Palo Alto may develop year-round recreational swim program | September 20, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 20, 2013

Palo Alto may develop year-round recreational swim program

Competitive leagues are leaving out kids who simply enjoy swimming, parents say

by Sue Dremann

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.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at


Posted by parent , a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2013 at 5:33 pm


I still think there is a huge demand for another inexpensive option, like Riconada, for Palo Alto to have another pool, hopefully in South Palo Alto where the only options are to join expensive private clubs. Pools are a scarce resource. Let's get another pool at the Cubberly site. We need it for our kids.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 22, 2013 at 5:33 am

Why not use one of the pools at the other middle schools?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 22, 2013 at 8:29 am

Does this mean that PASA will no longer be able to use Rinconada for their program?

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 23, 2013 at 6:49 am

I don't think that is what the article says. PASA may have to share. IMHO it would be a mistake to move them or reduce hours. City programs (as documented just this week in the Weekly) typically come up short on covering expenses. PASA covers (and then some) all of the Rinconada annual operating costs. Is the city willing to start taking a loss at Rinconada? Doubt it.

BTW - no one has suggested the Ross Rd YMCA as an alternative. Indoor pool.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 23, 2013 at 7:05 am

Forgot to comment on the Cubberly suggestion. As long as the prospect looms that PAUSD will take back the site, it won't happen. Especially if a HS is in the mix. The costs to build a pool like Paly or Gunn (which is what will have to happen to keep all 3 sites "equitable") will be about $5mil. Then add in the energy, maintenance and chemical costs.

It would be much smarter to strike a deal with PAUSD and find a way to open the existing pool at JLS (or Terman I suppose...Terman has a nicer/larger pool). The pool is there already. It is in the south end of town. The pumps and chemicals are going 24/7 already. Just figure out the heating costs and the additional chemical costs. Plus I would wager that PASA would pick up the slack hours that the city doesn't use.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 23, 2013 at 8:19 am

@Crescent Park Dad - the article says that there isn't enough room at Rniconada to accommodate more swimmers and that PASA is already using 14 lanes with up to 10 kids per lane, plus Jordan, plus Paly when available. Adding a rec swim program at Terman would be great, unless their pool is already rented (I think Aquamaids uses it sometimes).

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm

That's why I said "share" as opposed to "no longer be able to use". In other words, PASA may have to give up a limited number of lanes at certain times. Not optimal but it is an option.

Certainly using a wholly separate facility would be the best alternative.

And BTW - PASA has other affiliate sites at local private clubs: Fremont Hills, Foothills, Alpine Hills, Los Alto GCC.

Posted by Swimparent, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Swimming is a key life skill and a healthy exercise habit for kids. Just like every kid in Palo Alto has an assured spot for schooling within PAUSD, we should provide a nurturing environment at our pools for EVERY kid to learn to be a strong swimmer. It is hard to see why getting a couple of Olympic swimmers would take precedence over a reasonable opportunity for every child to learn to swim. So, if we are short of lanes, we should constrain PASA to no more than half the pool and open up the rest to a recreational league. Kids who can no longer make the resulting higher PASA cutoff would still be welcome in the recreational league (and some might prefer the rec league anyway).

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 23, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Part of the problem with taking space in Rinconada is that PASA is a huge source of revenue for the pool year round and is used mostly by Palo Alto residents.

Posted by parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Terman and JLS pools are great for some small swim lessons but not good for a recreation year-round (non-competitive) program. Back stroke flags for instance.

All pools are over-crowded (Fremont Hills, University Club, Eichler, Riconada) and all usually supplement revenues by selling water. If cubberly becomes a HS with a pool (I hope) then there will be enough programs interested in buying some water during the off hours (non-school hours).

This doesn't even bring into account water polo. Right now water polo tournaments usually have to run outside of Palo Alto because we just don't have enough pools. Water Polo tournaments take several pools.

There is enough demand.

Posted by parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2013 at 6:54 pm

I also think PASA reaches capacity and has to turn away kids at the beginning of the season. Lots of kids out there swimming and working out. YEAH!!!

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 24, 2013 at 9:27 am

I don't have a kid at PASA, so no skin in the game. However I am very familiar with pool costs, club costs, etc.

