By Ilana Newman, The Daily Yonder Read more
Pool Upgrade Ensures Bright Future for Local Swimmers—And Cortez
When the starting blocks at the city pool fell into disrepair, Cortez's local swim club's existence was uncertain. With LOR’s support the club upgraded the pool, which helped the team stay afloat and brought an economic boon to Cortez.
“The scene at the Cortez Municipal Swimming Pool in early August was jubilant, as the Cortez Water Dragons—celebrating its 50th anniversary as a swim club—hosted the Scottie Aschermann Memorial Season Club Championships for the first time since 2014. More than 300 youth swimmers from 20 teams across the state competed in the Colorado regional swim team meet, fueled by a boisterous crowd, sugared up on snow cones.
Only months before, though, hosting the event would have been impossible. In fact, Cortez hadn’t hosted any meets the previous two seasons because the starting blocks at the pool were so old and dangerous. After trying to host a small meet in 2019, the club made the difficult decision to remove the aging starting blocks and suspend events altogether. “It would have been better to have no swim meet than to have a dangerous swim meet,” Water Dragons club president Mara Baxtrom says.
Swim meets contribute a significant amount to the club’s annual revenue, so the Water Dragons were already bringing in less money when they began pricing new blocks. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which drove up the cost of materials and installation. By early 2022, the club was desperate: Without new blocks—and the revenue they helped generate—the club might have to shut down altogether. The club went to the bank for a loan, with longtime coach Kevin Ketterer putting up his personal assets as collateral. “We were just praying that we’d be able to fundraise and pay off that note,” Baxtrom says.
Around the same time, a swim parent introduced Baxtrom to Nicci Crowley, the Cortez community officer for the LOR Foundation. “One of the very special things about Cortez is that we look out for each other, “Crowley says. “A local parent, whose daughters don’t swim anymore, reached out about the need for the Water Dragons.” In further conversations with the community, Crowley learned that replacing the swim blocks would be a boon for more than just the Water Dragons: The Cortez parks and recreation department estimated that the ability to host swim meets would bring more than $100,000 of economic impact to Cortez.
“Installing those swim blocks would be a boost to our business community by bringing these swim meets back to Cortez,” Crowley says.
With a $29,995 grant from LOR, the Water Dragons were able to purchase six starting blocks and 12 stanchions (the blocks can be moved to either side of the pool to accommodate a short and long course); the swim club then split the $9,200 cost of installation with the City of Cortez. And—of critical importance—the Water Dragons were able to submit a winning bid to host the state regional swim meet, exactly what they needed to survive.
By August, swimmers from all over Colorado were en route to Cortez. Creighton Wright, director of parks and recreation for the City of Cortez, estimates the impact of hosting that meet alone was $162,000, a figure that includes the cost of lodging, food and beverage, gas, and other recreational activities within the city.
The new blocks should last at least 20 years, allowing the swim team to grow and the city to see a robust economic impact. The Water Dragons now plan to host at least one meet every summer, and instead of using their funds to pay back a loan, they can think about expanding their program to amplify the pool’s community impact. One idea on Baxtrom’s mind is creating a fund for kids who don’t have the resources to join a swim team, or using money to create a scholarship for swimmers going off to college.
That’s in the future, though. For now, Baxtrom is focused on hosting events and helping swimmers—and all of Cortez—reap the benefits from an updated community asset. “This is a rural area, there’s not a lot of money,” she says. “For our little swim team that just needed blocks, which seem so insignificant compared to everything else going on in the world, for us to get that kind of money to boost us, that was the difference between making it and not making it.”
Visit the Cortez Water Dragons website to learn more about the team, opportunities to get involved, or to contact coaches and directors about making a donation.Learn More
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Nicci prides herself on being a connector of people and ideas—a trait that’s central to her work as the LOR Foundation’s community officer in Cortez, Colorado. She listens to community members to understand the challenges they collectively face and then… Meet Nicci