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Columbia Neighborhood Swim League cancels summer season due to coronavirus

As the coronavirus pandemic continues throughout the area, news of postponements and cancellations for area activities and programs continues rolling in.

Among the latest losses is one of Columbia’s greatest traditions.

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The Columbia Neighborhood Swim League announced to its managers on Friday the cancellation of its 2020 summer season. The summer program, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, normally begins the day after Memorial Day.

Uncertainty surrounding the current situation, including not knowing when or if Columbia Association facilities will be permitted to reopen, led to the preemptive decision, according to an email sent by Carron Dunker, competitive swimming administrator for the league.

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“I think as much as everyone was holding out hope — and believe me when I say that summer swim team defines the summer for most families — I think most of us knew that this decision was inevitable,” said Thunder Hill Lightning team manager Stephanie Martini, who has been a part of the league in some capacity for more than 40 years either as a swimmer, manager or parent.

“It takes so much time to get the summer swim team ready, from supplies to equipment, and there was just no way that was going to be possible with everything going on. As tough as it was, I think this was the only option for CA considering the unforeseen circumstances,” Martini said.

Teams made announcements on their social media pages Friday afternoon, most expressing sadness but also an understanding of the situation.

“Of course I am disappointed because CNSL is my family’s favorite thing. We all participate in some way,” said Sheri Wettstein, who has been a manager for the Pheasant Ridge Rapids for eight years and has two sons who have swam on the team. “But, I also understand the decision to keep us all safe.”

Dunker, who is now on temporary furlough because of the Columbia Association’s closure during the health crisis, was unavailable for comment. The summer season for the Columbia Clippers, a competitive swim program that is also part of the CA, has been canceled as well.

Dan Burns, Director of Sport and Fitness for Columbia Association, said that CA is “in the process of making many difficult decisions about operations.” As for the CNSL specifically, Burns said there were several points to consider surrounding the lack of a time table for reopening.

“There is significant preparation required for the leagues, including coaches, lifeguards, volunteers and we are presently operating on a skeleton staff across the organization,” Burns said. “We do not know how many of the outdoor pools will open this summer. It is likely that all will not reopen given the current uncertainty.”

The CNSL is currently made up of 14 teams and the recreational league has been a rite of summer every year since the inaugural season in 1969. Each year there are usually six head-to-head meets on Saturday mornings before the season concludes with the All-City meet, typically held during the last weekend in July.

Swimmers start as young as 4 and are eligible to continue until they are 18, participating in a variety of individual events and relays.

“CNSL is an institution in this area. It’s really a community all its own,” Martini said. “It’s where swimming is fun and, for even our year-round swimmers, it’s that place you get to come back to every year with your family and remember why you fell in love with it.”

Martini said that should pools eventually open, Thunder Hill will make every effort to work with the CA to arrange a way to honor its 18-year-old swimmers at some point this summer.

“Those senior swimmers, the same kids that are missing out on proms and graduations, they are also now missing out on their last swimming season that some of them have been building toward for 15 years,” Martini said. “We are going to do everything we can, within the guidelines of course, to make sure they get some kind of recognition.”

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