‘Tremendously Difficult’ Decisions Loom for Summer Swimming Clubs

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Photo Courtesy: Annie Grevers

With a wink, the history section of the Jefferson Swim League’s website informs you that it is “a not so brief” document. Over the next 57 pages, the lore of the summer swimming league in Central Virginia unfurls in great detail, back to its founding in 1966.

The 54th season of the league, though, won’t happen in 2020 thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. It wasn’t a decision taken lightly by the JSL’s board, one that affects 17 clubs and some 2,100 swimmers. It removes from the summer calendar a perennial tent pole, one that generations of swimmers (and likely their parents, maybe even grandparents) once enjoyed.

“Kids grow up expecting this every summer,” JSL president Chuck Fix said in an email to Swimming World. “Families plan their summer vacations around the schedule. We know the significance that JSL plays in our local community. This was a tremendously difficult decision for our executive committee and the entire JSL board.”

It’s a battle playing out across the United States, as communities try to stay safe from COVID-19’s spread. While USA Swimming has cleared its calendar months ahead, and the pinnacle of the swimming calendar, the Olympics, was postponed to 2021, few levels of the swimming pyramid hit as close to home as summer clubs. It may not be where you’ll find the Olympians, but it’s where swimming reaches the most amount of people. For those trapped in their homes during lockdowns that have stretched from weeks to months, a day outside at the neighborhood club is the epitome of a normal summer.

But like much else, coronavirus threats to upend those routines.

In the land of Jefferson

The JSL began prepping for the summer in March with regular board meetings. It’s around the time that coronavirus began wreaking havoc on American communities. The same week as the JSL’s first board meeting of the year on March 8, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency. Stay-at-home orders have since been extended through at least June 10

As sports, from professional to scholastic, began postponing and cancelling events, the JSL and other entities that had months until the start of their seasons devised contingencies. It started with a unanimous decision to cancel the league championship, a multi-day event scheduled for the end of July at the University of Virginia’s Aquatic and Fitness Center, thinking that would relieve pressure to get back in the water quickly. But as lockdowns persisted and as sponsors, citing the global economic slowdown, cut back their support of the league, adversity began to pile up.

At the April meeting, Fix said, club representatives were split on a season cancellation, with a 9-8 margin agreeing to leave the season in place. When they reconvened May 3, 15 of 17 clubs voted to cancel.

“We began to realize that we would probably run out of time on the season due to social distancing measures that were in place,” Fix said.

Far from alone

Central Virginia isn’t alone in having to wrestle with these issues. Summer swimming clubs all over the U.S. are trying to navigate what they are allowed to do by government and public-health authorities, and what they need to do for their members and bottom lines. The tug-of-war between the demands of public health and financial responsibility to members isn’t easily resolved.

The Coastal Carolina Aquatic Association in Charleston, South Carolina, has already called off its season. Ditto California’s Central Valley Recreational Swim League. Just Monday, the Northern Virginia Swim League, with 102 teams across 17 divisions, cancelled its formal schedule with the hope that clubs could arrange events on their own terms as conditions allow.

Many leagues are taking the piecemeal approach that the JSL did. The Montgomery County Swim League in Maryland, a massive league in suburban Washington D.C. with 88 clubs and more than 13,000 swimmers, scrapped its championship meet with an eye toward salvaging some part of the season. The Southwestern Illinois Swim Association and leagues in suburban Philadelphia (which cover three counties and comprise 38 clubs) have done the same. The All-City Swim League in Madison, Wisconsin, is weighing a similar move.

And those are swim clubs, most of whom follow a membership model. The question of retaining normal options gets even thornier around public pools, a less regulated and more crowded space where social-distancing measures would likely be harder to implement. From Idaho to Missouri to Florida, questions abound as to whether those pools will be available to the clientele they usually serve.

In an era where many people feel powerless in the face of an unseen enemy, the uncertainty over summer swimming adds another layer to the difficulty of the moment.

“We would love there to be some kind of a season,” MCSL executive board president Kathy Aitken told Bethesda Magazine. “But it may not ultimately be up to us.”

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71 comments

  1. Dick Beaver

    No, Swimming World Mag, it’s actually very simple.
    Stop the STUPIDITY, open all pools, and get on with life.

