The Starlit Swim Club, among the nation's top 10 swimming clubs for almost a decade, appears likely to fold after unsuccessful attempts to find a new 50-meter pool and home, club officials said.
While it may disappear as an independent club, it could join in a three-way merger being discussed today with two other local swim clubs. Such a merger could create what would be one of the nation's largest and most powerful swimming teams.
The resulting club would have about 900 swimmers and financial resources to build a major Olympic swimming complex in Northern Virginia, its backers say. The proposal is expected to be debated tonight by officials of the Starlit, Curl and Solitar swim clubs, according to Starlit treasurer Wayne Schobel.
The merged club could provide homes for all the coaches and swimmers now in the three independent clubs, but for the coming fall-winter season the clubs would honor the swimming contracts they already have at more than half a dozen area pools, Schobel said.
Curl and Starlit tentatively have agreed to the merger, Schobel said, and Solitar's board of directors will vote on it tonight.
The Starlit club, despite its national reputation and high team rankings in both junior and senior U.S. swimming competitions this year, is in financial deep water because of dwindling team size and because by next summer it would be without a home pool.
Starlit's home waters always have been the Starlit Athletic Center in Fairfax City, which gave the club its name, but the center is tentatively scheduled to be sold and demolished next summer. It is in poor condition and "turns many parents off" who might otherwise join Starlit, said Starlit booster club president Ernie Dash.
An Arlington church has a contract to buy the center and build a church on the site, on Little River Turnpike opposite the Pickett Road Shopping Center, if it wins zoning approval from the city.
Many of Starlit's swimmers, including some who made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and are expected to make the 1984 team, have begun looking for new clubs. And Starlit's well-known coach, Holger Dietze, said, "It looks like I'm temporarily out of coaching."
Dietze said that "in an Olympic year, it's a shame to see one of our best sports falling apart here," noting the closing of an Olympic-size pool in Alexandria last week--the Northern Virginia Athletic and Aquatics Center just off Shirley Highway--and the financial problems of other swim clubs.
Dietze said he had attempted to get his club into one of the two Olympic-size pools owned by Fairfax County but said the costs were prohibitive and swimming times were difficult to arrange with the county. He blamed the growing number of year-round public pools for draining revenue from private pools and putting them out of business.
Dietze has predicted few independent swim clubs in Northern Virginia will be able to survive the next six years without public support "or unless a sugar daddy comes along with $2 million."
Below the college level, competitive swimming in this country has been fostered by private swim clubs with little public support. Fairfax County provides pool time for high school swim teams and sells the remaining swim time to the public.
Dietze and a staff of four assistant coaches worked all last year to keep the Starlit club going and were paid only $13,000 in salary shared among five coaches, he said. "We cannot afford another year like the last. That was my year of charity and being a good Boy Scout."
In July, the Starlit club announced it was moving this fall to Burke Centre, where a new 50-meter pool is to be built in 1984. Dietze had proposed building a temporary bubble over one of Burke's four outdoor pools until the indoor pool is built.
The planned move generated great excitement among Starlit supporters, and brochures and T-shirts announcing "Starlit at Burke Centre" were distributed last month, seeming to give credence to the move. The nonprofit group that runs the athletic complex at Burke Centre, however, wasn't interested in covering an outdoor pool and the negotiations broke down.
Dash said the club "had set a drop dead date for itself" last week but that was before Dietze began merger talks with the other clubs.