The Water’s Just Right | Sports Destination Management

The Water’s Just Right

Swimming and Diving Destinations Making a Splash
Mar 01, 2024 | By: Michael Popke

Ball sports dominate the sports tourism landscape, while convention centers and other large multi-purpose indoor sports facilities pull double duty to host a variety of mat sports. But it takes a special kind of destination to commit to making swimming and diving competitions a priority.

Obviously, you need a natatorium that meets governing body standards. But such a venue also requires buy-in from sports tourism officials, community organizations and, quite often, taxpayers willing to foot at least part of the bill for a new aquatic center. That’s not always an easy combination to find.

Fortunately for aquatics event organizers, plenty of destinations around the country have recognized the role swimming and diving can play in their overall sports tourism strategy, and it’s paying off.

“I’ve personally seen swim and dive grow quite a bit in recent years,” says Andrew Smith, director of sales at Visit Fresno County. “The size of meets is getting bigger [and] we see a lot more kids getting involved in swimming at the high school level than we’ve seen in the past.”

“The swimming and diving culture has always been a tight-knit community,” adds Igor Bakovic, director of sports for the DuPage (Illinois) Sports Commission. “Competitive swimming and diving start at a young age, whether through a park district, swim club or private pool, and is widely supported by families and the many athletes that came before them. The mere existence of the FMC Natatorium at Ty Warner Park in Westmont is a testament to the strength of the aquatic community here. Founder Mary Ann Kaufman, a proud swim parent, ensured Illinois age group and senior swimmers had a facility to call home … and it is now one of the premier aquatic venues in the United States.”

Fresno County, DuPage County and other destinations profiled on the following pages are worthy of attention for their dedication to hosting a diverse range of swimming and diving events that also includes water polo and artistic swimming.

Fresno County, California

Fresno, CA: | Photos Courtesy of Visit Fresno County
Fresno, CA: | Photos Courtesy of Visit Fresno County

Swimming has become a priority sport in this mid-California destination, thanks to its year-round warm weather and high-profile outdoor facilities. The Clovis North High School Aquatics Complex is considered the region’s premier facility in Central California and features two parallel 50-meter pools, each 25 yards wide, and they were built with competitive swimming and water polo in mind, according to Smith. There’s also a diving well and on-deck seating for about 750, plus additional space for portable bleachers and pop-up canopies.

Meanwhile, Clovis West High School, which features a 50-meter pool, diving well and two smaller pools, completed a $7.5 million upgrade last year that included a new deck, timing system, video board and massive shade structure. Both Clovis West and Clovis North have hosted USA Swimming, USA Diving and USA Water Polo events, along with California Interscholastic Federation state championships. Other area high schools and California State University, Fresno also boast aquatic facilities capable of hosting meets.

“The Fresno/Clovis area has state-of-the-art swim facilities, great weather most of the year and active swim clubs, and our location allows easy travel for athletes,” Smith says.

DuPage County, Illinois

DuPage County, IL | Photo courtesy of USA Artistic Swimming
DuPage County, IL | Photo courtesy of USA Artistic Swimming

Located 20 miles west of Chicago, DuPage County has been named by as the healthiest county in Illinois, a ranking no doubt inspired in part by the FMC Natatorium, which opened in 2020. The 71,000-square-foot facility houses a 50-meter Olympic-size Myrtha Pool with nine competition lanes, a 25-yard eight-lane training pool, movable bulkheads, seating for 1,200 spectators, concessions and more.

FMC Natatorium hosts the annual Illinois High School Association State Swimming and Diving Championships for both boys and girls, and in March, the facility is welcoming the TYR Pro Swim Series for the third consecutive year, further establishing its place on the national map.

The TYR Pro event will be followed by USA Water Polo’s 2024 Olympic Development Program Boys’ National Championships in mid-March, and the venue will welcome back the USA Water Polo Kap7 Champions Cup in November after first hosting it in 2022.

“Throughout my time working with the team at FMC Natatorium, I have learned that a lot of research and thought went into the design of the venue,” Bakovic says. “It was a combination of some of the best features from various swim facilities around the country, as well as incorporating their own personal design. The result is a very exquisite venue with high-end finishes and so much natural light.”

Effingham, Illinois

Effingham, IL | Photo courtesy of Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Complex
Effingham, IL | Photo courtesy of Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Complex

About three hours due south of DuPage County is Effingham, where the opening of the Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Complex in 2016 helped establish the community as a go-to destination for swimming and diving competitions.

“We’ve noticed an increase in local and regional participation and support of aquatic events,” says Jodi Thoele, director of tourism for the City of Effingham. “There have been several meets hosted by the Heartland Hurricanes, a local year-round competitive swim team. Effingham has also hosted the Central Illinois Swim Conference, Summer League Swimming Championships and some smaller meets.”

The Workman facility includes a 25-yard eight-lane competition pool and raised spectator seating for 300. During major meets, the three lanes often are available in the adjacent recreation pool for continuous warming up and cooling down.

Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, OH | Photo courtesy of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission
Columbus, OH | Photo courtesy of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission

Swimming and diving is anchored in Columbus by the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion on The Ohio State University campus. Home to the Buckeyes swimming, diving and synchronized swimming teams, the facility includes a swimming pool with 10 50-meter lanes, 20 25-yard lanes or 28 25-meter lanes, and it has earned a reputation for its fast water. The diving well has five springboards and five platforms, and on-deck seating accommodates 1,300, while a spectator seating section can hold up to 1,750 people.

