Hickman pool previous host of state meet

Sunday, February 22, 2009 | 11:34 p.m. CST; updated 1:40 p.m. CST, Monday, February 23, 2009
Nathalia Mello competes in the 200 yard Individual Medley Championship Final on Feb. 21 at the St. Peters Rec Plex.  Mello placed 5th in this event. 

COLUMBIA — New things always become outdated.

The Hickman High School pool hosted the Missouri state swimming meets from the early 1970's until 1996. Hickman held the meet partly because Columbia was in the middle of the state and partly because its pool had six lanes, which, at the time, was considered a lot of lanes, and a large deck.

After high schools added swimming teams, the meet outgrew the Hickman pool and moved to the Rec-Plex in St. Peters. It offers more room for spectators and is an Olympic-sized pool. In a sense, the Hickman pool became a victim of the success of high school swimming in Missouri.

The Hickman and Rock Bridge High School girls competed in the Missouri state championship meet Friday and Saturday.

When Hickman hosted the state meet, a lot of work had to be done. John Hamilton, the swim coach for both Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools, made multiple trips to the MU swimming pool to take the scoreboard back to Hickman, panel by panel. MU gave Hickman its old scoreboard before moving into its new pool in the Student Recreation Complex.

At Hickman, there was room for about 600 people in the balcony during state meets, but there were about twice that many spectators. To accommodate this crush, five-row bleachers were placed around the pool deck, about six feet from the water. Poles with ropes between them were jammed into the ground, and a tarp was draped over the rope. This simple solution worked; spectators in the front row stayed dry.

“We were tight in here in the later days,” Hamilton said. “You get 350 swimmers, 60 coaches, 1,100 parents and this place was rocking.”

The tone of his voice, the look on his face, both say that he misses the meet, too. And he isn’t alone.

Several diving coaches from Blue Springs visited Columbia for a clinic two years ago. The conversation eventually turned from diving to the state meet, which hadn’t been held at Hickman for the previous 11 years.

"They missed the good ol' days," Hamilton said. “They missed the enthusiasm and the spirit that were at the meets here."

While the enthusiasm and spirit aren’t completely gone, they are less now. The balcony became a locker room for the Hickman football team last fall. It now hosts Hickman wrestling practices. The pool hosts three swim meets a year: the Senior Games and a last-chance qualifier for both the boys and girls state meets. None attract the number of spectators as the state meet did.

Built in 1964, the Hickman pool has undergone two serious makeovers in its 44 years. It began as an outdoor pool, which is how Hamilton, who has been coaching there for 31 years, first saw it.

He remembers driving by while visiting Columbia from his hometown of Fulton. It was love at first sight.

“When I first saw it, I wanted to swim there,” he said, recalling a memory more than 35 years old.

In the late 1960’s, Plexiglas walls were built around the pool, which allowed for year-round swimming. The insulation, however, was limited, and heating costs rose too much. The pool became a bricks-and-mortar building in the early 1990’s.

But now age is catching up with it. Two years ago, the city and public schools system, which jointly own and operate the pool, decided to spend more than $500,000 to rebuild the ventilation system. The Hickman pool is an anachronism. The architecture, a casing of cinder blocks, is much different than the many airy, modern-day pools replete with glass.

Still, Hamilton said, the pool has plenty of years left, that it has a lot more to give.

If it were a person, Hamilton said the pool “would be everybody’s mother, a well-serving person.”

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