Flooded With Swimmers

The Westport Y expected 70 kids at last week’s 2-day Water Rat swim team tryouts.

More than 150 showed up.

There are approximately 210 spots on the squad. With up to 170 swimmers returning from last season, that’s plenty of competition.

Head coach Ellen Johnston cites the Summer Olympics as contributing to the surge. She also points to the strength of the team, its history, and the coaching staff. Betsy Matheney was just named Connecticut Age Group Coach of the Year; Mark Sedlak won that honor in 2011.

The Y hopes to leverage the surge of interest with a new initiative. “Just Add Water Soon” — aka JAWS — aims to raise an additional $1.5 million by October 29 to expand the planned 25-yard lap pool at the new Mahackeno facility by 2 lanes (to 10).

JAWS would also widen the warm-water family/teaching pool by 7 feet.

October 29 is the date the Y boards are expected to sign off on the final design documents for Mahackeno.

A view from the back of the planned 54,000-square foot Y at Mahackeno. The aquatic center is on the right. (Robert A.M. Stern Architects)

The Y is 90% on its way to closing its gap of $3 million. That would fully fund the new Y, as planned.

Critics have claimed that the swim program — specifically, the Water Rat team — has been a driving force behind the Y’s move to Mahackeno.

Now, the Y is using a spike in swim interest to add extra lanes and new features. They want to prove that all members — from pre-swimmers to seniors in Aqua Fitness class — will benefit.

19 responses to “Flooded With Swimmers

  1. The Y will add new lanes, but will the Y administration add the racquetball and squash courts that they took away? The new Y is about certain members, not all members, as evidenced by the lack of attention it pays to the members of the Men’s Health Center which has less than one-fourth of the 475 lockers filled. Take this into consideration: One long-time member who had health issues asked for an extra locker. He offered to pay for it, naturally. But he was told that he would have to take out an additional membership and pay the full price of $104.00. Insensitive and inconsiderate. With over 350 lockers empty, every member in the Men’s Health Center could have been given an extra locker for free and it sill would not have been half filled. Many of the members complained and the extra locker was finally granted out of shame and embarrassment. The first answer, often the second, and more often than not, all answers are always “No,” or “Can’t do it.” The administration finds an argument for everything. But not to the swim team. Want an extra half-dozen lanes? No problem. We’ll eliminate racquetball and squash. Maybe gymnastics. Definitely the private lockers because with anyone able to buy a day pass and walk in to the general lockers, it’s open house for thieves in the new Y. How many thefts have occurred in the general locker rooms? How many in the private Men’s and Women’s Health Center? But, as I was told, safety can’t be guaranteed. Oh, and what about the guy who walked out of the general locker room talking to himself very aggressively? The one who was preaching on top of a table in the lounger area in front of the pool? He was homeless and on a partial (full?) scholarship for his membership. Yup, this is the place where everyone wants to send their kids. Add a few more lanes. The list goes on and on about an administration that alienates the men and women of the Health Centers and is insensitive to their needs but begs for money. If the Y administration had paid attention to people instead of pennies, its funding goals would have been met long ago in one of the wealthiest towns in the country. But after I was told that the administration relied on studies done to compare the membership of Westport to those across the country and found us no different for our demographics, I left after 30 years and joined the New York Sports Club down the street. I was no longer a member, but a statistic. Why? Because the Y administration does not understand the town or the community. Why pay $108.00 month for such insensitivity and inconsideration? But I can pay half the price down the street. And, by the way, they accept Silver Sneakers membership, which is free. The Wilton Y accepts it, too, but the Westport Y will not. This administration is a complete disaster and almost all of the members I know in the Men’s Health Center will not be migrating over to the new Y, if it gets built.

    • Dear David,

      Paragraphs are your friend.

      Just Sayin’

    • David

      According to the article, the swimmers get extra lanes if they can raise the money to pay for them. I’d imagine the squash courts could get built if the squash aficionados raised the money for those as well. Have you volunteered to lead a fundraising effort for them? I’m sure they’d love to have a few million more to be able to do that for you. With fundraising the way it is, I’m also sure they have had to make trade-offs – no 50 meter pool or squash courts as originally hoped for – building what is possible and that serves the needs of as many folks as possible.

      I don’t know the statistics but based on the turnout for the swim team, it seems likely that the pool would get a lot more use than the squash courts, so more people served for the space and money and provides a skill that can save lives. Probably well worth if that was all the Y did, but of course it does more. But in the end, if all you could build with the amount you had to spend was a pool or squash courts, which would you chose?