    • Craig Lord

      Dick Beaver no, Dick, it really isn’t that simple … really not, as a whole world of experts are telling you out there every day if you care to listen … of course, one way to get that done is for you to accept full liability for anything that goes wrong with your approach, all claims and legal costs to you … for years to come … good luck with that

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        Thank you for this logic.

    • Paul Murphy

      First person to get sick on your team during practice.
      Think about it

    • Jason Barnard

      Tucker Rivera I’d bet not (50) of them were swimmers.

    • Jason Barnard

      Paul Murphy Swimmers get sick all the time. Why do you think that this needs to be reduced to a zero ROI? For God’s sake, the recovery rate is more than 98% (probably more like 99%)! What are you scared of?

    • Tucker Rivera

      Jason Barnard 30% of people sick show no symptoms. Most swimmers have grandparents. Older people die at an alarming rate. We can’t open all pools at full capacity, it’s selfish and unamerican

    • Jason Barnard

      Tucker Rivera Then that is something that should be dealt with in each home! You don’t shut down the whole world because someone lives with their grandparents! BTW – nobody said anything about full open and full capacity. Stop over-reacting to everything and use some common sense.

    • Tucker Rivera

      Jason Barnard “open all pools, get on with life” doesn’t exactly imply moderation. People are categorically underreacting to the new world we’re going to have to live in. We cannot “get on” with life for a long time without endangering people.

    • Paul Murphy

      If you have seen what this does to human its unreal.. I lost two relatives,my nephew had it and I have 4 kids and two grand kids. I LOVE SWIMMING but my family is more important.

    • Jason Barnard

      Tucker Rivera LOL!!! So you just assumed and didn’t bother to ask for clarification? Be honest, unless you hear YOUR OPINION coming out of everyone else’s mouth you aren’t going to be happy. Just looked at your profile and realized that you’ll never learn. Your profile pic says it all. Have a good day.

    • Adam Rice

      Jason Barnard feels cornered. Watch how he lashes out.

    • Rebecca Lauterbach

      Open them up!!!!!! I will decide how to take care if my own damn family!! If you are worried and fearful then stay the hell home but don’t tell me what I can and can’t do!!!

    • Craig Lord

      Jason Barnard fearless sometimes means ‘stupid’, as human history shows us … meanwhile this from the virologist who discovered Ebola ought to make you pause and think … “Many people think COVID-19 kills 1% of patients, and the rest get away with some flulike symptoms. But the story gets more complicated. Many people will be left with chronic kidney and heart problems. Even their neural system is disrupted. There will be hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, possibly more, who will need treatments such as renal dialysis for the rest of their lives. The more we learn about the coronavirus, the more questions arise. We are learning while we are sailing. That’s why I get so annoyed by the many commentators on the sidelines who, without much insight, criticize the scientists and policymakers trying hard to get the epidemic under control. That’s very unfair.” https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/finally-virus-got-me-scientist-who-fought-ebola-and-hiv-reflects-facing-death-covid-19

      • avatar
        Julia Conti

        Craig Lord- Thank you. Yes, we keep touting 99% recovered, but at what cost? I cringe reading about the kidney damage that is occurring. Dialysis is no joke and lasts a lifetime or until a successful kidney transplant (which comes with its own set of complications). Add that to the new complications of heart damage and clotting and stroke disorders. No, summer swimming can wait for us.

    • Doug Schack

      Tucker Rivera what about the 80,000+ who were born? Life has a way of just happening. Time to get on with ours. When the British in WWII said “Remain Calm and Carry On” this would be the “Carry On” part.

    • Sha Oui

      Doug Schack pretty sure nobody will care when you drop dead either pal 👍

    • Swimming World

      Doug Schack really? At no point did ‘carry on’ mean ‘we don’t give a shit about the boys out there dying as long as babies are born and we can carry on living our normal lives and eating burgers and drinking beer and swimming and…” Carry on meant do your best; do your best for each other; do whatever it takes to fight the enemy and bring them down…and by doing so, doing your best to preserve our way of life, our beliefs and freedoms’. It didn’t mean ‘well, its ok if many die as long as I can go for a swim’. I can’t really see how you could liken your attitude to wartime ‘carry on’ when life was nothing like normal and food was hard to come by and your neighbour might disappear in a puff of smoke of an evening. Doug, stop it!. Those who carried on and survived did so for the best part of a decade before life got back to anything like normal; seems you want to give up after a month… – A Brit who thinks you should read a few history books 🧐 – Craig Lord, my personal opinion, one that doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine, the International Swimming Hall of Fame, nor its staff.

