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September 1, 2011 by Greg Lederer

The Cheshire swim community celebrated news that came out of the Cheshire Town Council Meeting on Aug. 17. By a vote of 7-2, a new bubble was approved to cover the Cheshire Community Pool, ensuring that it will continue on as a year-round facility.
However, that meeting didn't solve all the issues facing local swim teams. Town officials approximate the bubble won't be ready until late November or early December, meaning coaches, administrators, and organizers have to find other options for pool time upon the pool closure.
The previous bubble, which covered the Community Pool, suffered irreparable damage under the weight of snowfall back on Jan. 12, but after an extended process, the Town's insurance carrier agreed to write a check for $284,000 to cover it's replacement. A unanimous vote also appropriated $127,794 for additional equipment.
“We were thrilled that the Council made what we thought was the right decision to keep the pool as a year-round facility,” said Cheshire YMCA Sea Dog Swim Club Coach Sean Farrell. “We are excited about the future.”
However, the weather will turn cold or inclement over the fall and winter months, making team practices and meets virtually impossible to hold, although both the Sea Dogs and Cheshire High School girls' swim and dive program plan to practice and host meets as long as they can into October.
CHS Athletic Director Steve Trifone is confident that the girls can persevere this fall. The Lady Rams had scheduled nine meets at the Community Pool, including the Southern Connecticut Conference Trials and Swim Finals. Cheshire opens against Joseph Foran on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.
“I'm looking into other options,” explained Trifone. “The meets are simpler than practice times because we can go to the other school's facility.”
“I'm hoping to get a new site straightened out in the next couple weeks,” stated Cheshire YMCA Sea Dog Swim Club Coach Sean Farrell. “I want to have a set date for when we have to leave the pool.”
What makes this situation different than previous closures of the facility is the ongoing change at Cheshire Academy. CHS boys' swim and dive and the Sea Dogs paid to rent the Academy's pool facility last winter. However, with a new turf field and track nearly completed next to the field house at the prep school, there were concerns about traffic congestion and parking availability. According to Brett Torrey, Academy athletic director, both local swim teams won't be allowed to practice there for the foreseeable future.
“We felt that, when the bubble came down, everybody came here. It put a lot of pressure on us,” reflected Torrey, who has already received interest in using the turf field. “This program has grown so much that we have decided as a community that we need to dial it back. In the last nine years, I've been a good neighbor with Cheshire High School. I just think a lot of people are going to want time here and we only have so much room.”
“The Academy was always great,” added Farrell. “The fact that we could use that pool kept us going, there is no doubt about it. It is a bummer that we can't use it anymore.”
Cheshire Academy has, conversely, agreed to host CHS girls on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, after the Community Pool shuts it's doors this fall. Torrey added that Wednesday are big-game days. Only, CHS Girls Swim Team Head Coach Ed Aston has concerns about length of practice (2:30-4:30 p.m.) and limitations of the pool.
“At (the Community Pool), I can put 51 swimmers in 10 lanes. But, there are only six lanes at Cheshire Academy and no diving board. We are working on getting our divers to Sheehan, but that isn't finalized yet,” explained Aston, who is headed into his 37th season.
Aston feels depth and the dedication to practice are the driving forces behind the school's lasting success. Cheshire holds the national record for consecutive dual-meet wins (276) dating back to 1986.
“I've never had to cut before. I want to give the same opportunity to any girl that wants to swim, but with this situation, am I supposed to tell some girls half-way through season that we don't have room for them?” questioned Aston. “You build camaraderie in practice and that is why I want to keep the girls together. If we find another site, are we going to have to take two buses there? The high school would have to hire another assistant coach.”
“It is really difficult, especially because we have a lot of new swimmers,” added Haley Payne, one of two senior captains. “It is really important that we keep that team aspect.”
Aston also expressed his belief that the problem with the bubble could have been handled quicker by the Town and that a replacement bubble might have been erected in time to ensure that no practices or meets were missed. He stated that he wanted to be a part of the process that decided whether the pool would be turned into a summer-only facility or remain open year round and addressed his concerns with Trifone, but to no avail.
Now, Aston is hoping the Town steps in to help convince Cheshire Academy to provide more practice time.
“I think there has to be an intervention from the Town to speak with Cheshire Academy. Brett Torrey has been very accommodating with us, but I think this decision is out of his hands,” said Aston. “The Town Council doesn't understand what it takes to run a nationally ranked program. I tried to tell them that it isn't about me. I think these kids work very hard and deserve to be recognized at their Senior Night.”
Farrell says the uncertainty of a site has affected Sea Dog membership. He approximates the club has 180 swimmers, with 20 less during the summer months.
“I think it impacts people on the fence about swimming. Somebody may look to join a club with more stability right now,” explained Farrell.
While unable to swim at the Cheshire pool earlier this year, Farrell was proud that the Sea Dogs still captured the 2011 Short Course Age Group Championship at Wesleyan University.
“That was exciting,” reflected Farrell. “They know we can work through it. We have to keep plugging away and make the most out of it.”
CHS football is also adapting across the street. With $270,000 raised in private donations and a $525,000 grant from the state, the Town Council gave the go-ahead (6-3 vote) for an artificial turf field on Aug. 9. They designated an additional $189,000 to replace the track at the David B. Maclary Athletic Complex. Construction of the new field started two days later.
“It's been a long road, but I think it's worth waiting for,” said Trifone. “I believe, in the end, people will enjoy the options the new facility brings.”
If the plan stays on point, Trifone expects to miss two home football games. The opener against Hamden, originally scheduled for Sept. 16, has been moved up a day and the site switched to Sheehan in Wallingford. Cheshire will host Daniel Hand on Oct. 6 at Maloney in Meriden. Both alternate fields already have turf. The games remain scheduled for 7 p.m.
“We hope to debut the field against Wilbur Cross on Oct. 14, but we can move that game to Sheehan if we have to,” added Trifone.
“We've talked about this project for years,” said CHS Head Coach Mark Ecke. “I can't wait to see what it looks like.”
The track is currently closed to people until the project is finished. Signs are posted on the fence.
“They need two weeks after the turf is done, so early November if everything goes according to plan,” said Trifone. “Weather is important, too. They need 14 clear days.”
Cheshire Junior Football will continue to play on the CHS practice field. Hurricane Irene delayed the 2011 opener to Sept. 4.

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