The pavilion has hosted several men’s and women’s NCAA Division I and Big Ten championships, as well as the USA Swimming Speedo Sectionals four times since 2015 (including in 2023) and the Speedo Winter Junior Nationals East twice since 2016 (including last year).

Meanwhile, the Meek Aquatics and Recreation Center at Ohio Wesleyan University in nearby Delaware, Ohio, offers 10 25-yard lanes with a diving well and 1- and 3-meter diving boards. It is the university’s first “green” building and features a geothermal energy system that heats and cools the building and a heat-recovery system that heats water for the pool. The facility also includes a reflective clay-tile roof, as well as recycled, regional and low-VOC (volatile organic chemical) building materials.

“The city is easy to get to by car or plane and perfectly sized to host aquatics events,” says Jesse Ghiorzi, director of marketing for the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. “We have great facilities, passionate fans and lots to do nearby.”

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Lancaster, PA | Photo courtesy of Dave Sinclair
Lancaster, PA | Photo courtesy of Dave Sinclair

Keep heading east out of Columbus, and you’ll eventually wind up in Lancaster, where a vibrant swimming community is buoyed by the 21,000-square-foot Kunkel Aquatic Center and the 50-meter-by-25-yard McGinness Pool at Franklin & Marshall College. The venue holds almost 500 spectators and boasts a state-of-the-art UV purification system that allows for lower chlorine levels and cleaner air quality for both swimmers and spectators.

As in years past, the facility is hosting high-profile meets this year such as the Easterns Championship (known as “the premier prep school swimming and diving meet in the country”), the New Jersey YMCA 13 & Over State Championship and Middle Atlantic Swimming’s Junior Championships.

“All three are back this year,” says Chris Ackerman, director of sales at Discover Lancaster, adding that the city’s central location makes travel fast and easy for swimmers and divers from such locales as Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City.

Morristown, Tennessee

Morristown Landing, TN | Photo courtesy of Morristown Landing Recreation and Events
Morristown Landing, TN | Photo courtesy of Morristown Landing Recreation and Events

Another strong aquatics community can be found in Morristown, Tennessee, located near the state’s northeastern corner.

“The competitive swimming and diving scene in Morristown is evolving, especially considering the challenges related to limited pool access over the years,” says Sarah Brackins, aquatics manager at Morristown Landing Recreation and Events, a multi-purpose sports complex that opened last June with a swimming facility as well as hard courts, a climbing center and other amenities. “Our aquatic center has become a central point for swim teams in the area.”

Highlights include a 25-meter-by-25-yard 11-lane competition pool, upper-deck spectator seating, Gen7 timing technology from Colorado Time Systems and 1-meter diving boards.

“[There is an] absence of established diving teams alongside existing swim teams. Our aim is to eventually develop a diving program, introducing a new aspect to aquatic activities to enhance the overall competitive environment for the community,” Brackins says. “The combination of cutting-edge technology, competitive features and spectator-friendly infrastructure makes our facility a prime choice for swimming and diving events.”

Greensboro, North Carolina

Greensboro, NC | Photo courtesy of Joey Kirkman
Greensboro, NC | Photo courtesy of Joey Kirkman

Greensboro calls itself “Tournament Town,” and it does not limit itself to ball and mat sports. The moniker extends to swimming and diving events held at the Greensboro Aquatic Center, which locals like to call the GAC, and is part of the epic Greensboro Coliseum Complex.

The facility, which seats 2,500 spectators, hosted the Toyota U.S. Open Championships in 2022 and 2023, as well as the Phillips 66 International Team Trials and the Speedo Winter Junior Nationals East (both in 2022). It also has served as home to the NCAA Division I, II and III Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in 2021, 2022 and 2023, and it will host several meets in 2024; these include three collegiate conference swimming championships, the YMCA National Short Course Swimming Championship and the AAU Junior Olympic Games.

In 2019, the GAC opened its fourth pool: an $8.3 million, 27,000-square-foot addition that offers a 50-meter practice pool with 19 short course lanes and eight long course lanes to complement a 50-meter stretch competition pool with 22 short course lanes and eight long course lanes, a 25-yard warm-up/cool-down pool with six lanes, and a 25-yard diving well with six swimming lanes and diving apparatuses for 10, 7.5, 5, 3 and 1 meters.

“We are dedicated to staying at the forefront of aquatic trends, consistently exploring innovative facility upgrades,” says David Hoover, aquatics director at the GAC. Recent improvements include the installation of state-of-the-art LED lights in the main competition pool, the enhancement of a fresh air evacuator that significantly improves indoor air quality and the addition of two trusses, one designed for high-speed camera systems and the other for impactful signage.

“The Greensboro Aquatic Center has emerged as one of the top aquatic facilities in the nation,” adds Brian Ambuehl, director of sales for the Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau, noting that not only does the state-of-the-art facility feature cutting-edge concepts in aquatic design, but it’s also the largest indoor aquatic facility in the United States.

When Hoover offers organizers of swimming and diving events suggestions for exploring swimming and diving opportunities in the Greensboro area, they could just as easily apply to any aquatics destination.

“One crucial piece of information [when] considering Greensboro is the availability and quality of aquatic facilities in the area,” he says. “Greensboro’s aquatic infrastructure, including pools and diving facilities, can significantly impact the feasibility and success of such events. Checking the availability of suitable venues, our capacity and any additional amenities we offer would be a key consideration. Additionally, understanding the local community’s interest and support for swimming and diving events can contribute to the overall planning and success of the event.” SDM

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