Nonprofit group keeps the pool open all year in Hampstead

Sarah Ritter, 17, of Hampstead, has been a competitive swimmer since she was in the 4th grade, commuting 45 minutes each way to an indoor pool in Pennsylvania, due to a lack of such facilities in Carroll County.

So in 2006, when Ritter discovered that Carroll Aquatics, a nonprofit group, was running two swim teams at the pool located in the Four Seasons Sports Complex in Hampstead, she was thrilled to have a chance to swim in her own backyard.

"It's really important having a pool in the community. There are a lot of kids that if the pool wasn't around, they would be traveling really far or would not be swimming at all. We jumped at the opportunity and I'm glad we did because we got a great pool and a great coach," Ritter said.

The coach, Mike Kremer, is a former collegiate swimmer, self-described "water rat," president of Carroll Aquatics and coach of both the nonprofit's swim teams, the year round Tiger Sharks, part of USA Swimming, and the summer season team, the Blue Sharks, part of the Central Maryland Swim League.

The pool is unique in Carroll County, according to Kremer, in that it is not only heated, but has a removable dome allowing for indoors swimming in the winter, and early outdoor swimming in the spring.

In early 2011 however, The Four Seasons Sports Complex decided that it was simply too costly to keep the pool open year round, according to General Manager, Tim Lienau.

"The cost of operating an indoor pool is simply astronomical. The amount of propane the pool heater burns in the winter is in the tens of thousands of gallons per week ... It was costing us more than it was making us," Lienau said.

Faced with seeing the pool closed for the winter, Kremer stepped in and offered to have Carroll Aquatics take over all of the operations of the pool, including all the income and expenses, to form the Carroll Aquatics Swim Club. Four Seasons said yes.

"We wanted to keep this pool available for the community year round because there just are not that many recreational pools here in Carroll County," Kremer said.

Without Kremer stepping in, the Tiger Sharks swim team would not have had the chance to succeed in the way they did this past winter, according to Ritter, with nine swimmers competing in a USA Swimming regional swim meet at Virginia Tech and nine swimmers competing for the Maryland championship meet held at the U.S. Naval Academy.

It has been hard work to keep the pool open year round since 2011 and would not have been possible without the efforts of someone with serious dedication, according to Mike Ritter, Sarah's father.

"In a nutshell it comes down to a coach who cared so much for his swimmers that he invested himself mentally, physically and certainly economically to keep the pool up and running throughout the winter for his kids," Mike said.

The first challenge was simply to build recreational pool memberships: At the point when Carroll Aquatics took over management in 2011, membership was essentially zero, with just a handful of year round members from the sports club having been grandfathered in.

In 2012, membership had grown to 100 families, almost purely the result of word of mouth promotion, according to Kremer.

"We do our best to get our name out there. The biggest challenge is that people don't know we are here and that we're now separate from the Four Seasons," Kremer said.

The Carroll Aquatics Swim Club will offer recreational swimming from noon until 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday this summer, and noon until 6 p.m. on Saturdays, according to Kremer, with the season stretching from May 27 through Sept. 2.

Family memberships normally run $550 for the summer, but will be offered at a discounted $450 through May 31, according to Kremer, and registration is available online at http://www.carrollaquatics.com, or by calling the pool office at 410-871-4330.

"Price-wise, we're between the municipal pools and the private swim clubs, but we try to offer all the services and amenities of the private swim clubs," Kremer said.

The Carroll Aquatics Swim Club has two pools, the eight lane heated pool and an outdoor recreational swimming pool that can be rented out for parties and events, fitness classes, and swimming lessons for children that run from the novice level up to the competitive swim team level.

"Someone might start in swim lessons, progress to the summer swim team and from there, to the year round team," Kremer said.

One of the keys to keeping the pool open and prices affordable has been the enthusiasm of the people involved with Carroll Aquatics, according to Kremer.

"A lot of people that are involved in this right now are strictly volunteers. In fact, I am a volunteer. I don't get paid a penny," Kremer said.

According to Kremer, Carroll Aquatics also hopes to partner with businesses and organizations in the community to help increase access to the facility.

"As a nonprofit, we want to make the pool available to everyone. We have several families that are receiving some sort of financial aid ... We are trying to reach out to the community to find sponsorships to help us assist more families," Kremer said.

Sarah said that for her and her teammates, the pool has really filled a void, especially since there is no competitive swimming in Carroll County high schools.

"I definitely want to swim in college. All of us, we come from all around Carroll County to swim here ... [the pool] is like a second home. It's really important to me as a person to let people know that it's there," Sarah said.