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WESTCHASE // Preparing to greet summer with a splash

Published Jul. 6, 2006

If you don't look too closely _ you might decide the Westchase community is the complete package. Just don't get near the pool _ at least not until next month.

That's when a new aquatics program and director start serving the legions of water-loving kids and parents headed into another steamy summer.

Since the first aquatics director left last August, sinking the organized swimming program, the phones at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center have been ringing at the rate of 10 calls a week, said William Thomas, tennis director and manager of the facility.

"A lot of kids are going down to the University of Tampa to swim or Forest Hills. . . . There's a big demand from residents and from people who know there is a pool here and know there was a program here at one time," he said.

With the hiring last week of Richard Rogers, a Long Island native who built the Dunedin Aquatic Club from scratch, parents can look forward to a swim team for kids ages 8 to 17; swimming lessons for all ages, including infants; a master swim program for adults; and a triathlon training group on Saturday mornings. A new half-day activity camp for kids also will be offered June through August, which will include water sports, Thomas said.

Before he established the Dunedin program in 1990, Rogers was aquatics director at East Lake Woodlands, a country club community in Pinellas County. Soon, he hopes to move his family to Westchase from Tarpon Springs: wife Sheila, 34; daughter, Desiray, 17; and son, Tony, 11.

Rogers, 33, estimates the new programs will begin next month, but that it "will be a process more than event."

"I see the program being in full swing by summertime," he said, adding that he wants Westchase swimmers to reach national levels in competitive swimming, as his Dunedin Club has.

"Westchase is such a beautiful community. . . . There's the requisite facilities, the people, the commitment. . . . They have the dedication to establish a competitive program," Rogers said.

Thomas said the aquatics program will be year-round, as any program that features a heated pool should be.

It will fill a void for Westchase residents and swimmers in surrounding communities who until now have had to drive for half an hour, to the Bob Sierra Family YMCA in Northdale, or another subdivision, just to swim for half an hour, he said.

Besides, said Cece Addison, a Westchase mother of three, the programs at the YMCA are too large and move too slowly to provide much of a challenge.

"There's not the kind of competition or push you get if you were on a swim team," she said.

Rogers will bring in five certified water safety instructors as the program grows, doubling the center's staff, Thomas said.

The program will be open to non-residents, too, said Thomas, at a slightly higher rate. Families who enroll more than one child in the program will receive a discount. Beginning swim classes and the masters program already are filling up fast. For information or reservations, call the Swim and Tennis Center at 855-0662.

_ If you have a story about Westchase, call Shelby Oppel at 226-3473.