Litchfield Park pool dives into 53rd year
By Philip Haldiman
Children who grew up in Litchfield Park may go away to college or work or leave for any number of reasons.
But many of them come back to raise kids and grow old.
And the venerable pool at the Litchfield Park Recreation Center is a symbol of that tradition, like the reflection of its residents in the water who have enjoyed it over the years.
Stefi McGeorge moved to town in 1978 at age 7, and right off the bat, she and her three brothers joined the Lagartos summer swim team.
She said back then, the pool was also open in the winter with heated water and a sauna.
“The only sport you could do all year was swimming. There wasn’t as much to do back then, but the pool was right in the middle of the community,” Ms. McGeorge said. “So we’d ride our bikes to the Mayfair, buy a candy bar and then head to swim practice at the rec. It was an affordable and fun way to spend your time.”
The pool just received a $119,000 new surface and will open for its 53rd season Monday, April 22. The annual kick-off April Pool’s Day event is Saturday, April 27. There will be free popcorn, snow cones and face-painting, as well as a belly-flop/cannonball contest, whirl-pool and jewel toss games.
Sonny Culbreth, former Litchfield Park parks and recreation director of about 30 years, said the pool has been re-plastered three times since he started.
He said the new type of plaster is supposed to last even longer than previous materials.
But plasters fade and crack, a high diving board is removed and the pool hours changed over the years, closing during the offseasons in 2008 as a result of the Great Recession.
Mr. Culbreth, 71, said being open all year became a luxury once the downturn hit, but swimmers past and present agree — the Litchfield Park pool hasn’t changed all that much during his tenure.
“It’s gone through a few changes. The orange trees used to be about knee high. But the palm trees were there. The tennis courts and basketball court, all that was there,” he said. “A lot of kids have swam in this pool and a lot of teaching has been done at this pool, and some of those kids went to college, came back and coached their kids and others’ kids.”
Ms. McGeorge was one of those children.
As she grew older, her visits to the pool did not slow down.
She was the state champion in the 50-meter Butterfly at age 12.
In high school she continued swimming year-round and for Agua Fria High School. She worked as a lifeguard, swimming instructor, and Litchfield Lagartos swim coach at the recreation center. Later, she swam for the University of California at Davis.
After coming back to Litchfield Park, her four daughters followed in her footsteps competing against local swim teams, and her second oldest still works as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at the pool during summer break, now a student at University of Arizona.
“When my kids were on the summer swim team, it was so much fun because all the families would set-up and picnic on the grass by the library,” Ms. McGeorge said. “Growing up, being at the pool was such a huge part of my life and provided such a feeling of community. It was just what we did and it paid off later in life.”
The pool offers a variety of programing ranging from league swimming and lessons to adult programs. Mr. Culbreth said the pool remains an active hub of the community.
In 2018 the pool experienced more than 2,000 registrations for aquatic programs serving youth and adults. More than 3,000 additional customers were served during scheduled pool rentals and open swim, along with family-focused special events.
Mr. Culbreth said it has been a privilege to be a part of the history of the recreation center and the development of the pool and the programs that contribute greatly to the quality of life enjoyed in Litchfield Park.
“The Recreation Center has been described as the heart of the community and I have been blessed to have been a part of it,” he said.
If you go
What: April Pool’s Day
When: April 27
Where: Litchfield Park Recreation Center, 100 S. Old Litchfield Road
Details: There will be free popcorn, snow cones, and face-painting for patrons to enjoy. The aquatics staff will also host a belly-flop/cannonball contest in the deep end of the pool, whirl-pool and jewel toss games will be held in the wader pool for the younger kids.