The Tragedy of the YU Pool

By: Mitch Goulson  |  February 2, 2021

By Mitch Goulson

Before I arrived at YU, I never thought anything of swimming — well, I could not drown, but I couldn’t really swim. While looking for an alternative to the gym during my first semester on campus, I decided to try out the pool as another workout option.

During a swim in late-September 2019, I noticed a young man, seemingly in his mid-20s, swimming back and forth in the pool without tire, flip-turning off the wall each time. Considering that I could barely do more than two laps without needing a minute break to catch my breath, I asked him for some advice. He showed me proper swim techniques, and I realized that I had no idea how to swim. After training for two months, five days a week, and 2,500 meters every night, I improved greatly and swimming took on a major part of my life.

As I continued swimming, I wondered why YU had a fully-functioning lap pool but no swim team. I dreamed of captaining the first-ever YU Swim Team, leading the team to wins in meets and working on my craft everyday. Despite the lack of lane ropes, pool flags or a working swim clock, I nonetheless decided that I would commit myself to spearheading YU’s first-ever swim team.

I recruited students as well as coaches, and I held tryouts and tracked each swimmer’s times. With the amount of time I dedicated to starting up this team, I essentially added the equivalent of a class to my schedule in my first semester. In fact, David Freedman, the man who taught me how to swim that one night in September, became the head coach of the team. For the next two months, our team of 14 people practiced for an hour every night for four nights a week, even incorporating dry-land workouts in the gym. I am incredibly proud of the dedication shown by the members of the team toward a goal that was not guaranteed, and for no additional credits.

Unfortunately, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, I went home to Los Angeles, putting my efforts for the swim team on hold. While I remained quarantined at home, I continued to swim for exercise in my pool. In fact, I taught myself all four strokes and improved greatly as spring and summer passed. I yearned to return to YU in the fall and officially inaugurate the swim team in YU lore. I fantasized about balancing coping with online classes and swimming in YU’s pool.

The pool remained closed when I returned to YU. Because of the pandemic and the safety issues that accompany it, I kept the swim team on pause and turned my focus to solely reopening the pool in a limited capacity for lap swimming. Considering the low risk of transmitting COVID-19 through a pool — according to the CDC, “the chlorine in the water should ‘inactivate’ coronavirus,”—  it baffles me as to why the administration adamantly refuses to open the facility as enforcing a two-swimmer-limit remains a more than viable option. Meanwhile, workout facilities such as the workout gym and basketball court, both of which carry a far greater risk for COVID-19 spread, remain open.

Many schools, including Binghamton University (NY), University of Maryland (MD), and Penn State University (PA) have resumed lap swimming with restrictions such as social distancing and wearing a mask outside the water. Additionally, I personally know of various private areas to swim in my home state of California.

I have been in constant communication with the Athletic Director, Joe Bednarsh, about reopening the pool. I have sent him emails, asked him for meetings, and have been proactive in trying to understand why he would not commit to opening the pool while at the same time keeping the weight room and basketball court open. While he has been responsive, he has not given a single valid response as to why the pool should remain closed. Instead of simply telling me “yes, let’s open it” or “no, let’s revisit next year,” he has run me in circles, telling me that it is feasible but continually noting that there are other concerns he has yet to expound upon.

After reaching out to YU’s Medical Director myself about the safety of utilizing the pool, Mr. Bednarsh agreed that opening the pool for the second semester was “appropriate.” However, nothing about his actions makes it at all clear that he has any intentions of reopening it.

It is not as if the pool is in no condition to be used. It is drained, cleaned, and otherwise treated as if it was open on a regular basis. The lane ropes that were purchased last year would make it simple to enforce social distancing in the pool. In a show of good faith and attentiveness to safety, I also argued that the other pool facilities I would ideally use — the adjacent locker room and sauna/steam room — were “wholly unimportant” and “should not be reopened out of an abundance of caution.”

Last year, I recruited student-lifeguards to be on duty and arranged their weekly work schedules. This semester, I have offered to not only recruit lifeguards, but to also create schedules for the pool, its cleaning, the lifeguards’ hours, and anything else that would make the reopening process easier on the administration. Unfortunately, Mr. Bednarsh has not shown a willingness to meet with me nor to discuss avenues of how we could work together to open the pool, even at a limited capacity. He has not spoken to me in person nor over the phone, both of which I have suggested multiple times, offering to make time around his schedule to meet. Despite putting money into the pool in the form of a new pool clock, pool flags, and three lane ropes last year, it feels as though his investment was for naught.

Mr. Bednarsh has displayed great efforts in coordinating with the NCAA to ensure safe basketball and baseball seasons, recently releasing the basketball team’s schedule, and announcing tryout dates for the baseball team via email. It would be greatly appreciated if he would allocate similar efforts to opening the pool, even if just for recreational swimming.

To swimmers, access to a pool is everything, and while my fellow students and I struggle with the shortfalls of online learning, a part of our lives is missing. Our semesters are being made more difficult by the absence of the pool which would help manage our stress in the middle of the pandemic.