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NOTEBOOK: Deeper dive into the Y pool: Kids’ competitive swimming will grow


Here’s an aquatic trivia question: How long does it take to “flip” the lane markers at the Wellmark YMCA’s Olympic-size pool from a 19-lane, 25-yard “short” format to an eight-lane, 50-meter “long” pool? With some well-choreographed teamwork from about 50 members of the YMCA Youth Swim Team — an impressive 4 minutes and 30 seconds, says Bill Wadley, the Y’s director of youth competitive swimming. 
After I wrote recently about being able to swim noontime and after-work laps in a blissfully uncrowded pool, I got an invitation from Y spokesperson Ruth Comer to dry off and learn more about the new swimming programs that are now underway at the new downtown aquatics center. 
A central piece of the programming at the pool is built around the combined youth swim team led by Wadley, who joined the YMCA of Greater Des Moines staff in February. Wadley, who has coached Big 10 and national champions and 16 Olympians, spent the past 29 years of his 40-year career as head men’s swimming coach at Ohio State University. 
“We really work to make sure this [program] is value-driven,” Wadley said. “We’re teaching them values that we think every parent will support.” Those values include the self-discipline not to swim over your teammate while you’re swimming drills one after another in a single lane and the time management to show up exactly when expected on your block just before race time. And getting the pool “flipped” in under five minutes, for that matter. 
By bringing six separate Y locations’ youth teams together, the unified program provides a new opportunity for kids through high school age to train and compete while benefiting from a shared vision and shared resources, said Frankie Hanson, the Y’s operations director for aquatics. 
This year, the youth team will host 10 USA Swimming events at the aquatic center, “so we are going to average essentially one meet a month,” Hanson said. Within the next couple of years, she hopes that the facility will help Des Moines attract a USA Swimming sectional event, which is the first level of national competitive youth swimming events. 
The youth travel team — the DSMY Marlins — has about 95 members now, and all together with the six branches, there are about 536 kids in the swim program, a number that Wadley expects will grow to more than 1,000 by next winter. 
In addition to the youth competitive program and the lap swimming that Y members like me can do, a new Masters Swim program for adults 18 and older who want an organized swimming experience with the benefit of coaching instruction and access to competitive events. That fee-based program has 25 participants currently, with 14 one-hour time slots for swimming each week. Hanson said maintaining a schedule that accommodates all three groups — youth swimming, masters swimmers and Y members — is a constant balancing act. 
“The nice thing about this facility,” added the Wellmark Y’s director of operations, Terry Feldt, “is that we can have swim meets going on with 1,200 people, and the downtown branch have its normal activity going on for our members. At other, smaller Y facilities, you couldn’t do an event that size without shutting down the rest of the facility.” 

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