EAST COUNTY — The Braden River High School swim team learned it can continue to practice at an off-campus facility through next season, after the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Oct. 8, to allocate $45,743 for the continued operation of John H. Marble Pool.
The county had planned to close the public pool, at 3675 53rd Ave. E., Oct. 31, because parks and recreation officials determined it was underused.
The pool is only open to the public in the summer.
For the Braden River swim team, whose proponents circulated a petition that garnered 500 signatures, the ruling provides temporary certainty and continues a four-year relationship with a pool that’s suffered broken pool pumps and lacks professional features such as heating, starting blocks and lane lines.
“I feel a great sense of relief in the present, but I’m also thinking about new challenges so we get a long-term plan for swimming in this area,” said Tripp Schwenk, Braden River’s second-year swim coach.
Without a community pool in East County, with the exception of the Lakewood Ranch YMCA, where both the Lakewood Ranch High and Lakewood Ranch YMCA Wave Runners swim teams train, John H. Marble Pool presents the only viable option for the Pirates.
Even now, the swim team occasionally travels 30 minutes across town to G.T. Bray — home to teams such as Manatee, Southeast and the Sarasota Tsunami — to use its starting blocks.
Since Schwenk took over the team, 11 boys have grown to 25 to give the Pirates 40 swimmers total.
They hope to qualify eight swimmers to regionals, compared to only two last year.
Braden River swimmers say the comfort of having a place to swim will stem the tide further.
“Lakewood Ranch’s reputation is well-known,” said John Graves, a senior swimmer. “The best club swimmers choose to go there because of that reputation. Closing the pool would have widened the gap. We need this pool.”
Schwenk says he turned down an offer to coach Lakewood Ranch’s swim team before this season to stay with the Pirates.
When, two weeks before the season started, Schwenk learned the county was planning to close the pool Aug. 19 — the first day of school for students — he pushed his swimmers to pool their voices.
“It’s the most stressed I’ve been as coach,” Schwenk said. “But I told the team, ‘This is your facility, not mine.’ You have to be active in trying to save it.”
The county eventually granted the Pirates a stay of execution, allowing them to continue to use the John H. Marble Pool through the remainder of the season. However, Braden River had to pay for the chemicals to keep the pool open.
The team worked in conjunction with the Athletic Booster Club to raise the $2,500 necessary to pay for the chemicals.
“I have never done something like this before,” Graves said. “It shows we can make a real-life impact.”
Now, the team wants more.
Debbie Graves, John Graves’ mother and the treasurer of the Braden River Athletics Booster Club, is working to put together a committee of community members to come up with a permanent place to swim — whether at John H. Marble Pool or elsewhere.
Schwenk says the pool will probably host swim meets next year, and he said Southeast will practice there next season.
He’d like the county to pay to heat the pool, so that it can be open year-round and attract young families.
“It’s not the Ritz, but John H. Marble Pool is still a viable pool,” Schwenk said. “I hope the county in the future has the wisdom and foresight to look ahead at the facilities we do have — and should have — to serve such a fast-growing community. There needs to be something better out east.”
Paige Lewandrowski, a Pirate freshmen swimmer, has simpler needs.
“I just want to know I have a place to swim when I’m a senior,” she said.
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