No one is more disappointed than Vernon Aldridge that the town of Hope Mills recently dropped its pursuit of building an indoor swimming facility at the old town golf course property. Aldridge was a member of the town’s recently-disbanded aquatics committee that was exploring a possible cooperation between the town, Hope Mills YMCA and other entities to bring an indoor pool to the community.
As student activities director for Cumberland County Schools, Aldridge knows there’s a definite need for a public indoor swimming facility in Cumberland County to help continue the growth of high school swimming at the county’s senior high schools.
“Swimming is probably the largest growing sport in Cumberland County right now,’’ he said. In just the past two years, he estimates the number of swimming participants in the county school system has doubled.
He said there are currently about 250 high school swimmers in the county, representing every senior high school that has athletic teams. While some schools have small teams of just a few swimmers, he said there are multiple teams at the high school level with 20 or more swimmers. The sport has risen from minimal participation when it first started a little over a decade ago in the county, Aldridge said.
The growth of the sport is more impressive when the burdens local swimmers have to endure to both practice and compete are factored in. Fayetteville State University has the only local indoor swimming facility that swimmers and their coaches can access for practice and competition. It is typically only available for practice sessions from 5:30-7:30 a.m. and 4:30-6:30 p.m.
The Christmas break has been a major problem for swimmers and coaches for years as the Fayetteville State pool completely shuts down for a three- to four-week period, meaning the athletes can’t practice at all there.
One thing that has helped the local swimming program recently is the addition of so-called bubble domes, or coverings, at outdoor recreation department pools at Westover High School and College Lakes Recreation Center. Aldridge said a third outdoor bubble-domed pool is in the works at Lake Rim.
An indoor swimming facility would not only benefit Cumberland County swimmers but would likely attract swimmers from neighboring counties, Aldridge said. Robeson County Schools swim at the pool at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, while schools in the Sandhills Athletic Conference that includes Seventy-First and Jack Britt hold their meets at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg.
Aldridge appreciates the cost of an indoor pool, which is why he was glad the Hope Mills YMCA wanted to partner with the town to pursue an indoor pool there.
While Aldridge could not make any promises the county schools would be willing to get involved financially in the project, he said they more than likely would be a regular customer if an indoor pool is constructed locally.
“We have a growing need for aquatic space,’’ Aldridge said. “We have a number of kids who are just swimmers, but we have a huge number of our teams with kids who are athletes in other sports. I think it’s a great way for those kids to stay in shape.’’
He said the Johnston County Schools have partnered with Smithfield Parks and Recreation and are opening a pool on land owned by Smithfield-Selma High School. He’s also heard Harnett County is working on an indoor pool at the former Wayside Furniture building.
“Whether (local) parks and recreation or Hope Mills or anyone is interested in opening that type of center (in Cumberland County), we’d definitely be interested in listening to what they have to offer,’’ Aldridge said.