County Unveils Competitive Aquatics Center

Harris County is building an Aquatics Center to offer free competitive swim lessons and training to children. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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The Harris County Aquatics Program puts kids through a rigorous training program for swim meets and competitions. The program has been around for a long time, but will now have a home. Before they had to rely on pools six area schools, but ground is broken on a 22,000 square foot Aquatics Center. Swim Coach Johnnie Means says their competitive program is already one of the best in the country and this will enable more students to be involved.

"Traditionally, people of color have not been involved into this sport. And that's one of the things that we have tried to show that anyone who has been exposed to this sport can do well in this sport with the proper guidance and training."

The $7.1 million center is paid for through several grants and funding from the City of Houston and Harris County. Precinct One Commissioner El Franco Lee is largely responsible for the development of the program.

"Try to provide a vehicle by which we build new talent, new leadership and just hope for those who would not have the means to do this if money were the prime reason for being. And so we've removed some of those impediments, provide some of the foundation for that to engender and stimulate growth of mind and body."

The Aquatics Center is being built on what was once the site of the Houston Oilers Training facility, just off of Holly Hall near the Astrodome. It will house a 100-foot-long swimming pool with eight competitive lanes. The County plans to host regional and state competitions there once it's completed early next year.

"Most of our swimming facilities that are public have been outdated. They are 40-50 years old. The way we started this program is with those facilities. And that's not to take anything away from the effectiveness of using HISD as a partner and using their facilities, but the program and the venue sport has now grown to a point where this new facility will be an asset."

There are three stages of the swim program: Stage One is a "learn to swim" program. After a child completes that, he can move on to Stage Two which offers competitive coaching. Kids who exhibit enough ability, leadership and teamwork may advance to Stage Three: membership in the county's competitive swim team. All of the swimming programs are offered free to any child between 7 and 18 who lives in Harris County. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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