters of college swim teams in West Virginia. As of the 2018-19 season, West Virginia University has only one in-state swimmer. Everyone other athlete on the team is from out of state or is an international student.

April Gitzen, Head Coach of West Virginia Wesleyan Swimming, had this to say when asked if she recruited potential freshman from in state: “Yes, however there is a limit due to the lack of swimmers within the state. Some years there is a great number of quality athletes while other years, there is not as many…overall we have better luck with other states and internationally.”

Out of 27 colleges and universities in West Virginia, only seven have swimming teams, and only two have both swimming and diving. In the last four years, one of those programs – Wheeling Jesuit University – was cut due to lack of funding. The school itself will be shutting down in the next three years.

The Bottom Line

What does this all mean? West Virginia needs more pool space. Although West Virginia University is building a brand new facility, it will mainly only help those in the northern part of the state. Those in the middle and southern areas will continue to have to fight for pool time.

What do you think are possible solutions to the problem? Leave your comments below!

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

60 comments

  1. Ryan Radcliff

    “There are no high schools in West Virginia that have a pool in the building. “ This is a false statement.

    • Michael White

      Ryan Radcliff I noticed that, too. I think this is supposed to be framed for southern WV.

      • avatar
        Lisa

        Water, is an issue everywhere( i live in south east pa)… high maintenance costs, communities, schools unwilling to support… mindsets need to change of the added value pools bring to ” everyone”

        We too have schools practicing from 8-10 at nite…. we have had major pool( 25-35 mil)complexes proposed in the area, and one by one they fail to materialize, difficult to find financial backing. Schools wont build and one by one older pools need overhauls and lack the funds…
        Sad, but it seems funds would rather be diverted to football stadiums, and fieldhouses rather than aquatic facilites.
        … find private donors?……

    • avatar
      Kristy Kinzer

      Thank you for pointing that out, Michael. That portion of the article has now been corrected!

    • avatar
      Donna H

      Brooke High School and Wheeling Park have their own pools…I’m pretty sure although I could be wrong. They are both in the northern panhandle.

    • avatar
      Ann Shetzer

      It says there are none in SOUTHERN West Virginia.

    • avatar
      Will

      The article did not say no high school pools in the state, it said no high school pools in southern WV, two panhandle schools have pools.
      I don’t have a solution, but we have traveled all over the country for our daughters swimming and have been in several high school aquatic facilities that are larger and nicer than both WVU & Marshall Universities NCAA Div I.

    • avatar
      Lance

      That’s not what was written, it said “southern West Virginia”

      • avatar
        Swim mom

        If you read the original article, it said no schools. After several people pointed out that that was wrong, the article was corrected.

  2. avatar
    Michael White

    “There are no high schools in West Virginia that have a pool in the building. All high school swim teams have to travel off campus in order to practice. ”

    This not accurate. Southern WV has no high schools with pools on campus. The northern panhandle has two.

    But the message conveyed, that swimming is dying in the state, is spot on nonetheless.

  3. avatar
    Matt

    Not problem specific to WVA. Lack of quality pool time is prevalent in many areas. It’s common in NE Ohio to see high school teams practicing well past 8pm and in facilities not designed with competitive swimming in mind (ie pool temps in mid 80’s). The more rural the area, the more of an issue this becomes.
    It would be nice to see counties support, along with the communities and school systems within the county, come together to build strategically located facilities that could accommodate multiple HS teams and in the off season adult and child learn to swim programs as well as rec or USA club teams.

  4. avatar
    Trevor Trimpe

    Beckley Y was/is building a new pool, but the last I heard it was gonna be six lanes so two six lane pools in Beckley , ughhh! I was the head coach at West Virginia Tech for the 17-18 season. Tried my best to convince the Y to build an 8 laner but apparently square footage of the facility was the underlying issue.

  5. Doug Schack

    “State law prohibits a dome to be up for more than 180 days”. Why? When will we be tired of governmental overreach?

  6. Neil Morgan

    I find it strange the way swimming clubs work in the US. Here in the UK, most schools aren’t lucky enough to have a pool at all, and if they do, it might be smaller than 25m and only have a few lanes.

    Most swimming clubs in the UK aren’t linked to schools at all, and are based in public pools, where they have to have time allocated specifically for the club. In the case of my club, we are based in multiple pools, based on availability and which squad is training.