Given that PASA essentially covers Rinconada's annual operating costs (which makes the pool available for rec and masters swimming for a very reasonable fee), it would be a huge financial mistake to take away PASA's rent/revenue stream via "taking half the pool away".

If we can assume that there is an increased focus on city programs to become is difficult to envision a "rec league" swim program that would become large enough to cover 1/2 half of the costs to annually maintain Rinconada.

And the other reality check is there is no "rec league" that runs outside of the summer months. There are only US Swimming meets during the school year.

As for water polo, both Gunn and Paly are rented out for USAWP sanctioned tournaments all the time. When the schools aren't using their pools on weekends, it is not unusual to see a weekend WP tournament or US Swimming event.

Lastly the rental and/or the availability of HS pools is severely limited during the school year. Even if a third HS is built, the school teams will have exclusive use of the pools before, during and after school each day. Plus the schools use their pools on Saturdays for either competition or practice. Even in the winter months the schools use their pools for team training. So please have the expectation that when/if Cubberly is re-opened, their pool will be tied up just like Gunn and Paly.

Posted by parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2013 at 8:10 pm

@Crescent Park Dad

Agree with everything you said. And any pool packed with kids/adults is a good thing.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2013 at 9:24 am

I don't understand what the term "more inclusive" means in this context...PASA is open to all eager Palo Alto swimmers and is already operating a fantastic program at Rinconada. Does this proposal really suggest that we should cut back PASA spots in the pool for kids who are less interested in swimming? It does not make sense.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 25, 2013 at 5:24 pm

"inclusive" implies not as fast, advanced, etc. I wouldn't say less interested, just less talented.

Posted by PASA Fan, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 9:52 am

PASA isn't just for talented swimmers. Within their program there are different practice groups based on swimmers goals, commitment levels, and abilities. PASA is open to kids who can swim all four strokes and have enough endurance to keep up at practices (kids have to have similar speeds to share lanes or they get lapped by faster swimmers). New swimmers who start off in slower groups are promoted to faster groups if they come to practice regularly and meet their goals. Some swimmers choose to stay in the slower groups (they may play another sport, for instance). The PASA Rinconada club is the most inclusive and affordable of all the area PASA clubs. The majority of their swimmers are Palo Alto kids (many bike over to Rinc pool from Jordan and Paly). There are PASA clubs at local country clubs that only accept members, or charge higher fees for non members. PASA is a great club to have in Palo Alto. It's only flaw is that it is too popular and does not have the capacity to take in every swimmer. If they had more pool space, they would be the perfect organization to help form a recreational league.

Posted by Swimparent, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 11:38 am

If it is a question of covering operating costs, it would be good to know what this would mean per recreational swimmer per month. Mavericks @ Burgess charge @50 - $110/ mo based on skill level and number of practices per week and something in that range will be acceptable to a lot of parents in the neighborhood.

@ Mom, @Crescent Park Dad, "inclusive" means accepting any kid who is willing to sign up to a regular practice schedule, not having a cutoff based on speed or an unrealistic commitment to swimming alone (4+ required practice days a week is the norm at PASA). These kids may be "less interested" or "less talented" than others, but they deserve a good program to develop their skills too.

@PASA Fan, your statement that there is something for everyone at PASA is empirically just not true.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Don't forget other costs: coaches' salaries and benefits; entry fees; USA Swimming Club fees; insurance.

Not saying anyone doesn't deserve anything. But the goal for PASA is to field a highly competitive swim team that competes on a national level. They are always among the top teams to finish at national and regional events. Obviously they need to prioritize their roster in order to achieve their competitive goals.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 2:51 pm

BTW - if you understand the competitive nature of national level swimming, then you would also understand that PASA isn't going to want to share their pool time with another team. No distractions, no other kids hanging around, no other parents hanging around. They want to have the facility on their own terms so they can keep their coaches and athletes focused. In other words, I predict that they are going to either want all of the pool or none of the pool. And given their long-term status, I can easily understand why that they're probably going to fight any other terms except exclusivity when they are at the pool.

