The Huntington Y Charleston Aquatic Team City Swim Meet spent nearly a half-decade in the friendly confines of the University of Charleston Indoor Pool.
Since 2018, one of the summer staples of community sports in the Kanawha Valley has served as another example of how mergers force sometimes drastic adjustments but also create new opportunities, should transitions be handled well.
The 2019 meet, hosted by the YMCA of the Kanawha Valley, concluded with its third day of competition Saturday, crowning the Cross Lanes Rec Association as its overall champion.
Cross Lanes finished with 2,600 overall points, more than 300 better than runner-up Sleepy Hollow, which finished with 2,310. The 2018 champion, South Hills, finished third with 2,262 points, followed by Windermere with 1,984. Elkland rounded out the top five teams with 1,633 points.
The bigger picture for the present and future of the meet that spent 45 years across the Kanawha River at UC, however, is that it brought the predicted positives and negatives.
“We have had some growing pains, part of them come from just putting on a big meet that the public sees,” meet director Niki Riley said. “At UC, there was a mode. People understood where to park, understood where they sat, so I will say there’s been a few growing pains.”
Riley also coaches the Kraken Swim Team based at the YMCA, and was quick to note that the changes provide growth opportunities for both the sport of swimming and the facility just off of Hillcrest Drive.
“People get to see the facility, so in that respect they get to see the changes that we’ve made up here,” Riley said.
To Riley, new visitors means fresh opinions about what improvements still need to be made to the Kraken home base, and in what ways the YMCA has upgraded in the right direction. The facility underwent a $2.5 million renovation project beginning in 2017.
“We also get to see the need in updating our equipment and things that we need so that when we go and speak with sponsors and other folks, we know what we’re asking for,” Riley said. “By [Friday] night I knew, I had my list, of the things we need for next year.”
The meet will take place at its current location for the foreseeable future, Riley said. The merger of the HYCAT swim team with the Charleston YCMA began a year ago after UC decided to close its indoor pool from public use, an event that took place in March.
“It’s semi-permanent,” Riley said of the move. “Until we know and can figure out what city and county officials can come together to help bring a competitive facility to fruition. We know that they’re expensive, but we also see the need.”
Former UC coach, meet coordinator and HYCAT founder Greg Olson spoke to Swimming World Magazine in June, pointing to the sharp recent increase in participation in the swimming community among West Virginians, and the double-edged sword that presents. Olson noted that while the health and community benefits are bountiful, the problem is that West Virginia — and particularly the Charleston area — possesses a lack of pools to accommodate current and would-be participants in the sport.
The Kanawha Valley competitive swimming situation is far from only about the drudgery of fund-raising for public projects. Riley and meet volunteer assistant Allison Adler spoke to the positive effect of an established event having new life being breathed into it by its taking place in a new location.
“You have year-round swimmers who happen to be at different summer pools,” Adler said. “They’re friendly and competitive, and I think that’s good. It actually shows the younger kids at these neighborhood pools that you can be a big kid, an 18-year-old and still be swimming. It’s important to see for a 5-year-old.”
Ultimately, Riley suggested that the attraction of the sport tends to overcome any obstacles that a change of location might create.
“It is nice to see the older kids still talking to each other and hanging out with each other and those young relationships being formed in a different place,” Riley said. “Kids don’t care where the pool is. They love to swim.”