    Does accessibility to swimming clubs mostly stop (or become very difficult) upon leaving school/college in the US? I rarely hear of teams that train outside of the school/college system, but I don’t live there, so it might be that it happens a lot and I just don’t know about it.

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      At least in my area, a lot of clubs practice at high school or college pools and most of the members are also member so of the high school or college clubs that run the facility, and younger kids are those who are in the area or school district. YMCA pools are also utilized, but only by YMCA teams. Before doing research for this article, I’ve never heard of a high school or non YMCA affiliated program practicing out of a ymca pool.
      Thanks for your comment!

    • avatar
      Jennifer Peters

      Thank you for correcting the initial article. But the struggle for adequate training facilities and pool time is a struggle in the Southern WV. I am the assistant coach at a high school in the area and we share the local collegiate competition pool with 3 other high school teams. Practices start after 6 pm each day because of club practices.

      Greg Olson’s proposal for a pool at the former Charleston town center is excellent. However, marshall university needs a pool that can be converted too a 50 meter pool, since the current pool is too short for long course competition. There is ample space for this in the city of Huntington and could bring in tons of revenue when hosting big meets.

    • Val Acosta Mehta

      Neil Morgan there are a lot of “Masters” swimmers here -some clubs are more competitive and others more social. Some people swim for health and others to train for triathlon.

  7. avatar

    Though I agree with some of what you say some of the facts are off. Mylan Park Foundation, WVU, Monoghalia County Commission and the Monoghalia Visitors Bureau are partners in a 30 plus million aqautic complex in Morgantown that will impact much of the county and south west Pennsylvania. In addition the city of Bridgeport is building a rec center with a new pool as well. Both facilities will be geared towards introducing swimming to West Virginians. So we may not be at our best now but the future looks bright.

    • avatar
      Sarah Noll

      That’s good news! My main goals for this article was to raise awareness for southern West Virginia, which has seen lots of closures in pools but more interest in swimming recently. I knew about the new aquatic center in Morgantown, and I’m really happy to see more pools go up. I am from the Pittsburgh area, and I am about 40 minutes from Morgantown, but I am currently studying at WV Wesleyan. I’ve grown up swimming in PA and WV, and it’s great to see new growth, I just hope that more facilities pop up in the southern areas of the state too!

      Thanks for your comment!

  8. avatar
    Sally Wright

    Yes agree with Greg Olson that a dome on Coonskin pool isn’t the best scenario for an old and outdated, outside facility. The swimming community will have to come together with municipal, state and federal entities to build a facility that All can use, including high schools. A great example is Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center VMAC in Thornton, Colorado.

  9. avatar
    Ed Denny

    WVU had 2 in-state swimmers on the team with at least 2 more joining the team next year 2019-20. Pretty bold statement that Wheeling Jesuit will be closing in three years, where did that inside information come from? I would have liked to hear the thoughts of the longest serving college swim coach in WV, Patrick Snively from Fairmont State

    • avatar
      Perry

      They announced it themselves recently. Not a bold statement at all. They are closing.

  10. Laura M Wanco

    Try Cape Cod. We’ve got one pool.

    • Barb Pinky Knowlton

      One you can have diving in. Two of you count Nantucket.

  11. Melinda True

    We are from Springfield/ chatham area, we have 6 high school, that share a pool. Chatham althetics have to 10 miles to Springfield early in the morning. All the teams also have to rent the lanes, we had 22 kids last season and only got 3 lanes.

  12. avatar
    Kelly Chang

    This is not only a problem in West Virginia. On the Gulf Coast of Mississippi we have two public pools. Only one high school has their own pool. All the other teams on the coast practice in either one of the two public pools, a YMCA, the pool of a near by community, or one on a camp ground. Only the city run public pool, the private high school, and the Y have blocks, so only all meets take place in those 3 pools. For age group teams, the coast is down to two. A large city funded one out of the public pool in Biloxi and a smaller, parent funded one out of a non profit managed pool in Pass Christian. Every time money gets allocated for parks and rec, the state or local communities build more baseball fields, soccer fields, and football stadiums. Being a swimmer in MS takes incredible commitment because there is a lot of travel for both practice and meets which increases the cost to participate. We have not found a way to convince law makers that pools and swim teams are as important as the “big three.”