Posted by PASA Fan, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 26, 2013 at 9:24 pm

@swimparent - I did not say "there is something for everyone at PASA". The entry point for swimmers at PASA is knowing how to swim the four competitive strokes (not perfectly either) and being able to swim laps, which new swimmers can learn through lessons and summer league experience. PASA does train its swimmers for the sport of competitive swimming, but not every swimmer there is an ace. You read about their elite level swimmers in the paper, but there are hundreds of other PASA kids who swim at local ABC meets and recreational fun meets. PASA also offers a less competitive, less demanding swim group for teen swimmers who want to stay fit or cross train for other sports. If PASA had more pool space/time, I think they could start similar groups for younger swimmers.

Posted by Swimparent, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2013 at 11:06 am

@ PASA Fan, if you read the article, it specifically says the 10 year old who tried out and was rejected by PASA twice swims all four strokes and was rejected for not being fast enough. Do you think that is not/ should not be the case?

@Crescent Park Dad, your point about PASA not wanting anyone else around is exactly the problem.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm

@ Swimparent. Not wanting another team, etc. around while you run your workout is not a "problem"...quite the opposite. It is the way it is in all of high-level athletics. Always been that way.

BTW - PASA rents water from Stanford University --- very, very early in the morning; before the Stanford athletes show up for their workouts. PASA has to be out of the pool before Stanford practices - same principal, no distractions from other teams, coaches, etc.

Same goes at any HS athletic facility - whether it is a pool, field or gym. You don't see Paly splitting up it's field with the local Pop Warner team or AYSO soccer team.

Rent JLS or Terman and you'll be fine. Less expensive and you can have the facility to yourself.

Though I get the impression that some people are looking for rec. league swim practices and others are just looking for a pool for swimming exercise (which is a bit different). And some people are looking for rec. swimming (not team) during the same afternoon hours where a team would practice. So there's more to figure out before it is all done.

Posted by PASA Fan, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 27, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Swimparent - I feel for the 10 year old who did not get a spot on PASA. I've been through several of their try-outs sessions in late August and there are always more kids trying out than there are spots open on the team. Those spots are offered at the discretion of the coaches. They don't just judge kids just by speed, but endurance (can the child make it through a 45 minute workout? Hour?), strength of strokes, and balancing the team as a whole (if they are low on breast strokers that year, then perhaps the spots will given to kids who show strength in that stroke). No doubt, PASA is a competitive sports team, but they are also limited by pool space. I mentioned that they offer the less competitive swim group for teens. If PASA had access to more pools/time, I think they could expand their program and open more spots to more children.

Posted by PASA Fan, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Ps - of course I read the article. As a parent of PASA swimmers, I am trying to give more insight into their program which some on here have unfairly characterized as elitist and exclusive. The reason they seem exclusive is because of two things: limited pool space and the enormous popularity of their program. The reason they seem elitist is because they are a successful team which includes several top swimmers who make headlines because they qualify and compete in national and international level meets.

Posted by parent, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Keep in mind PASA is approaching 2000 swimmers. Being a PASA parent, when I read the article I knew that the 10 year old boy probably didn't get in for a variety of reasons and not just because he wasn't the fastest. Timing is important. Each August/September is when the new year starts. It's usually hot and draws a large number of families to PASA that just came off the fun summer leagues. So when the season starts there is a large demand. After winter hits, the demand drops some. I know plenty of kids that love PASA for the social aspect of it and not just hard-core competition. That being said, as you approach the higher groups you do have more kids that love being competitive. They work hard and push hard.

I would love to see more opportunities for all children and adults alike. Swimming is great in so many ways. But those pools are always packed and competing with many groups (masters, adult lap swimmers, water polo, swim lessons, senior exercise groups). Palo Alto could use another pool. Cubberly Anyone???

I have a child that swam with PASA until she was 18. They accepted her even though she wasn't competitive and was far from the fastest.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 27, 2013 at 5:32 pm

All this talk about swimming, but it is the same in any sport. For a child who loves taking part in sport once they reach the age of 12 or 13 it gets difficult to play sport for fun unless they are in the excellent category. Baseball, Basketball, year round soccer (AYSO fall league is an exception) only seem to be interested in taking on kids who are the best and whose parents are willing to invest money and time. High school sports tend to have very little opportunity for those who are not Varsity standard.

Good luck to those who want their kids to enjoy sport as a hobby. It appears to be all or nothing in Palo Alto.