By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MASON - This Warren County community is diving into a new venture: year-round competitive swimming.
Officials are expecting upward of 160 youths, ages 6 through high school, to be part of the inaugural team. Tryouts will be later this month.
The season runs from September through August.
"We're really starting the whole program from the beginning," said Mark Sullivan, the newly hired Mason Schools' aquatic director who is helping establish team. "In a lot of ways, we're trying to take baby steps. But with the lateness of summer, we're going to have to take much bigger steps."
The team, which will use the Mason Community Center's competition pool, will compete with other USA Swimming-endorsed programs, including the Cincinnati Marlins and Sycamore Flying Fish.
While dozens of Mason residents already participate in those programs, the city wanted its own program for several reasons, including a sense of identity, said Michael Hecker, director of the city's parks and recreation department.
Anyone can try out for the program, but council has asked that priority of being placed on the team be given to residents of the city and school district, since they subsidize the community center.
Team members will pay swim fees depending on age bracket, which range from $575 to $1,325 per swimmer.
Despite some interest, not everyone is happy about the idea of the start-up program.
At a meeting last month to gauge support, about half of the 110 parents present felt bringing in an established program was a better option. The Cincinnati Marlins had been in talks with the city about a satellite program here before the community center was even built.
Brian and Jamie Schwartz are among those parents. Two of their three children swim with the Marlins, including a high-school age daughter who has been with the team since she was 8.
"We are very disappointed," Jamie Schwartz said. "If you brought the Marlins program in, you'd be up and running right away. Sure there'd be some growing pains, but they could have big meets right away. Starting from scratch, it will be a few years before it will be successful."
At the recommendation of the city's park board, Mason City Council approved last week hiring a full-time, assistant aquatics supervisor to coach the new program. The city is already in the process of interviewing people for the position, Hecker said.
The year-round team is among several swimming opportunities in the city. The summer recreation program, the Mason Water Moccasins, had 370 swimmers this year.
Additionally, a new middle school team will join the high school varsity and junior varsity teams this year.
"Swimming is growing in this area - not just Mason," said Sullivan, a Deerfield Township father of four. "As these suburbs grow, the interest in everything is growing. So why not add another team to the slate?"
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