The mat at the front door greeted arrivals in the name of Westminster’s Wildcats. A string of green and white pennants stretched above the pool. Wall plaques heralded Westminster wins.
Swim coach Andy Morrison squatted at poolside to talk with members of his team as they practiced their swimming strokes in The Westminster Schools’ pool.
Morrison’s student swimmers don’t swim for Westminster. They’re students at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School. Their school colors are crimson and gold, not green and white. Their mascot is a bear, not a wildcat.
“These are our guys in the pool right now,” HIES swim team mom Margaret Kendrick said, “because Westminster just finished.”
Like many local high schools, Holy Innocents’ has a swim team, but no swimming pool. Teams from high schools without pools typically practice in rented waters.
“There’s a lot of swim teams in the area that have to find swim space,” said St. Pius X Catholic High School swim coach Stan Carter, whose swimmers practice at the Dynamo Swim Club pool in Chamblee while the divers head to the pool at the Marist School in Brookhaven.
Holding swimming practices in pools rented from other schools can sometimes require parents to drive extra miles to get their teenagers to swimming practice. It may mean swimmers and divers will have to practice their sport during evening hours, when the home team doesn’t need its pool.
But swimmers, parents and coaches don’t seem to mind the trouble. They say they’re happy just to find a place to practice and to compete in what high schools consider a winter sport.
“Everybody does it because they love it,” said Kendrick, whose son James, 16, and daughter Elizabeth, 15, both swim for Holy Innocents’. “They have a great time.”
There are drawbacks. Consider Wistie Kennedy of Buckhead, whose sixth-grade daughter, Lacy, who’s 11, and ninth-grade son, Bentley, who’s 14, both swim for Holy Innocents’. Bentley’s high school team practices at Westminster. Lacy’s middle-school team practices at Pace Academy.
On practice nights, mom can end up spending three hours driving her Buick Enclave from school to school to pick up or drop off one swimmer or another. “I mostly feel for my 8-year-old,” she said. Carter’s not on a swim team, who ends up making the rounds with mom.
And Kendrick said that on practice days, her teens arrive home about 4 p.m. and have to be at the swimming pool by 6 p.m. “The challenge is, when do you eat dinner?” she said.
“Very few schools have a home pool and those are mostly the big, private schools, like Marist [School] or Westminster,” said Callum Lever, a 17-year-old senior who swims the 100-meter backstroke and plays water polo for North Springs Charter High School in Sandy Springs. North Springs’ team practices at the Marcus Jewish Community Center in Dunwoody, said Callum’s mom, Beppie Lever.
Does it matter that North Springs doesn’t have a pool? “I wouldn’t say it doesn’t matter, because we would like to have a pool, but we know we don’t have that option,” said Lever, who’s the team’s treasurer.
Moms and student swimmers aren’t the only ones who have to deal with the difficulties of not having a “home field,” so to speak, for the swim team.
Coaches admit distance between school and practice sites can create some problems with building a strong team spirit. “You’ve got swimmers scattered all over the place. You’ve got divers all over the place. It’s a challenge just to hang out as a team…,” Carter said. “It’s tough on the freshmen, but [over time] the team becomes very close-knit.”
And some schools without pools can’t host meets. Instead, they go in with other teams or always compete as the visiting team. Carter said his team’s first meet this year will be at the Lakeside High pool in DeKalb, where his team will compete against the team from Dunwoody High School.
“It would be very nice having some sort of ‘home pool’ advantage, but our team has been very comfortable over the years with traveling and maintaining a tradition of winning,” Carter said.
And Holy Innocents’ Morrison said the fact that swimmers are willing to adjust to early dinners, hours in the car and late-night study sessions just so they can practice illustrates their dedication to the sport.
“It shows a lot of dedication by these guys,” he said. “When all their friends are winding down, they’re just gearing up.”
But, it’s only for the winter, right? Then on to other sports that don’t require swimming pools.
“When swimming ends, my two will go to tennis,” Kendrick said. “And we also don’t have tennis courts.”