  2. I made sure all 3 of my kids did 8 and under swimming with the WRATS (under Bob Knoebel way back when). They loved it and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. They all do different sports now, but their swimming skills will be with them the rest of their lives. It’s amazing though, the number of kids they swam with who continued and have done amazingly with their swimming careers in high school, etc… It’s a great sport! And the Y is a great facility and will only be better when the new one is built!

  3. Jerry said pretty much what I was going to say: WRATs are fundraising for the new pool that they want and I’m sure the Y would welcome fundraising by different groups to improve different areas; that the WRATs tryouts demonstrates the interest of community which might reflect usage rates for the future, and that I’m sure tradeoffs were made and the current plan for the new pool area is not the “dream pool”, rather, it’s realistic..

    The WRATs program is strong thanks to the passion of the community. Without the community’s support and interest, the Y would not be able to attract or retain the high quality of coaches that they have (the article references two WRAT coaches who recently won coaches of the year awards – they are surrpunded with other talented leaders). The swim team is about children. It’s about families. It’s about so much more than swimming. It’s a close knit, coed program that brings together six year olds with high school seniors & teaches every participant valuable life skills in the process.

    The Y’s gymnastics program is another pillar of strength. It is one of the most respected, well run programs around as the coaches keep the kids health in mind at all times while pushing them to be the best that they can be. The Showcase team received national recognition and awards this summer, and there seems to be a queue of talented younger gymnasts in the pipeline, being safely trained to compete at a later date.

    We can only hope that the surge in WRAT tryout participants is a sign of a healthier economy, as well as interest peaked by the Olympics.

  4. David J Loffredo

    The continued success of the WRAT program along with all of its other programs (how many lifelong Westport residents DIDN’T learn how to swim at the Y?) highlight what a town jewel our “recreation center” has become.

    So why is it always treated so differently?

    Levitt Pavillion – need some $$, here you go. P&Z approvals? You’ve got ’em!

    Westport Senior Center/Apartments/Nursing Home – want some land? We’ve got plenty of it, we’ll even ‘pre-approve’ your zoning change even though we have no idea what you’ll build….Keep the process under wraps and away from the public, just call us when you need us to sign over the Deed and cover your expenses for the rest of eternity.

    Westport Public LIbrary – Only $5M? Why don’t we just buy everyone in town a Kindle. 25,000 residents x $159 = $4M, so we’d save a million bucks.

    So how do we treat the Y? Decades of looking for land, only to be turned down at every pass….Years and years of P&Z approvals, and appeals, and RTM meetings, and appeals….Lawsuits by neighbors, and even some of its own members….

    All to keep it locked in a decaying, money losing, nostalgic, but barely functioning facility that’s now even harder to access thanks to the rennaissance of Church Street.

    Look at the possibilities, see the potential instead of the problems. 150 kids trying out for 40 spots on the team? Amazing. I’m a commissioner for both the Westport Soccer Association and Westport Little League and we wish we had that problem. Too bad they can’t add another 110 swimmers to the team and give everyone an opportunity to participate. If only they had a bigger pool….oh wait……

    • I mentioned the Y swimming pool once at the beginning of my post and then the word “lanes” one more time toward the bottom. Yet no one has responded to any of the very serious issues brought up in the rest of the post. This all demonstrates the single-minded devotion to swimming (a sport and recreation I have nothing against since I, too, used the pool) and ignores the rest of the membership concerns. I was specific about the insensitivity of the administration under Rob Reeves and the safety concerns of not having private lockers: issue ignored. Fund raise for yourself if you want racquet sports is the current tone of the posts. I thought the new Y was for ALL the people. (Build first class courts and new members will come, along with competitions, too. Youth racquet sports is a big plus with some outstanding Y players who could and have offered to teach.)

      After reams of email exchanges and conversations with the administration, I have found a complete unwillingness to understand and cooperate on resolving these and other issues relating to the Men’s Health Center. (Remember the studies I was told about that determined Westport members fit into a certain demographic and we were no different than any other members in the study?) Shall I bring up the absolute refusal to put in a juice machine in place of Pepsi machine because people didn’t buy cola drinks with 8 tablespoons of sugar? How about the shower grab bar that one member had to beg for? Or the blinding office lighting that was put into the steam room? Took months to get that resolved. Everything is a fight and the first answer is always “No,” or “Can’t do it.” Members of the Men’s Health Center have been deeply alienated and ignored. Not everything is about swimming.

