Atholton Swim Club celebrates 50 years

The last half-century has brought much in the way of change for Columbia and its surrounding neighborhoods. Between a boom in population, industry and culture, the area is nearly unrecognizable from its early years.

While the city's transformation sent its original feel out the window, there are still a few establishments that have stood the test of time.

Celebrating its 50th year of operation, the Atholton Swim Club has maintained its community roots, as families with multiple generations of members continue to mix with new residents to the region.

"It's a small enough club, and a close-knit group, so we try to tailor our memberships to the needs of the community," said club president Andrew Freeman. "That, in itself, is pretty special."

The story of the Atholton Swim Club has been something of an underdog tale — especially with mammoth groups like Columbia Association offering less expensive memberships and more pool options throughout the area.

Still, this collection of neighborhood families and friends stayed true to the cause over the last five decades to do whatever they could to help their little club on Seneca Drive survive.

"Everybody knows everybody, and everyone is willing to chip in," said Freeman, who has been a member for seven years, and president for two. "We don't hire people to do work around the pool. It's all done from members and volunteers."

Just as it did when the organization was in its infancy, the family-oriented club ensures that all aspects of the pool are running as smoothly as possible today. Whether its working at the snack stand, mending a broken railing or even setting up the ever-popular slip and slide, those members feel like the pool is an extension of themselves.

Michael Draminski, 14-year head coach of the Atholton Barracudas swim team, has been a member for his entire life.

"I don't think the pool has changed much. I think one of the biggest reasons I chose to work there was that I wanted the kids to share the same experiences I had," he said. "It's comfortable, it's fun and it's a place you can enjoy. That environment still exists, just like it did for me 30 years ago."

Draminski, whose parents still live in the neighborhood, spoke of a common core of values shared between the club's members. With so many pools to choose from, he said it's those types of qualities that draw in new members.

Since the club is bonded, with those members owning a portion of the organization, its success is of the utmost importance.

"I value what it has done for my family. I don't think you can put a price on having a place where our kids are safe and can develop some great relationships," said Mary Ann Carroll, the program's membership coordinator. "I work so hard on this pool because I want it to be there for the next generation of kids."

The pool itself still features the same exposed brick look it had when construction first began in 1963. A year later, it began accepting members.

A play area for kids, tennis courts and plenty of both outdoor and indoor games and activities keep members of all ages busy. The Barracudas swim team, also celebrating its 50th year, is open to all children in the club who want to join as well.

Through 12 years of membership, Carroll said the challenges that face a small-time pool like ASC have forced those on the board to get creative.

Decreasing membership dues and bond rates, implementing different activities to get the kids involved, like Dive-In Movie Nights — where families are welcomed to gather around the pool with popcorn and catch an outdoor flick — and even having the area waffle truck stop by the club on Mondays, have all been successful ideas thus far.

Still, what ultimately attracts most people interested in joining a pool club is what the brochures fail to mention, according to Carroll.

"I think the key to increasing our membership is getting people to experience our pool and see why it makes sense to join," she said, citing a time where her son and his friends built a baseball diamond in the club's green space as an example of just how much the small club can offer. "That's not something you can do at a CA pool."

The neighborhood is getting older, and many of the kids who grew up running around the pool deck — and were subsequently scolded by lifeguards who probably did the same thing when they were younger members — are graduating and moving on.

The change is to be expected, so it's that new crop of members that the board aims to please, all the while keeping that community feel alive and well.

"It's an institution. It's always been there," Draminski said. "But, to hear 50 years, and to think that so many other families have enjoyed it, I think its pretty cool that this small pool in a nice neighborhood has persevered.

"Hopefully we'll do another 50 more."

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