The large number of swimmers in the relatively small Greater Washington region has long been considered something of a phenomenon in USA Swimming circles. Geographically, Potomac Valley Swimming is one of the tiniest so-called local swimming committees (LSCs), yet it is fifth nationwide in total athlete membership.
Like many LSCs in the aftermath of Beijing Summer Games, Potomac Valley Swimming grew. It went from 9,045 athlete members in 2008 to 9,396 this year, an increase of 3.6 percent.
That would be fabulous news, especially given the economic downturn, if it weren’t the region’s smallest uptick in the last four years and didn’t pale so significantly when compared to growth around the nation.
Potomac Valley Swimming’s membership increase stands dead last among the 10 largest LSCs in the nation. The increase was well off the 11.2 percent growth shown by USA Swimming overall.
Florida, eighth nationally in membership, grew by 21.3 percent. Southern California, which surpassed Illinois as the largest region in members, grew by 12.5 percent. Every other LSC in the top 10 grew by at least 6.4 percent.
A look at the top 10 regions, courtesy of USA Swimming:
Note that the Middle Atlantic (parts of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey) and Metropolitan (the portion of New York state south of Albany) regions are threatening to push PVS out of the top five; Potomac Valley (the District of Columbia, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Fairfax and Arlington counties and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church) is just 27 swimmers ahead of Middle Atlantic and 55 ahead of Metropolitan.
Potomac Valley increased its membership by 318 athletes last year after growing by 901, 397 and 382 in the previous three years. (The totals provided by PVS vary slightly from those from USA Swimming, presumably because they were not counted at precisely the same time.)
Pat Hogan, USA Swimming’s Managing Director for Club Development, pointed out that Potomac Valley and New Jersey are two of the most densely populated LSCs, which means both might simply be reaching a ceiling on available pools. Indeed, PVS Executive Director John Ertter called the lack of “premium water” — open lanes after school — the region’s biggest problem.
“It’s putting the brakes, a little bit, on our ability to grow,” Ertter said. “We’ve identified that as one of the biggest threats to our ability to grow.”
Ertter said PVS hopes eventually to take advantage of additional lane space at the District’s new Wilson Aquatic Center as well as a planned facility at Tenley Circle.
Ertter, however, pointed out that PVS increased its membership in years many other LSCs struggled to do so. PVS’s growth, in other words, has been constant and consistent. The Olympic year, he said, will produce a natural influx of new swimmers, but will they come back the following year?
“We’ve been experiencing steady growth and, for a couple of years, I think we were the only LSC that saw any growth at all,” Ertter said. In the year after an Olympics, “I think a lot of those real excited kids don’t come back.”
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