At the pool, summer trickles away

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Last in a series of articles about life at a community pool.

The days are growing shorter. The crowds have thinned. Summer camp is over. The lifeguards are going back to college.

The summer swim season at Padonia Park Club has ebbed away like an outgoing tide. Tomorrow will be the last hurrah, Day 101.

"We always have a boo-hoo party for the end of the year," says Sherry Kovalchik, 54, of Hunt Valley. "It's a wonderful family."

Kovalchik has more reason than most to be saddened by the season's end. After 13 summers at Padonia, tomorrow will be her last day at the pool. She's moving to Florida's Gulf Coast. Her husband has already made the move.

Two weeks ago, the teachers corner, the close-knit covey of educators and poolside regulars, played host for a surprise party for the couple. "Next year, you have to rent a bus and come visit," she told them.

No matter the weather, Labor Day is always a little melancholy around the Cockeysville pool. School has started. Vacation time has come to an end. Summer is stealing away.

"I'm not sure I'll be back," says Meghan Moore, 19, the pool's head lifeguard and a returning sophomore at University of Maryland College Park. "I feel like I need to get myself out in the real world."

As seasons go, Padonia's 44th will be remembered as a mild one. The steady rains of June and the frequent storms of August shaved attendance a bit. According to pool records, sunny days outnumbered rainy ones by only a 2-to-1 margin. Last year was more like 20-to-1.

But July was busy -- the social events as well attended as any in recent memory. The July 4th celebration was as big as ever. Ditto for teen nights, Fridays and Saturday nights at the cabana bar, the crab feasts and Margaritaville, the annual bacchanalia of (all things Jimmy) Buffet.

"I loved July when everything was happening," says Kathy Angstadt, the pool's manager. "In June, it rained. In August, it was indecisive -- it looked the rain might come at any time."

Still, it was a season of milestones. One night in June, someone broke into the cabana bar and stole all the liquor. A burglar alarm was promptly installed. On another night, a valve was accidentally left open and the water was drained out of the baby pools.

Summer romances came and went. Kathy's son Brett Angstadt and Lisa Simmonds decided that being four hours away from one another on two different campuses was too challenging for their relationship and then, according to Kathy, proceeded to see one another every night for a week and a half.

"You really break up funny," she told him.

No one was seriously injured at the pool all summer. An ambulance was summoned just once -- when a secretary in the pool office felt faint. Another employee was chased down Jenifer Road late one night by an irate trespasser he had asked to leave the property.

Two weeks ago, the pool threw a party for its summer workers. Managers handed out the annual paper plate awards (it's strictly a low-budget affair). The awards were presented for, among other things, the best tan lines on staff, the most colorful uniform, the mostly likely to eat someone else's lunch and the employee most likely to be found anywhere but at his post at Padonia.

Kathy, who won the "24 / 7 award" for the long hours she puts in, was impressed by the award given for romantic encounters by lifeguards. "Apparently, I wasn't here 24 / 7 enough," she quipped.

Soon after, while she was playing ping-pong, the staff picked her up and dumped her in the pool. "Respect! Respect!" Kathy yelled on her way into the water, "Or how about, 'You're fired!' "

No fireworks or ceremonies will mark the pool's final 8 p.m. closing tomorrow. Summer at Padonia tends to end with more of a whimper than a bang.

"It's a little depressing when you see that no one's left," says Fred Rigger, the pool's chief executive.

In the off-season, Fred and Kathy and the staff will take stock and think about what improvements can be made. Alan McCabe, the pool's longtime director of facilities, hopes to finish a new railing around the front steps but he doesn't regret seeing sumer end.

"It'll be nice to have weekends off again," he says.

Staff writer Stephanie Shapiro contributed to this article.

By the numbers

What does it take to supply a season of fun at a community swimming pool? These are the numbers, according to the staff at Padonia Park Club:

Gallons of chlorine used to keep pools germ-free: 5,000.

Number of swim lessons taught: 300.

Cups of root beer sold at snack bar: 800. It tied with Sierra Mist as the fourth best-seller behind Pepsi (2,600), Diet Pepsi (2,300) and Lemonade (1,000).

Orders of french fries (the most popular snack food) sold: 3,000.

Number of swim team victories: 3.

Number of swim team losses: 2

Number of people forcibly escorted off the property: 10 (About 20 others were caught sneaking in on various occasions).

Number of hours worked by the pool's approximately 100 employees: 16,500.

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