Three years after the first students began competing in a neighborhood pool, swimming was recognized last week as a full-fledged sport in Loudoun County.
The designation by the Loudoun County School Board was a long time in coming. School officials, fearful of budget increases, had referred to swimming as a pilot program and denied requests for financing.
But the experiment grew to three schools and nearly 100 student swimmers. The School Board couldn't deny its status any longer. On Tuesday, the board voted 6 to 1, with Harry F. Holsinger (Blue Ridge) dissenting, to allocate about $19,000 to hire coaches, hold meets at the Ida Lee Park and Recreation Center in Leesburg and pay for other expenses for the teams at Broad Run, Park View and Potomac Falls high schools for the next school year. The money comes from savings in the school district's health insurance contract.
"I am beyond thrilled," said Patty Demmon, whose daughter swims on the Potomac Falls team. "We're just so pleased, to say the least."
Holsinger said that he supports the swimming program but that other expenses, including some that were cut during budget hearings, should also have been considered once the $20,000 in health insurance savings was found.
"I wish that this board would show as great a passion for teaching and learning as we do for athletics," he said.
Other board members said they objected to Holsinger's remark.
Swim team parents volunteer at practices and meets, keeping score, monitoring the lanes and tracking swimmers' times. They have appeared at numerous School Board meetings to rally support for their children's extracurricular activity. Swimmers also have appealed to the board for financial aid.
"Swimming is a sport that doesn't discriminate by [handicap] or body type," said Colleen Pearson, a member of the Broad Run swim team. "I've taught myself self-discipline, organization and time-management skills."
About 100 Loudoun County students participate in the sport, which began in 1996 at Broad Run. A year later, Potomac Falls started a swim team, and Park View followed last year.
"It's a good program, and we have a lot of kids involved," said Louis T. Tiano, the health, physical education and athletics supervisor for the 26,000-student district. "I think it's going to be very strong in those three communities."
So far, students at Loudoun County and Loudoun Valley high schools haven't been interested in forming swim teams, Tiano said.
The School Board in the past has allocated $1,000 annually to each of the three high school, with other costs paid mostly by parent-run fund-raisers.
Schools were able to organize swim teams on a shoestring budget because the teams practice for free at private pools. The county's only public indoor pool is at the Ida Lee Recreation Center. It is used for meets only.
Park View and Potomac Falls students practice for free at the pool in Falcon's Landing, a retirement community in Cascades. Broad Run swimmers use a community association pool in Ashburn Village.
But there's new hope for pools.
Plans to build two indoor aquatic centers alongside the new middle school in Countryside and the new intermediate school in the western region of the county may be on the November ballot. The new pools, which would be maintained by the school district and the county, would ease one of the biggest hurdles facing expansion of the school district's swimming program.
Joseph W. Vogric (Dulles), the School Board chairman, said the board will discuss the pool proposal at its June 8 meeting. Board members have not said whether they support the plans.
But parents said they will push for the $7.4 million aquatic centers.
"That's certainly something that we're interested in," said Kathy Orchant, whose son is a member of the Broad Run swim team.