    • Doug Schack

      Swimming World the hysteria is rampant. Next you tell me that the “remain calm” part really meant to run about like your hair was on fire, and to talk incessantly about the topic night and day, day and night as if it was the only thing that mattered.

    • Tyler Kauth

      Swimming World stop letting yourself feel bullied in the comments of a Facebook post. The dude is selfish… act better than him. Sheesh.

    • Doug Schack

      Tyler Kauth someone makes a statement that is not status quo and against your thoughts and that’s bullying?

    • Tyler Kauth

      Doug Schack I said that the author is letting himself “feel bullied”. Good try though.

    • avatar
      Angela

      Agreed

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      That’s what really sad. The people that are fighting to keep these kids out of the water don’t understand that it may not do a lot of harm to the young swimmers, but you have kids that have been training for years, to make Olympic trial times, (and some of those times are now lost), and earn college scholarships…and when these kids are out of the water for long periods of time…you don’t just jump in and match your old times…it can take months if not years to get back…even with them running, and working out daily. It’s a level of ignorance that is not their own fault…if you don’t swim competitively…you‘lol never understand. We are smart enough to take care of ourselves…I have been taking care of my family for years…I do not need anyone to tell me how to do my job…if your fearful…do what you have to do…this virus will not be over anytime soon…there will not be a vaccine anytime soon…time to go back to our normal lives…and if some need to take extra precautions so be. A majority of the recorded deaths are in New York…why…because it did not shut down its massive subway systems (or clean them) that are Petri dishes on a good day…and let’s not forget how their governor returned all the sick elderly back to homes that were unable to care for them. Because the nursing facilities are not meant for quarantine…so they did not make use of the military medical ship…or the convention center makeshift hospital…or the Good Samaritan hospital…they sent them back to ill-equipped nursing homes. Yeah…blame the rest of us for that…that is wholly on New York. Making up almost 1/2 the deaths.

  2. Heather Thompson Uhlin

    We cannot stay in a bubble!! We have to get out and mingle. Herd immunity. This is crazy. What r we thinking cancel summer and it will b over?? At some point, life MUST GO ON!

  3. avatar
    Anonymous

    Tucker Rivera and Craig Lord
    Stay home and protect yourself. Wear your mask and mask your children. But your fears and decisions aren’t vomited up on Everyone. They are decisions made for you. If you are concerned for your safety and your health, you have the full right to not participate but you don’t get to tell others what’s best for their families. Sounds like to me you don’t want anyone to get to swim or participate, because you or your kids don’t. Quit worrying about what everyone else is doing and protect your household and your nest. Don’t send your kids to practice and don’t go to a restaurant. Stay home. Don’t have your kids play contact sports. Don’t travel. Don’t visit crowded venues. But don’t tell me what I need to be doing.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      No one is telling you want to do. How could they. You’re anonymous.

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        Craig Lord
        I’m anonymous because you have the power of the pen, which may empower you but certainly doesn’t make you an expert besides when it relates to adverb versus adjective or ending a sentence with a prepositional phrase. I will not subject myself to the ridiculous personal jabs that have taken place in this comment section. Your editor position, however, doesn’t qualify you as an expert to release an opinion on what is healthy and what is safe for others. Again, recognize as you give your opinions, others raise their swimmers in an environment that best fits them. Sign the waiver and take your own risk. If you don’t want to sign up for the risk, STAY HOME.

  4. Paul Anthony

    Put up sign “swim at your own risk.” You’re welcome.

    • Craig Lord

      But it wouldn’t be at your own risk, would it ? You don’t get to confine a virus to the pool and the teammates who ‘risked it’ unless every time you leave the pool you return to quarantine in all other walks of life or, like pro footballers, have a test before and after every session … ? Sure clubs would be delighted to foot that bill…. my personal view and question – Craig Lord

    • Jo Dudley

      The people that will be in the pool are the people that wants the be there.
      They will have the same information, studies and warning that Swimming world magazine have provided and posted.

