Christmas in July

Children swim while Christmas carols play at the Florence Aquatic Center’s Christmas in July event.

Today’s aquatic centers offer more features today than when I was young. My first two ventures into public swimming pools were in Prescott and Flagstaff. I dreaded going to the old YMCA outdoor pool in Prescott when I was a boy. I couldn’t swim. I didn’t learn until I was 15 years old, but my fear was deeper than being a non-swimmer.

That fear surfaced each time I left the boys locker room to enter the pool area. To ensure everyone “showered” prior to entering the pool, the entrance walkway from the locker room had multiple water outlets that drenched you before entering the outdoor pool. The outpouring of water was so intense, it was difficult to see through to the pool decking outside. However, it accomplished its mission of soaking everyone before entering the pool.

The Flagstaff High School pool’s atmosphere reeked of chlorine, sweat and other odors that I will not describe. The indoor pool was void of air circulation that dampened my enthusiasm to swim there. The lifeguards were non-existent, while not in a physical sense. In both locations, the guards sat in their chairs, elevated above the pool, and stared at the water without any social engagement.

Both pools had low diving boards, high dives and that’s it. No water features, no water slides and no zero-based entry. The pool depth ranged from 3 feet to 12-14 feet in the diving areas. Prescott had a limited snack bar, but Flagstaff had none. Neither pool offered any special programs or events other than the open-swim hours five days a week.

Pools, or aquatic centers as they’re called now, improved over the years. When I supervised the aquatics program in Chandler, Arrowhead Pool underwent an extensive overhaul that added play features and water slides. When the city approved construction of a new pool at Folley Park in south Chandler, the latest features created a true aquatic center complete with a wading pool, water playground, covered picnic ramada and diving boards. Grass landscaping completed the new facility, creating an exciting and unique water experience instead of a traditional, boring municipal swimming pool.

The Florence Aquatic Center opened in July 2015 and is still considered a state-of-the-art facility. The designs and features of municipal pools are dramatically different from years past and our facility is a source of pride for our community.

Preparations for the summer swim season began in November. That’s when recreation coordinator Erasmo “Beebo” Mendivil Jr. began planning the first aquatics job fair in December. Another job fair was added in early January and from that point on, consistent planning and coordination of the aquatic center continued through opening day on May 18.

That opening was delayed about 30 minutes when an unexpected power outage left our staff scrambling for answers. A short in the shutoff switch was to blame. Beebo smiled when he said, “If that happened in 2015, I would have freaked out,” referencing the grand opening of the aquatic center on July 4, 2015. Experience breeds confidence.

Labor Day was the final day of open swim for our 2019 season and marked the fifth year of operations at the Aquatic Center. We’ve employed hundreds of people at the aquatic center over the last five years, but two people remained constant during that time. One is the center’s supervisor, Beebo, and the other is current pool manager, Chase Hall.

“Chase has been with us from that first season in 2015,” Beebo said. “He began as a lifeguard and promoted to pool manager this year.”

Beebo was quick to praise his overall aquatic staff, despite returning only 10 personnel from 2018. “We had a young group this year,” he said. “They ranged in age from 15 years old to 22 but they had a certain maturity about them that was impressive.”

Open-swim attendance for this past season exceeded last year’s (14,692 versus 13,700) and public response to our swim lessons was exceptional. Last year, our guards taught 162 people to swim and this summer, 234 people learned to swim. That 44% increase represents a significant number of prevented drownings.

Beebo was also pleased with our annual swim team, the Florence Sharks, and credits head coach Kelvin Pauole and assistant Carrie Hansen with improved organization and performance from the 21 members. There were no major injuries or water rescues this summer, which is a tribute to the public as well as our lifeguards.

The dedication and leadership from our head guards — Jasmine Lorefice, Charisma Carillo and Derek Rosener — was outstanding as they coordinated guard rotations and enforced rules to ensure the public’s safety and enjoyment. Beebo challenged the guards with periodic “swimmers in distress” incidents to test their responses and evaluate their training.

Our final source of pride is the number of events and programs held this summer at the aquatic center: dive-in movies, teen nights, Fourth of July free swim and various contests, water aerobics and Zumba classes, Christmas in July, and the location for the Central Arizona Swim League Championships. Our aquatic staff is also pleased to host the home meets this fall for the Florence High School swim team.