Swim clubs enjoy successful first month and a ‘new normal’

After stressful spring, pools opened last month under new state mandates.

IMG_3997 Mackenzie O’Leary and Caden Brophy get some pool time during Tenby Chase’s swim lessons this month. The swim club opened last month following some uncertain months during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo provided)

The months, weeks, days and hours leading up to official swim club  reopenings last month were a combination of nerve-wracking, stress inducing and worrisome, but patrons are now diving in through the dog days of summer.

And in the five weeks since reopening, operations have gone swimmingly. 

“I would say it’s gone better than expected,” said Brent Barbich, club president at Cinnaminson’s Pheasant Run Swim Club. 

“We’re getting a lot of positive feedback on how the pool has been operating all summer,” said Larry O’Leary, club president at Delran’s Tenby Chase Swim Club. “There has been a very positive response from the members on how the staff is keeping up on the sanitation of our property.”

A representative from Sunnybrook Swim Club in Moorestown declined to comment for this story.

The overall mood of clubs has been upbeat, despite the tumultuous spring  of COVID-19 that preceded an uncertain summer. Life can be challenging during a pandemic, and being responsible for a club that brings 200-some residents together in one outdoor area (albeit a large area, in the case of both Pheasant Run and Tenby Chase) comes with real challenges.

But when the New Jersey Department of Health issued CPOPP, short for Covid-19 Pool Operation Prevention Plan, local swim clubs responded and followed the rules to a T.

“Most of it was education,” Barbich said. “Putting up signs, enforcing masks when entering and exiting, (supplying) hand sanitizer. And we had to limit the chairs we had set up around the deck, spacing them out.”

Connor Wilkinson, Drew Cockerham, and Timmy O’Connor await the 11-12 breaststroke event — and practice social distancing, too — at a recent meet at Pheasant Run Swim Club earlier this month. (GIA GROSSO/Special to The Sun)

O’Leary literally walked his club’s grounds with a tape measure to ensure the 6-feet rule was in place for seating areas once Tenby Chase opened.

“I put a chair, measured 6 feet, then I put the next chair and the table to match up,” O’Leary said of measuring the space between back-to-back chairs at adjacent tables. “So instead of six (tables), there are now four. And on the other side of the pool, there is a block that could have five tables and it has four.”

Since the club is spacious, with plenty of other grassy areas for people to sit, finding ample space for everyone to rest and practice social distancing hasn’t been a problem, O’Leary said. 

Within the CPOPP rules are specific numbers for each club in regard to how many people can swim at the same time, all based on the pool size for each individual club. Those regulations are being followed accordingly.

Besides keeping members masked when they enter and exit, or in common areas, as well as making sure people follow social distance guidelines, the clubs are policing how many people can be in a bathroom or shower area at the same time, too. At Pheasant Run, a middle urinal in the bathroom has been closed off to ensure people are at least 6 feet apart.

Lifeguards are in regular rotations but with a new pitstop along the way: They are tasked with wiping off ladders, chairs and tables when a family exits. 

Although it sidelined the idea of competing against other clubs, Tenby Chase has held intrasquad swim meets for its team and added a master’s program that has parents swimming against their own kids. At Pheasant Run, the club held two meets in the first three weeks of July, including one where they were able to honor their high school seniors after a competition with Riverton.

Elle Hamlet of the Tenby Chase Swim Club enjoys some fun in the sun. (Photo provided)

At both clubs, staff have methodically ushered in teams through different entrances and exits and have set specific times for different age groups, to keep the number of swimmers and parents on pool grounds to a minimum during the meets. 

“I hate to say it, but this is the new normal,” Barbich said. “Everyone knows what you’re wearing when you’re coming in and leaving, which way to enter, which way to exit, that if you go to the snack bar, you have a mask on, to the bathroom with a mask on.

“Everyone, I think because they really wanted to experience this and have some sort of summer, they’re playing ball,” he added. “I haven’t had much pushback as far as people not wanting to wear masks or follow guidelines.

It’s been great.”

The clubs have come a long way since the pandemic arrived right around the same time they were collecting dues for the summer season. In early May, O’Leary said he had about 70 families signed up; last season Tenby Chase had north of 200 families as members. The club had to make the decision to open or not, knowing the finances and time it would take to get the pool operational, including bringing in a company for cleaning.

Tenby Chase, uncertain of what was to come, green-lit the opening by securing loans and grants. O’Leary had about 181 families registered heading into the final week of July, a significant jump from May.

“It was a bit nerve-wracking early on, but once we got word from the state that we were able to open, people got excited and people started joining,” he said.

“People really rallied around the pool. They were looking for something different to do. People have been cooped up in their houses for months.”

The clubs are confident their work this spring will continue to pay off for members during the remainder of summer.

“I’m sure people are getting tired of my, ‘Make sure you’re wearing a mask’ emails,” Barbich said. “But it’s just that you have to keep reinforcing it so we’re not taking our foot off the gas of safety.”