Rhonda Waller resides in Greenbelt, so she could have found a more conveniently located swim club than the District-based DC Wave. But as an African-American, she wanted her daughter to swim under black coaches to hammer home the point that swimming offers opportunities for athletes of any race.
Waller would like nothing more than to see her daughter’s city-supported club — the District’s only youth swim team — continue the expansion it showed with a huge bump in registration after the Summer Games last year.
With the club swimming year kicking off for Potomac Valley Swimming at Sunday’s 2009 All Freestyle Meet at Fairland Aquatics Center, perhaps no team enters the season with higher hopes for growth than the DC Wave, which will send more than two dozen swimmers — including Waller’s daughter Kai, 12 — to Sunday’s opening event.
“We’ve come a long way,” Waller said. “But we have a longer way to go.”
The DC Wave nearly doubled its size last year to 115 members on the heels of the Olympics, and it is has a waiting list of more than 60 swimmers seeking to register at the spiffy new Wilson Aquatic Center, a $35 million facility unveiled in August in Tenleytown. The only thing holding up DC Wave’s planned expansion into the center – which is also coveted by a number of suburban club teams for lane space – is the hiring of a coaching staff. And that’s in the hands of the District’s Department of Parks and Recreation, which hasn’t had an aquatics director since mid-August.
“I do see it as, if in any year we can produce the 200 [swimmers], this probably would be the year,” said Waller, the treasurer of the DC Wave Swim Team Booster Club. “If we ever get the practice group at Wilson, we could engage another group that we’ve never engaged. We’re not touching that area at all.”
DC Wave currently conducts practices at William H. Rumsey Aquatic Center, Turkey Thicket Recreation Center and, since it opened five years ago, the Takoma Community Center, another state-of-the-art swimming facility.
The DC Wave is essentially the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club of the District – only on a vastly and, for some, exasperatingly smaller scale.
Both clubs are supported by their municipality’s recreation departments and thus are the envy of their private-club neighbors; they don’t have to fret about the expense of swim lanes. The registration fees for the DC Wave are dramatically lower than at private clubs; the annual fee this year totaled just $225 for District residents and $275 for non-residents.
Beyond access to their region’s municipal pools, however, RMSC and the DC Wave have little in common.
Unlike RMSC, which for two years has been the top-scoring swim club in the nation and whose coaches worry about how to divvy up training time equitably to more than 1,800 swimmers, the availability of pools is not an issue in the District.
The problem is getting staffing and operational support for facilities that are second-to-none. DC Wave is currently served by two coaches: Rodger McCoy and Rob Green. The booster club chipped in last season to fund an assistant.
“You can’t promise you’re going to get bigger if you don’t have the coaches on the deck,” said Don Brazelton, the president of the DC Wave’s booster club. “Once you get the coaches on the deck, then you start offering the programs. We’ve got 60-100 swimmers [on a waiting list] and we can’t take their registrations …
“Our needs are there. We’re moving as fast as the machine allows us to move.”
Though club swimming in the District goes back decades, the DC Wave is still fighting to establish itself as a prominent competitive team in the region. Strides have recently been made. Some 60 District swimmers who attended the 7th annual National Black Heritage Championship Swim Meet in Charlotte, N.C., in May won the team title for the first time.
The recent unveiling of the Aquatic Center and the surge in interest in the club aren’t the only reasons to push forward with expansion, officials say. This summer also represented the first time all 19 D.C. public pools were staffed and open on Memorial Day weekend. Kids who might have gotten their first taste of the sport this summer are candidates for year-round club programming, said Brazelton.
Brazelton, whose son Don, 11, competes for DC Wave, said the club has reached out on its own to elementary schools, trying to generate interest after-school swimming programs that would commence as soon as coaches are in place at the Wilson Aquatic Center. Brazelton said he also is encouraging parents to become certified as club officials so the District can attempt to bid for a second or third major meet to go along with its annual Black History Swim Meet, which is in its 24th year.
This Sunday’s meet, offered by the Maryland Suburban Swim Club, is something of a low-key opener; DC Wave swimmers, and those representing a handful of other clubs from PVS and Maryland, will be looking to gauge their progress after a long summer.
The following DC Wave swimmers earned seeds in the fastest heats in their events: Maddie Houston, 8; Olivia Bartholemew, 10; Aliya Sola, 12; Kai Waller; Niamh Nolan, 8; M.E. Houston, 10; Ruishi Li, 8; Absalom Bolling, 7; Sidney Horton, 12; Jared Miller, 13; and Matthew Nolan, 10.
“If the city would keep up with the need, as far as the club is concerned, we would love to see 1,000 [members],” Rhonda Waller said. “I think every child should have an opportunity to participate in competitive swimming.”