  5. This us against them attitude seems to occur often at Y’s (swim team V regular membership. The numbers speak for themselves- A competitive swim team at a Y brings in substantial revenue,it is self supportive and “rents” back the facility at a market rate. This is a revenue stream a non profit organization needs.
    Swimming is an amazing life long sport that develops healthy bodies and minds- (swimmers typically do well in school) a strong work ethic (no one has a harder practice schedule than a swimmer) and great sportsmanship (Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps duel in the pool by are friends on deck- that’s how it is with swimmers.
    Good luck to the JAWS – Connecticut needs more pools!!

    • Again … Focus on swimming, ignoring the rest of the membership and the serious issues of concern.

      • David

        I don’t think folks are focused only on swimming but you did start your original comment with a shot at the swim program and the implication that everything was focused on that program at the expense of everything else. Couple that with a large number of folks that interact with the Y through their kids via swimming and gymnastics and you might get a disproportionate response.

        Can’t really address your locker issue but I’m guessing that the statistics on squash and racquetball turn it into somewhat of a niche that is a “nice to have” rather than a “must have” (e.g. pool, fitness center, multi-use gyms, etc) for a Y. No doubt squash courts would get used if they were there, but even at elite East Coast universities and prep schools where upper class kids previously exposed to the sport and with world class facilities, they aren’t used with the intensity of facilities with broader base of participants.

        Personally, I’m not a squash player but I enjoy a bit of bowling. However, I perfectly understand why the Y doesn’t have a even a 4 lane bowling alley planned (unless I missed something). Again “nice to have” rather than “must have”.

        Getting back to the locker issue, it may very well be the same sort of thing. It’s unfortunate that your experience with the administration has been negative – shouldn’t happen in a service organization and may simply have been an inept way of explaining why certain decisions were made. But I’m guessing it wasn’t intended to be dismissive or mean spirited.

        I hope you go back and enjoy the new Y when it is completed, and if we are all lucky, when the new facility comes on line, opposition will decline and more folks will step up with contributions so you can have squash courts and private lockers and I can have my bowling alley (and maybe a few pinball machines).



        • Dan’s blog and these posts are proving much more interesting in how you see what you want to see and disregard what is actually written. I never took a shot at the swim program. I said: “The Y will add new lanes, but will the Y administration add the racquetball and squash courts that they took away?” You can’t compare adding a bowling alley that is not a feature of the current Y to taking away the racquet courts that are present for members to use. The statistics about the racquet ball and squash courts are skewered because the courts were not maintained well and many members have left for Southport Racquet and other places. New courts would bring in new members and competition, as well as instruction. There was even a notice in the Men’s Health Center about having young people learn to play on the courts that were soon to be taken away. The private locker issue is totally different and it is a major safety concern for the reasons I mentioned earlier. Rob Reeves said it was a tax exemption issue. It is not and the related document is available on the Internet. The responses to these issues and concerns by the administration were not mean spirited; they were dismissive and insensitive by people who have not lived here long enough to the members and community and had to refer to studies and reports to see how to deal with us.

  6. @dlm67 the blog post was about swimming! you should take your rant somewhere else – this was a positive post about a great sport that is growing and thriving.

    • The blog post was not only about swimming: “The Y hopes to leverage the surge of interest with a new initiative. “Just Add Water Soon” — aka JAWS — aims to raise an additional $1.5 million by October 29 to expand the planned 25-yard lap pool at the new Mahackeno facility by 2 lanes (to 10).” It is about funding and, therefor, about money. What the Y administration adds to the pool, it takes away from other members. It is, as you have proven, about the myopic view of the administration as it focuses on the pool (originally 22 lanes) and ignoring the needs of other members. Still, no one has addressed any of the other issues. That is one reason why the Y is short financially in its goal to start building the new Y. Of course, the Y is also worth so much less than the original selling price due to the financial genius of the board. Remember one board member who resigned because he considered the decisions being made irresponsible? So go back and reread the post. It is about much more than swimming.

      • So what are you doing to improve the situation?

