Pools connect neighborhoods

Published 9:45 pm Monday, July 9, 2012

I grew up with a lot of gunshots in my neighborhood. They came from the local pool.

In the Newport News neighborhood where I lived until the age of 10, I only had to walk out my back door, cross a neighbor’s back yard and a utility easement, and cross the street to get to the pool. I vividly remember the feeling of freedom I had when I got into my bathing suit, grabbed my towel and change for the snack machine, and started out the back door on my way to the oasis in the middle of the suburbs.

The one day I couldn’t go to the pool, though, was when swim meets were being held there. All day long, the sounds of the swim meet floated across the road, the easement and my neighbor’s backyard to taunt me — a single gunshot, then the sounds of cheers getting progressively louder toward the end of the race. In between the cheers and the next gunshot, the announcer would introduce the swimmers, but their names became an indistinct droning sound by the time they got to my back door.

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Despite my jealousy on swim meet days, I never felt a very strong desire to join the swim team because at that time in my life, I was much more partial to gymnastics. Although I couldn’t hold a handstand for more than a second, I harbored many fantasies about making the Olympics squad alongside the likes of Shannon Miller and Dominique Dawes. But the gymnastics thing was never likely to happen because I was nearly six feet tall by the time I would have been an elite gymnast, and the swimming thing wasn’t likely to happen either because I’ve never been able to do the butterfly or the backstroke correctly, despite the valiant efforts of swim instructors at the pool.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed many years at my neighborhood pool, which is why our correspondent Titus Mohler’s story on neighborhood swim teams published in Sunday’s paper struck a chord with me. To say that the swim teams build neighborhoods is not hyperbole, but rather a keen assessment of how the neighborhood pool can draw us together in our busy lives when few other things seem able to fill that role anymore.

“It’s good for the neighborhood,” Christopher Pfrang, president of Team Barracudas of the Western Tidewater Swim Association, was quoted as saying in the article. “Even the developer and sort of the management of the pool and the neighborhood are coming around to realizing how much this helps the development of a neighborhood.”

With this being an Olympics year, parents with school-age children should be prepared for the inevitable questions about joining the swimming (or diving, or gymnastics, or fencing, or basketball, or soccer, or any other sport) team. Their chances of making the Olympics may be very slim, but they’re sure to make some good memories.