      Your magazine have provided the information let the people make their own decisions.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      But it wouldn’t be at your own risk, would it… you don’t get to confine a virus to the pool and the teammates who ‘risked it’ unless every time you leave the pool you return to quarantine in all other walks of life or, like pro footballers, have a test before and after every session… sure clubs would be delighted to foot that bill. – Craig Lord (personal view – and a question)

      • avatar
        Bob

        Everyone there would assume the risk. Most people will not stay in their cozy little bubble. There will be a social end to the landemic before a scientific one. (Personal view)

    • Craig Lord

      Jo Dudley we are doing but the picture is far more complex than that … all decisions, both ways, affect others and outcomes affect policy, which will dictate if one can and who can swim … we are supportive of safe returns and safe sport counts – always

  5. Angie Shadduck

    In times of struggles, people really show their true colors…. the posts so far are kinda ugly. I am so disappointed for this summer. My daughter worked 2 years to get a cut, year around… her butt off.. finally got her cut to hit quarantine two weeks later. After set back after set back. At 14, she has more composure than some of you. Yes, she is broken hearted, but taking it in stride. Some of you, could learn something from her.

    • Marie Kopinski

      I am so heartbroken for all the kids that busted their butts to make their cuts, and never got to swim at their championship meet. I look forward to the day they can get back in the pool. My son misses it, and I miss my swim family.

  6. Sarah McNew

    I think the authors at Swimming World should continue to report information, but should remain neutral in the comments! If you have personal feelings, post them on your personal social media.

    • Craig Lord

      Sarah McNew if I wish to reply and sign my name I am entitled to do so and have precisely the same rights as you … Craig Lord … the SW responses are not ‘personal feelings’ … they are either opinions stated as such or quotes and links to factual news and the opinions of experts.

    • Angie Shadduck

      You know you don’t have this read this link or comment, right?

      Personally, I would love to see more about what coaches and swimmers are doing and how they are going to come back better after this is over. Former swimmer, swim mom and swim coach here. But, part of all of this is staying informed of what is going on, and this was part of that.

    • Sarah McNew

      Craig Lord That’s fine! And I agree! But you having an opinion is very different than Swimming World.

      • avatar
        Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

        Sarah, the SW comment has my name on it, too, with a rider noting precisely what you say.

    • Jo Dudley

      Sarah McNew – exactly! That’s is what journalism is about to Provide information.

    • avatar
      ANNIE

      Amen to that!

  7. avatar
    Bob

    There are only 2 ways a pandemic end. Science finds a cure or a treatment, which i think many treatments have been approved, or socially. People go on with there lives. We all need to make decisions for ourselves and our families. Maybe grandma and grandpa won’t be able to watch the meet in person. They could watch it live on YouTube or facsbook, but too take swimming away from kids and families with not even trying is disappointing. If you don’t want to be at a meet or practice don’t go. Let that up to the individual, we all can make choices and need to stop listening to all the scare tactics from the media and society. Its called free will.

  8. Megan Triplett Gordon

    I’m confused.. are we not buying mass amounts of Clorox And Lysol to disinfect everything… what exactly do you think chlorine is.

    Listen, it is swim at your own risk. We do it EVERY YEAR with the flu. If you don’t feel comfortable then don’t go.

  9. Melissa Grant

    Shouldn’t be difficult! Let kids swim 6 ft apart. Ridiculous that these kids are not swimming!

  10. R.A. Miller

    Swim on 🏊‍♂️🏊‍♀️🏊🏊‍♂️🏊‍♀️🏊🏊‍♂️🏊‍♀️🏊
    Can’t live in fear forever

  11. Julie Grigar

    My daughter swims for her HS (will be a senior in Fall) she’s only one on her team (no pool at her school) so she gets ALL of her training through Club…and does swim Summer League also…with no pool access or club swim or summer leagues she won’t get the training needed to compete in HS. She’s doing what she can by doing drylands via Zoom with her coach/team but they ALL need lane time.

  12. Edith Szabo

    If you wait until it is safe, THEN IT WILL BE NEVER!!!

  13. avatar
    Ian Skilling

    The funny thing is that those of you concerned about international events (Olympics etc.), if the US continues to be one of the worst on the planet to manage the virus, the rest of the world may not want your athletes in their countries. The international community is collectively shaking their heads at how you are so adamant to return to normal so quickly. The entire world is dealing with this. My kids miss their training and their teammates but honestly, if swimming is that important in your life that you would take such unnecessary risks, you should probably look for meaningful things in life.

  14. avatar
    Jeff Miller

    That’s a great coach…. think of your kids in terms of dollars and cents….. ROI…. that makes me sick.

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