The pool was pristine, the concession stand stocked, and the smell of suntan lotion filled the air.
West Laurel Swim Club opened for the season on Saturday and for its members and staff, it promises to be a big one — its 50th anniversary.
“We have a pretty active social calendar,” said Greg Karpman, a board member. “We want everybody to come out and have a good time.”
Things kicked off early as the pool hosted its second annual 5K and one-mile walk as well its first dog walk in the morning. All participants were then invited to enjoy the club’s facilities throughout the holiday weekend.
“We are one of the biggest pools in the county,” Karpman said of the Olympic-size pool, 50 meters in length, which features a diving board, lap swimming, a shallow area, a basketball hoop and a water slide all under the watchful eyes of lifeguards.
The club may be one of the oldest, too, said Karpman, whose parents were one of the founding families.
“I personally grew up in this neighborhood, and this was our neighborhood pool,” Karpman said. “Every summer, I came to the pool. It is where you saw your friends.”
Karpman even moved back to the area to raise his family near the pool.
“I wanted my kids to experience it when they grew up,” Karpman said. “I saw my family volunteer here to keep the pool going, and now my brother and I do.”
While there are nine lifeguards and a separate staff for the Snack Shack, volunteers like Karpman help organize the events stage around the pool each year, from story telling and craft time for little ones, to teen parties and movie nights. For adults, there are weekly tastings for craft beer and wine, potluck dinners and cookouts.
“Some members come for the social aspect,” he said. “They don’t even get in the water. I’m here right now to see everyone and I’m not in a bathing suit.”
The club also offers pingpong, a foosball table and corn hole.
“It’s all about bringing the community together,” Karpman said, “where neighbors become your friends.”
Shanon Tapia, of Hanover, first came to the pool last summer when a neighbor invited her child to a birthday party.
“We came and I liked the pool. It’s not too crowded,” Tapia said. “My husband works in Laurel, and he can come here and join us afterward.”
Tapia’s neighbor, Kaycee Campbell, won a membership to the pool four years ago and has renewed it every year since.
“The kids like it.They would love to stay sunup to sundown and the people are nice,” Campbell said, as she watched her family in the pool. “It’s nice to have something you can go to.”
At one point in the club’s history, there was a waiting list to become a member. The last few years, the club, which is chartered for 600 families, averages about 180 members.
“We are living in a digital world where smart phones and video games have become our competition,” wrote Vanessa van der Have, a board member, in an email. “We want to re-introduce the WLSC to the community and remind everyone of the health and wellness benefits of getting outside during the summer months.”
Fees range between $495 to $596 with varying memberships for households and empty-nesters.
New for this season, members have the opportunity to reduce their costs through volunteering. Kim Jones, who has been a member for 12 years, volunteered Saturday at the front desk.
“This is the first day and I got the first shift,” Jones said. “I was glad to reduce my fees by volunteering.”
Marissa Thigpen, 15, volunteered in the club’s Snack Shack. For the past five years, Thigpen has also been competing with the club’s swim team, the West Laurel Wahoos.
“Before I started here, I did not know how to swim at all,” said Marissa, who competes the breast stroke. “I was the most improved swimmer for three years.”
As a freshman at Laurel High School, Marissa was part of the school’s swim team and received an athletic letter.
“We have a fun swim team,” Karpman said. “It is competitive, but we stress that it is all about having fun.”
In order to enjoy all the pool has to offer, kids have to pass a swim test, according to pool manager James Linville. They must dive or jump in feet first, tread water, spin around and swim the length of the pool before receiving a bracelet that signifies they took the test.
While Linville and his staff of lifeguards watch the pool closely, he stressed that safety also begins with parents and caregivers.
“Keep track of your little ones and enforce the rules,” Linville said. “It helps us do our job better.”
Besides the morning 5K, the club is also hosting a ceramic tile fundraiser. For a fee, anyone can design and create artwork to put on a tile that will be hung on a wall in the clubhouse.
“The goal of these fundraisers is to help take the club into the next 50 years,” van der Have, the board member, said. “The pool needs critical maintenance and repairs such as a new coating for the pool’s surface and installation of handicapped railings and benches in the bathhouse.”
More information about the fundraiser can be found on the club’s website westlaurelswimclub.com
Celebration plans for the club’s 50th anniversary are still being finalized. The day-long event will take place in July and feature musical performances and a display of photos and memorabilia from the past 50 years, van der Have said.