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A springboard to success

The county will receive the use of Citrus Hills' heated pool, giving area prep swimmers more training opportunities.

By CAREY FREEMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 14, 2001


CITRUS HILLS -- It may not be the Olympic-sized facility local swimmers and coaches have been clamoring for all these years, but it's a start.

Thanks to Frank Bachteler and the folks at Citrus Hills, who donated the use of their heated pool, Citrus County will have its first year-round swimming program.

"It's something we've been trying to develop and something (President of Citrus Hills developer Hampton Hills Limited Partnership) Steven Tamposi and I have discussed several times," said Bachteler. He coaches the Citrus High School girls team and will head the United States Swimming competitive program at Citrus Hills.

"We're trying to fill a need in Citrus County and (Tamposi) was very open to it," Bachteler said. "Now we'll be able to have kids train and develop their skills on year-round basis and, hopefully, we'll no longer be in awe of those kids who are swimming 11 and 12 months a year.

"It gives them an opportunity to do their training here without having to travel to Gainesville, Ocala, Leesburg or Hudson," Bachteler said. "That travel is tough on the kids."

Those travel times range from 11/2 hours one way to Gainesville to hour-long drives to either Ocala or Hudson -- the closest year-round programs to Citrus County.

For swimmers like Citrus' Jimmy Baker, who took home ninth place (first in the consolation finals) in the 50 freestyle in this year's state championships, the creation of a local program comes as a welcome surprise.

"Oh yeah, it sure does interest me," Baker said. "I think it's real great that this county is getting a year-round swimming team. "It will give swimmers a chance to practice more, get better and get faster. It should be a big advantage for high school swimmers, who will be able to continue swimming after the season and improve and improve until next season.

"The commute was the main problem for us," Baker said. "Ocala and Leesburg are just too far away, and it gets to become a hassle traveling back and forth that distance."

Though the pool isn't an Olympic-sized facility, it does have what's required to have a year-round program -- a length of 25 yards (standard for preps), room for six lanes and, most importantly, heat.

Though the pools at Whispering Pines Park in Inverness and Bicentennial Park in Crystal River recently purchased heating blankets, they work only on a limited basis and for a limited time.

Most coaches and swimmers consider 72 degrees the cutoff point for temperature. Since the blankets primarily are used to maintain heat, they become ineffective by December, when consistently cooler weather inevitably lowers the water temperature below that number. Crystal River coach Tim Holme always has decried the lack of a proper, year-round facility in Citrus County and the disadvantage it leaves local swimmers with. Like many, he sees the new program as a step in the right direction.

"I think it's great, terrific," Holme said. "I'm not familiar with the facility, but I think we need more of that. I've got some swimming in Spring Hill, and it's a commute. Citrus Hills is certainly closer than Ocala.

"It's heated, which is better than anything we've got now. It's still outdoors, but at least the water temperature will be above 72 degrees, and that's always a step in the right direction.

"Right now, we're only able to swim from March to November at Bicentennial Park," he said. "I wish them the best. This should be good for swimming in general, and that's what I'm for."

Tamposi's support shouldn't come as much of a surprise to those who know him. A swimmer in high school and at Tufts University, he always has had a soft spot for the sport. In addition, as one of Citrus County's leading developers, the idea of filling a need for youth appealed to him and his Citrus Hills staff.

"I think it's something that is great for the kids in Citrus County, and it's great for us to be able to provide them with the opportunity to swim and train during the winter months," Tamposi said

"Aside from the fact that swimming is one of the greatest physical exercises you can do, I think a swim program really teaches kids to be disciplined and self-motivated and to have what I like to call stick-to-it-iveness and tenacity," he said.

Bachteler maintains that the program isn't designed to replace the seasonal program he used to work with at Whispering Pines Park, but that it will serve as a competitive supplement. "There will still be a program at Whispering Pines," he said. The first practice is scheduled for Feb. 3.

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