    • Ryan Monroe

      Jennifer Ann Raiffeisen Monroe I read it earlier. Very similar.

  13. Val Acosta Mehta

    Charleston SC faces similar challenges. No HSs have pools, kids drive long traffick-y routes in carpools to practice at their club teams. There are more than enough interested kids as this area is very rapidly growing but the age of pools and competition for pool time it’s challenging. It’s a miracle they do what they do. College of Charleston and Clemson got rid of their teams which really limits where a kid can swim in state at this point. There is no diving or water polo here anywhere save for the odd bit of fun at practice. My son practices in a 50m pool that is too shallow for dive starts so do your best at meets, and they have so little short course pool time they use turning boards at 25 m to get more usage out of lanes-makes stroke count tough for kids who are really looking for college recruitment. One new pool is being built quite cleverly next to a big high school but it’s too far (especially given traffic at time kids would go) for some of the big club teams to drive too. And no support for new infrastructure here. I feel for folks in the other CHS.

    • Joris Montero

      Val Acosta Mehta check out Charleston Water Polo

  14. James Ash

    Terrible. Schools and Parks need funding to keep these pools open, maintained and replaced when out dated. That all takes money. Time to elect some swimmers!

  15. Eileen Hirschy Cordon

    Same at my kids school in SoCal we rent a timeframe at a pool at a nearby water-park takes 30 min by bus to get there and no ride back to school we do the same with waterpolo but we have no diving available due to pool depth yet we competed and place in the southern conference CIF this year in swim and girls and boys waterpolo against teams that had their own pool and would have practices before and after school

  16. avatar
    Scott

    As far as I know, there is no plan to close Wheeling Jesuit in three years. Yes they are having financial problems and they may ultimately close, but I don’t know of any plan to close in three years.

  17. This is a Nationwide problem. NC is a powerhouse for swimming and the number of pools is pitiful. Charlotte NC has several amazing USA teams with little practice space and the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center is the pits for a city the size of Charlotte.

  18. avatar
    Swimmer girl

    So much more to this story. Way more. Look at the quality of many of the college programs. Yes they’re a crises

  19. avatar
    Swimmer girl

    So much more to this story. Way more. Look at the quality of many of the college programs. Yes there is problem

    April is amazing. One of the leaders in the sport

  20. avatar
    Why

    Some of coaching and facilities are not good

  21. avatar
    Anonymous

    I know this is going to sound very critical, and it’s not meant to, but this article does have several errors and would have benefitted from proofreading and fact-checking. Also, while I can appreciate that WV does need more pools, I find it hard to be sympathetic to swimmers in the Charleston area that have to drive 6 miles to practice when other kids around the state are driving much further. It’s obvious from some of the other commenters that the lack of pools, and available pool time, appears to be a universal issue. As for the comment that “young talent from the state of West Virginia is dying out,” and how that can be proven by looking at the rosters of the in-state colleges and universities, I would have to disagree. Does WV have the same number of high-level swimmers that other states have? No, but WV does not have the population that other states have either. This year WV sent more swimmers to Y-Nationals than it had in years, and several of those swimmers did quite well. The fact that they’re not on in-state college and university rosters is most likely due to recruiting and not because they don’t exist. The underlying reason for this article is correct. Yes, WV would benefit from more pools, but the “proof” of that was not adequately provided in this article.

    • avatar
      Sarah Noll

      You’re right, I should’ve dug a little deeper into the article. I simply ran out of time while writing it. At least we are having a good discussion in the comments! There is a lot more to this story, and I hope a more qualified journalist can pick up the story! Thanks for your feedback and your comment!

  22. Krisztina Napolitano

    Maine does not even have a 50 meter pool. We will get one in a couple of years one hour away from most swim clubs.

  23. Katie Wilczewski

    My alma mater (in Northeast Ohio) doesn’t have a pool either, we were (and they still are) at the mercy of our local recreation center, and we had to drive ourselves to practices. Meet schedules were at the discretion of the rec center. It’s a problem across the country.

  24. Jamie Post

    Lisa King Greene Nathan Durrell

  25. Susan L. Lansbury

    yet, they want everyone to learn to swim! 😔

    • Val Acosta Mehta

      Susan L. Lansbury everyone should know how to swim.

  26. Lyndsay Watts

    Oklahoma has the same problem!! I’m from Southern California, so it’s sad to see this issue here in Oklahoma!

