Four days a week this summer, Anita Mosesman and her two daughters rise before 7 a.m. in order to get the girls to Gilbert’s Greenfield Pool for swim team practice.
It’s not always an easy task when you consider that school’s out. And for most kids, doesn’t that mean a break?
Not necessarily for nearly 1,600 Gilbert youth who are participating in swim and dive teams at four public pools this year. They arrive as early as 6 a.m. That’s when the oldest kids practice, many riding their bikes to practice when possible. Afternoon practices are offered as well.
It’s a summer tradition for many and a growing program for Gilbert’s parks and recreation department. The town boasts one of the largest summer swim team programs in the East Valley, with youth as young as 5 taking part.
“It gives your days some structure instead of staying in our pajamas until one in the afternoon,” Mosesman said with a laugh. “It’s not too hot in the morning and it lets them be outside and get some exercise.”
It’s the first year her daughters, Mayah, 7, and Adah, 9, are participating in swimming. Last year, the girls were on the dive team.
Though there are no tryouts to get on the teams — held at Mesquite, Greenfield, Perry and Williams Field pools — it takes an effort on the part of the parent or guardian for a child to participate.
“This pool is very competitive to get into, you have to register the very second it opens,” Mosesman said. “Yes, within seconds.”
Gilbert residents sign up through phone or computer registration. While Mosesman’s description may seem like a bit of an over-exaggeration, it’s not far off.
“There are 300 spots at Greenfield and all were filled in 52 minutes after registration opened,” said Sean Carlin, the aquatics program supervisor for the town.
This year, 1,587 children between 5- and 17-years-old compete on the different swim and dive teams, 156 of them in dive, Carlin said.
For a town of about 208,000, that’s a pretty good turnout.
“The parents and kids are the lifeblood of our aquatics program,” Carlin said. “They’re the ones who come out every morning or every evening, four days a week for nine weeks.”
While getting into the pool of your choosing can be difficult, the program itself focuses on getting kids active, Carlin said.
“It’s not too competitive, like a club team, but it’s not swim lessons either,” Carlin said. “We fall right in the middle.”
Since the program is directed at children of all skill levels and is meant to be fun, it’s not surprising that racing isn’t heavily focused.
“My kids aren’t super athletic, but they learn how to win and lose and how to focus on doing their best,” Mosesman said. “I tell them to focus on themselves, not on their friends or the person in the lane next to them.”
That’s the idea, said the Greenfield Gators’ head coach.
“It’s more than swim lessons,” said Brandon Lignoski, who has coached for the town for six years. “Even a child who is new can not only build endurance, (but) also come out of eight weeks in the program and know four strokes. Anyone can do swim team.”
The summer program lasts eight weeks, beginning right after Memorial Day, though a voluntary one-week “pre-season camp” is offered in early May. Meets are held weekly around the four different public pools. Because some pools host morning and evening practices, there are six teams competing against each other every week in swimming, with the Greenfield Gators, Mesquite Marlins, Mesquite Tigersharks, Williams Field Barracudas, Perry Piranhas and Perry Mantarays taking each other on in the water. Diving teams practice at two pools -- Greenfield and Perry.
In mid-July, preliminary and championship meets are held. The latter requires parental sign-up, while the championship is the only qualifiers-only event.
Many of the kids stay in the program summer after summer. Participation levels start to drop around the 11- or 12-years-old group, Carlin said.
A few of the kids go on to swim and dive for club teams. Many who do compete at a higher level return for the summer to get into shape before they start swimming in August, Carlin said.
“I love seeing the kids improve and to have some of my kids come back year after year,” Greenfield’s Lignoski said.
It’s also a “grow-your-own” program for future Gilbert aquatics staff.
“About 80 percent of our coaches come out of the program,” Carlin said.
With the tightening of the town budget, something most cities had to deal with during the last few years, there’s been a reduced aquatics budget, he said. But the goal has always been to keep as many services as possible, while also keeping costs low.
The swim and dive program and swim lessons, unlike other parts of the aquatics program, are self-supported, Carlin said.
“Aquatics programs historically lose money,” he said.
Instead of turning a profit, when a town builds a pool it considers its aquatics program to be a public service, subsidizing about 50 percent of the program, Carlin said.
“The cost for public swimming hasn’t changed much in 20 years,” he said. “It usually doesn’t cost more than 50 cents or a dollar for kids to go swimming. That hasn’t changed.”
As the summer heats up, Gilbert kids can still enjoy a public swim for only a dollar.
Michelle Reese contributed to this report.
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