Feature Article - January 2008
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Aquatic Programming Gets Back to Basics

By Emily Tipping

Team Up

According to USA Swimming's Nelson, learn-to-swim programs can segue into swim teams as interest grows in swimming among students. In fact, he said that the best way to get a team started was to "start your own or partner with an existing learn-to-swim program." From there, you can progress to more advanced classes.

"Progress to a pre-team stroke class," Nelson suggested. "When you have those pieces in place, and have interest enough to form a team, contact USA Swimming's club development division, where zone representatives for each region can offer expert advice on building your program."

Feris said the Keller Natatorium opened its doors—and its water—to a growing number of teams as it went through the process of redefining its mission.

"Our first year was very successful with cornering the recreational dollars out there," he explained. "But we quickly had to redefine who we were and what we were built for, as a 50-meter Olympic-size pool. We were originally built for competition and training."

Why did the facility need to redefine its mission so soon after its grand opening?

Because of The Keller Pointe, a new 87,940-square-foot multipurpose facility featuring fitness, recreational sports and wellness programs, and—yes—nearly 17,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor water surface for local citizens to splash in. The Pointe opened its doors "about 150 yards away from us," Feris said. "It's a small city operation, but they have a lot of the bells and whistles we don't have—slides, covered cabanas and so on. So within a short period of time, we saw all the dollars we had created for open swim go over there, because they were the newest and greatest kid on the block."

Knowing that his natatorium would never be able to compete directly with the city-owned facility next door or the NRH20 Waterpark down the road, both of which offer more options for leisure and recreational activities, Feris said he started looking at area teams and other school districts as a source of revenue.

"We have three high schools as part of our school district who train here, and we have other teams now outside of our school district that rent from us," Feris explained. "Two are neighboring school districts, and there are three Christian schools and a Catholic school. That's one of our revenue streams over the last four years. Those are helping on a regular basis throughout the school year to defray some of our operational costs."

In addition to school teams, the natatorium also hosts a year-round club team with USA Swimming, another continuous source of revenue.

"Other than the year-round club swim team, we also have a year-round diving team, and they're very successful," Feris added. "They started in a district nearby in 1993 or 1994, and they expanded to another pool after that, the Caroll ISD Aquatic Center. And then as we opened, we quickly wanted to embrace having a year-round diving program. Since they came here, we've also become their dry land training facility for the national team. We've added trampolines and a dry board where they practice a lot of dives on deck with spotters, and then take it to the pool."

In addition to training at the natatorium, teams compete there as well.

"We also host some swim meets through them with 250 to 500 or 600 swimmers," Feris said. "Also, with all of the high schools that use our facilities, we host a number of swim meets between September and January, which are a great source of revenue. The largest meet we host for the schools is about 600 swimmers on a Saturday in November."