  27. Pam Smith

    The major problem in WV is there is NO pool space- not just no high school pool space. No Rec pool, even outdoor pools are scarce and are closing at a rapid pace. The one major pool in Charleston was owned by a private university and has now closed the pool. We have closed the largest learn to swim program, lost pool training space for EMT/paramedic, military personnel all used this pool. This pool was also the major site for all the high schools (except 1 or 2) to practice. This doesn’t just impact high school and competitive swimming, it impacts the entire community outside of swimmers too. And yes, this is my community directly impacted.

  28. avatar
    Anonymous

    For a Swimming World Magazine Summer Intern, this a great starting article about the problems swimmers in WV face. After reading the comments, this has sparked a discussion of pool space issues not only in southern WV, but in other places around the country. Hopefully this helps get the ball rolling and action starts to happen. Maybe bigger journalists will pick this story up and dig deeper. Considering the limited time and resources you had, this article gives a good spotlight to a real problem in swimming across the US. Remember not everyone will agree with you, keep your head up! Great article. (Also, just because WVU in Morgantown is getting a new pool, doesn’t mean it will have the same positive effect for the rest of WV. Especially if they will be selective, from what I’ve heard.)

  29. Chris Tamasovich

    Even if more pools are built to accommodate the need where do we find the lifeguard to staff them when we are still in a national lifeguard shortage…

  30. avatar
    Drew W

    “The school itself will be shutting down in the next three years.”

    You have zero evidence to support this claim. Pure hearsay and slander. I’d advise you remove it immediately or adjust your verbiage.

  31. avatar
    Jenni

    We are on FLORIDA, one of the largest school districts in the NATION, and we don’t have enough pools. We have less than 80 lanes of public pool space for well over two dozen public high schools – not to mention all the other high schools. The area is begging for a state of the art aquatic facility with proper management (not municipality). I believe if you take governments out of it and let folks run these places who understand how to run aquatic facilities — only then will it be successful. West Central Florida desperately, desperately needs water … for club, high school, masters, diving, water polo, synchro and anything else that can use an amazing facility!

    • avatar
      Maureen

      I’m glad Florida responded In my town, we’ve produced Olympians and national champions but basically have done that in two 50 m pools shared by seven high schools and a multitude of clubs,Master’s swimmers and triathletes.

  32. avatar
    Michelle Mincer

    My brother Todd Roatsey was a champion swimmer for Greg Olson’s program. He went on to swim on scholarship in FLA and Finshed as team captain and record holder for the Butterfly at WV Wesleyan. My parents Peggy and Terry Roatsey began the first high school swim team in Charleston WV and they had 3 members on their team. Practice pools have always been an issue in this area. I believe indoor pools (plural) should be built at the Shawnee soccer/sports site. There’s plenty of room, and it’s all about community. It would produce a place for the kids to practice and compete. Not to mention the amount of money it would bring in for our state….. while providing an excellent place for meets.

  33. avatar
    Christina

    Not even the 4H camp in Kanawha County has a pool. They closed in 2007/2008 due to needing expensive repairs. They were raising funds but the last time I was there, the pool had been filled with dirt.

  34. avatar
    Maureen

    I’m glad Florida responded In my town, we’ve produced Olympians and national champions but basically have done that in two 50 m pools shared by seven high schools and a multitude of clubs,Master’s swimmers and triathletes.

  35. avatar
    harsha hatti

    Building a indoor does not have to be expensive or a 10 year process. For far too long we have been lied to by the large pool manufacturers and expensive consultants that keep telling us we need to pay millions of dollars and wait years and years. We had the same issue in the WV Eastern Panhandle Jefferson county as everyone in the country has. 1 indoor pool for 2 counties and 6 high schools. We decided that we could not allow our kids to be forced to swim at 5am just to get pool time.
    We came up with a new proprietary method of building pools and are building an 8 lane indoor pool inside a warehouse for $300k. That is inclusive of the pool, pumps, filters, drawings, permits, etc. We even exceed the health department guidelines for water turn over rate. I’ve included some vimeo videos of the 4 lane we built and a rendering of the 8 lane ones we are building now. If anyone wants advice or simple wants to talk feel free to call. We are currently in the process of building these for teams in several states.
    Coach Harsha Hatti