A Deep-Rooted Tradition
By Jeff Mues
Photos Courtesy Of Mike Mezeul
In 1988, there wasn’t much in the way of parks or recreation opportunities in Allen, Texas. Back then the city had no recreation centers and fewer than 600 acres of parks to serve a population of nearly 20,000. Just 25 years later, Allen’s 85,000-plus residents enjoy more than 1,200 acres of parks, more than 40 miles of hiking and nature trails, five recreation facilities, including a state-of-the-art natatorium, a new municipal golf course, and even more. But in 1988, the list might as well have included only Ford Pool—then a new swimming facility built just 2 years earlier.
While swimming has always been a welcomed pastime—particularly in the Texas summer heat—facilities in the U.S. like Ford Pool were really just starting to become popular for swimming competitions. In fact, many experts point to the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, as a turning point for the popularization of the sport, as American swimmers Matt Biondi and Janet Evans brought home 10 medals, including eight golds between them.
Enthusiasm Abounds For Aquatics
Even in Allen—which still wasn’t much more than a one stop-light town—competitive swimming was catching on. That year a group of volunteers organized the City of Allen Swim Team (COAST), putting the time and effort into coordinating practice and swim meets at Ford Pool. The organization consisted of just a couple dozen swimmers—if that—and a group of dedicated parents.
Fast forward to 2013, and COAST is still going strong, celebrating its 25 th anniversary. While much has changed since 1988—home swim meets are held at Don Rodenbaugh Natatorium (DRN), and the program is now managed by the Allen Parks and Recreation Department’s Natatorium staff—some things remain the same. Among them, COAST still calls Ford Pool home for practices. Participants are still able to decide how competitive they want to be—competing in swim meets or just swimming during the week for fun. Also, the program remains extremely affordable.
A Bargain With Competitive Flexibility
The number of participants has nearly doubled since DRN Center Supervisor Miklos Valdez took over the program in 2007. For the past 2 years, the program has reached a maximum capacity with 210 swimmers divided among two age groups—13 and older and 12 and under.
However, value and competitive flexibility are only part of the reasons COAST has stood the test of time, and become so incredibly popular. Its success really belongs to all of the swimmers, parents, and volunteers who have been involved over the past quarter of a century.
“One of the unique aspects of COAST is that it’s a program where we really get to know the families,” Valdez explains. “And each season we just add to the COAST family.”
Spend just 5 minutes talking to Valdez about COAST, and it’s apparent he takes great pride in the program—you might say it’s “his baby.” And just as babies eventually do, growing up is something that happens in and around the program. There’s a natural learning progression akin to school, in which participants “graduate” from a series of classes held between the natatorium and Ford Pool: parent/child water-acclimation classes, swim lessons (minnows and sharks), stroke clinics (beginner, intermediate, advanced), and COAST in the summers, followed by Club Swimming (if children are so inclined).
A Family Affair
Throughout its history, COAST has been influential in shaping the lives of men and women. One member of DRN’s staff demonstrates just how life-changing the program can be. Recreation Specialist Justin Kelley started swimming in COAST back in 1994 at age 7. Even after those days were long gone, he’s never strayed too far from Ford Pool. He’s opted to make a living by helping others discover the sport that is so much a part of him. Holding jobs as an assistant water-safety instructor, lifeguard, coach, water-safety instructor, head guard, and recreation specialist—among others—there isn’t much he hasn’t done with the aquatic program.
Kelley is still involved, and has even emerged as an unsung “superhero” of sorts. On multiple occasions, Kelley has changed into his superhero costume—full scuba gear—acting as an unofficial underwater-maintenance man. Armed with his weapon of choice—marine-based putty—he has identified and temporarily plugged leaks, saving the city money and allowing swim meets to go on without interruption until regularly scheduled closures and maintenance can take place.
While scuba heroics make for a good story, the real truth is that over time, many heroes have emerged—putting in long and thankless volunteer hours, dragging bleachers around for swim meets, making last-minute miracle fixes to equipment, and performing other thankless tasks. Those stories don’t make magazine articles, but rather come up in conversation at the dinner tables of families like the Kelleys. Just as COAST was part of the conversation for them in the mid-1990s, it is part of the conversation for Kelley’s young family today.
“I’m proud that my two sons are learning to swim in Allen,” Kelley says. “My youngest is just 1, but he’s enrolled in the parent/child aquatics program, and my oldest (4) is doing well in swim lessons. He’s at the point where in a few years I can definitely see him getting involved in COAST.”
And why wouldn’t he? If the past 25 years have proven anything, it is that COAST has a tendency to run in the family.
Jeff Mues is the senior marketing coordinator for the Allen Parks & Recreation Department and Allen Event Center. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .