City of Palo Alto officials are looking into starting a year-round children's recreational swim league at Rinconada Pool. The idea comes after a number of parents requested the more-inclusive league during the school year.
The Palo Alto Swim Club currently leases the pool during after-school hours, but it has a stringent program for competitive swimmers, a group of parents said. That means some kids are being left out, they said.
The swim club uses the pool off Embarcadero Road from mid-afternoon to about 8 p.m., according to the city's pool schedule.
Lacee Kortsen, the city community services manager, said she supports having a recreational league.
"I was a year-round swimmer, so I understand. We feel there should be a program for novice swimmers," she said.
The city and the club, which is part of Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics (PASA), have had a contract for many years, she said. The club teaches children competitive swimming, and children participate in swim meets.
Rinconada Pool offers recreational swimming during the late summer and daily lap swimming year-round. The lap swim is open to all ages but does not involve instruction, Kortsen said.
Finding a recreational swim league is not easy, parents say.
"I've been trying to get my kids to be able to swim year-round for years," said Jessica Galbraith, who approached Kortsen about the issue Sept. 12.
"It is hard to find a place. The Jewish Community Center swim program is packed. They are booked for six months and are not taking anyone for the waiting list. My kids made it onto the recreational team at Stanford, but it was full. We went to put our name in at the Eichler Swim Club, but we were told there is a three-year waiting list," she said.
With seven children, ages 3 months to 11 years old, Galbraith said she is too stretched for time to drive her children to Menlo Park's Burgess Park Pool, which is the only other alternative. So her kids just don't swim during the school year. But having a swim program at Rinconada year-round would serve Palo Alto families well, and it would cut down on traffic, she said.
"Our kids could get on their bikes, and I could load up the stroller and walk there," she said.
Parent Rohini Chakravarthy has been gathering support for the year-round swim league, emailing her neighbors to ask if anyone else was in the same situation. Parents of 20 children responded, she said.
"Our 10-year-old loves to swim, swims three times a week, has compliant technique on all four strokes and has some experience with meets. I would imagine that with that level of commitment, we would have a local swim program that builds on his enthusiasm. But he tried out for PASA last year and this year and didn't get in either time because he was not fast enough.
"The key is that PASA is solely focused on training for competition, not competence. The weekend recreational hours are not enough for non-PASA kids to train and grow. The Mavericks team at Burgess has worked well for him has met him at his level and helped him grow."
But "it adds two hours of driving every week on city streets or over 200 car trips a year that could instead have been bike trips to Rinconada," she stated in an email to the Weekly.
Tony Batis, Palo Alto Swim Club head coach, said the club would accommodate recreational swimmers if the space were available. The club has more than 300 year-round members ages 5 to 18. They use 14 lanes each day, with as many as 10 kids in each lane, he said.
Demand increased after the 2012 Summer Olympics, when many kids were inspired to become the next Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte, he said.
The club rents space at Jordan Middle School in the fall and at Palo Alto High School in the winter to meet the demand. Palo Alto residents make up 85 to 90 percent of the club.
"We're bursting at the seams and can't take in a lot of (additional) kids," he said.
Other swim clubs are facing the same challenges, he added.
Kortsen and Batis plan to meet to discuss adding a recreational league. If the club is not interested, the city might approach the Rinconada Masters Swim Club, Korsten said. The Masters is currently comprised of adult swimmers, but coach Carol Macpherson said she holds summer swim classes for kids in Redwood City and would be interested in teaching kids in a recreational league. She also knows of two other coaches, she said.
"But the most important thing is: Do they have the room?" she said.
Kortsen said she is committed to developing the program, but it could take some time to arrange for facility availability, staffing, budget, safety and other considerations.