        • Now, it’s not on the Y administration to improve the situation, it’s on me. Very political. As I said previously, I have had extensive email exchanges and conversations with Rob Reeves and David Cohen, and I was met with “No” and “Can’t be done.” Oh, you can add to that: “It’s not going to happen.” And, that member who was denied an extra locker without taking out a new membership before the administration was shamed into proving one … The following week he donated a significant amount of money to another Westport public institution.

          • Well, then I guess you should have gotten the hint. What you want costs money. What will be the source of that money?

          • Longtime YMCA Member


            You seem angry, let me try to help….


            The link above is to the most recent annual report from the W/W YMCA. I suggest you read it. The two main takeaways are these:

            1) They Y loses money. Last year they last $363,121, yet somehow they manage to provide the same programs and services that they’ve always provided.

            2) Even while they lose money, the Y still managed to provide $464,000 in financial aid – through subsidized child care, scholarships, reduced membership, and donations to other service organizations. Had they not provided all of that charity ($464K – $363K) they would have made a profit. But anyone associated with the Y will quickly tell you that’s not the point.

            This blog entry is about swimming and was about swimming until you hijacked it. A record number of kids came out to try and make the swim team, at the same time the Y is trying to raise extra money to expand the proposed pool – and therefore said swim team. How exciting for the Y, how disappointing for all the kids who didn’t make the team this year because the current pools are too small and overbooked.

            You decided to take this post in several different directions and as a long time member I’d like to at least attempt to address a few of them:

            1) Mens Health Center – the new Y phase 1 will have both boys/girls locker rooms as well as mens/womens locker rooms. I think that’s the best use of limited space and personally don’t think there’s a need for a “private” facility within a “public” environment and if like you say there are 350 empty lockers than clearly this is a service that’s no longer required. If there are safety or other issues the Y staff should address them.

            2) Racquetball and Squash courts are almost always empty and quite frankly are a bad use of limited space. If you want to join a racquet club, go for it, but the Y can’t be all things to everyone.

            3) “add a few more lanes” – yes that’s the goal of the JAWS fundraiser but it will only be done through private donations. I think that’s ok don’t you? No one is sacrificing anything – in fact WRAT parents pay on average $3000 plus membership for each swimmer – so an already financially tapped out group is trying to see if it can find some more pennies to build a better pool. That’s no different than lights at Staples or the halfway house at Longshore.

            4) Silver Sneakers – Great program, please see the note about the $363K deficit and the already $464K in charitable contributions. If you need financial aid, apply for it.

            5) Juice Machine / Grab Bar / Light Bulb – It’s an aging facility that’s held together with band aids, all good suggestions for the new one when it opens in two years.

            You are so wrong when you write “What the Y administration adds to the pool, it takes away from other members..” It’s not just misleading, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The WRATs don’t run the Y, they compete for scarce resources just like everyone else and pay for everything they receive. They also make up the largest percentage of Y donors, contributed 4533 of the 7805 total volunteer hours (that’s 58%) even though Aquatics (which also includes swim lessons and everything else that happens in the pools) are only 28% of the Y cost.

            It sounds like you’re a “taker” – you want this, you want that, so and so needs an extra locker, why isn’t this all free?….

            Give us a break and go rant somewhere else so we can get back to celebrating the excitement and energy around the swimmers and their fundraising goals.

            • The post was not “hijacked,” as you intentionally mischaracterize it. Read my post and my answer to Jerry. You see what you want to see, but not what is written. I was talking about adding lanes. The Y is losing money because it is losing members due to its insensitivity, especially to the members of the Men’s Health Center. Don’t believe me? Meet with them. I proposed this to David Cohen more than once and he never called a meeting. Your remark about the private locker rooms suggests that you do not use them or you would know exactly what I am talking about. You clearly do not understand the safety issues with regard to the general locker room where anyone can walk in and out, and where there have been many break-ins. Once again, you are looking for pennies and not at people.

              The reasons why the racquet courts are empty are because so many players have left the Y. I did not say, nor imply, that the WRATS run the Y. The administration does. Your mischaracterization of my points do not serve you well. When Rob Reeves announced a 22-lane pool, it was in the same breath that he said there would be not racquet courts. You should know this. We had to beg and fight for months to have two courts out of three restored. Your personal attack on me as a “taker,” shows clearly that you simply that you don’t know me. And, by the way, at $108 a month for membership in the MHC, I am not asking for anything for free. Your suggestion that this a rant may satisfy your desire to be nasty, but it doesn’t confront the facts or prove your point at all.