City council’s decision to reopen the Prince George Aquatic Centre in September comes as welcome relief for the city’s swim clubs.
But the cancellation of the BC Summer Swimming Association’s competitive race season due to the COVID crisis has dealt the Prince George Pisces Swim Club a crippling financial blow, with no races during the summer to attract the bulk of the club’s membership.
“We missed our entire competitive season, we missed all our swim meets the entire summer,” said Pisces vice-president Bob Lees. “So for us going into the fall session, because of the way the pool has been allocated with everybody having reduced availability of lanes, we’re going to be capped at 30 swimmers, where we had over 70 last fall.
“So we’re going to lose a substantial amount of money this year.”
Unless the province moves to Phase 4 (no restrictions) in its recovery plan, Lees said there won’t be any room for the Pisces youth development program or its masters swimmers. He said that will leave a serious dent in the club’s non-competitive membership which last year had 40 swimmers. The lack of members will also hurt the club next year when it applies for BC Lottery gaming grants, which are awarded based on the number of swimmers in the club.
The Pisces employ a full-time coach (Ian Williams) and typically the club banks what it earns in membership dues in the fall and winter to pay for the busy summer season, which begins in May, when it occupies all lanes of the Aquatic Centre swim tank five days per week.
Lees said there’s still some doubt there will be a summer season in 2021. The Pisces wanted to celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary next year with a banquet in mid-June but all those plans have been scrapped.
“We are all healthy and we are getting some pool space, so it could be a lot worse,” said Lees.
Williams has been offering dryland training virtually three times per week and once the club has its return-to-sport documentation filed with Swim BC the coach will be instructing lake swimming sessions at Ness Lake, where club president Rory Boyle has a lakefront property.
The Aquatic Centre will reopen to the public Sept. 8 with five two-hour blocks available during weekdays and four two-hour blocks open in weekend days. Each block will be limited to maximum of 50 people (40 swimmers, 10 staff members), as allowed by the provincial health authority.
The three competitive swim clubs – Pisces, Prince George Barracudas Swim Club and Prince George Water Lillies Synchronized Swimming Club – will be allotted daily sessions in the two 25-metre pools that make up the large swim tank and from 3:30-6:30 p.m. daily.
Club swimmers will be asked to arrive just before their swim sessions and will have just 15 minutes at the end of practice to change and leave the building before the next allotment of public swimmers begins to trickle in. Spectators will not be allowed during practice. Initially, the Barracudas will be teaching only the older swimmers in the youth national and elite categories because the younger swimmers require adult supervision at all times and that’s not possible with the 50-person restriction. The combined total of the Barracudas’ youth national and elite programs is about 25 swimmers in a club whose total registration last year was about 180.
The Aquatic Centre and Four Seasons Pool have been closed for nearly five months because of the pandemic, which abruptly ended swim practice for the Barracudas’ youth and masters programs. Barracudas assistant coach Jason Smith said some of his swimmers have been practicing their swim strokes in portable pools set up in the heated garages of their homes. Now that the lakes are warming up in the sun, more club members are getting their exercise with open-water swimming. After nearly five months of inactivity, Smith is looking forward to cracking the whip again as a coach.
“I’m really glad that city council last Monday decided to keep to its original plan when they said they would open the pool on Sept. 8,” said Smith. “Mind you, it’s still a moving target and anything can happen the next week or month.”
Smith and Barracudas head coach Jerzy Partyka were laid off from their club positions in mid-March and will return to their jobs later this month. Smith said they not allowed to provide any in-person coaching (dryland, open water or pool deck) until the club finalizes its back-to-sport plan.