More than three and a half years ago, a group of alumni from Yale’s swimming team came together and said “enough.” It’s time, we decided, for a new facility; it’s pathetic that for 30 or 40 years we’ve repeatedly heard that a new facility is in the works. Let’s get organized, learn about modern aquatic facilities, see how much they cost and determine if we can raise the money.
Yale’s Kiphuth Exhibition Pool was built in 1932, and has been unchanged since then. It was magnificent in its day, and was among the best indoor facilities in the world for decades. NCAA and national championships were held there; swimmers around the world were eager to compete at Yale.
Sadly, for many decades the exhibition and practice pools have been way out of date. They are inadequate for training, for serving the needs of the Yale community, for hosting even Ivy League events.
After months of investigation, the alumni agreed on one principle — wherever it is located, whatever it looks like, the new pool should be first class. We researched and visited various modern collegiate pools and talked to pool experts throughout the country — manufacturers, consultants, contractors and coaches. We learned about the demands of modern training — what the men and women on the Yale teams do every day to represent Yale proudly and skillfully, practicing early in the morning and again in the afternoon, pounding out thousands on thousands of yards.
So why a first class pool and what does that mean? First, Yale’s pools must accommodate training demands. Yale has men’s and women’s swimming, diving and water polo. The NCAA limits practice hours per week to 20 hours, with one day off. So if there are 32 male and 32 female swimmers (enough to fill all the events), then there must be enough water to accommodate each for nearly three and a half hours per day. Then there is diving, which has similar demands, and men’s water polo in the fall and women’s in the spring.
I’ll skip the math, but the water demands for the teams alone are staggering. Then add intramurals, recreational swimming and the needs of other organized student and staff activities. The coaches and pool managers we spoke with at other universities said they all need more water, no matter how much they have.
Second, to host a championship meet, even an Ivy League championship, requires adequate water. In addition to the water in which the competition is held, warm up and warm down are essential throughout a meet. Swimmers today put in more yards warming up than they did in previous decades. And diving teams too have requirements for warm up and competition.
Princeton has a pool that is almost 25 years old. It is a great pool — an 8-lane, 50-meter pool — yet the team there still needs more water. Harvard’s pool is more than 35 years old, an 8-lane 50-meter pool with additional space for diving; they too have complaints about lack of water. Both Harvard and Princeton kept their old 6-lane, 25-yard pools; they are close to the middle of campus and are used for recreational swimming.
Third, if the Yale swimming program is to compete, even in the Ivy League against peers like Harvard and Princeton, then it needs a modern facility; without such a facility, high schools students who are great swimmers will simply choose another school. Showcasing a facility built in 1932 has more appeal to an archeologist than to an 18-year-old who dreams of Olympic gold.
Facilities do matter. When Yale had the best facility in the country, we had teams to match. Only half of the varsity squad was needed to beat Harvard. Our focus was winning an NCAA championship, which we did on occasion. We were always competitive with the best teams in the country.
The swim alumni have worked hard to research and explain to Yale what modern facilities include and why they are essential. And, importantly, the prospect of a modern, first-class facility excites former Yale swimmers, including some who are willing to back up their excitement with significant contributions. Yale needs a new pool — one that would better enable swimmers here to train, compete and represent this University with pride.
Timothy Garton is a 1964 graduate of Silliman College and a former member of the Yale men’s swimming team .