History of the Aquatic Centre
The Barbados Aquatic Centre is the hub of the Barbadian swimming fraternity, with the Olympic-sized 50M and 25M Learn-to-Swim pools playing a host to numerous swimming, water polo and synchronized swimming clubs. Built by a team of enthusiastic Masters swimmers on land leased by the Government of Barbados and funded entirely by the private sector of Barbados, the Aquatic Centre threw open its doors on September 29th 1989.
The vision for the Aquatic Centre developed out of the island’s need for a swimming facility that could harness and channel the fast-growing momentum which the sport was gathering back in the early 80’s. The existing swimming facility at North Point Surf Resort and the many other private pools dotted around the island were proving to be woefully inadequate. The facility was built at a total cost of approximately Bds$1,500,000 by construction engineer Angus Edghill, who was also the leading masters swimmer in Barbados. Mr. Edghill rose to the challenge and offered to build the Centre at cost. Mr. Maurice Foster, after whom the learn to swim pool is named, agreed to take on the job of fund raising for the project.
On Friday, January 29th 1988, the first bulldozer began work on the entry road to the site. Mrs. Anne Shepherd joined the fundraising team and Mrs. Katie Gale coordinated accounting activity. It seemed as though the project was truly “an idea whose time had come” as the response from the business community was tremendous. The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (now CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank) offered assistance with a loan of Bds $300,000. Other fundraising initiatives included the sale of advertising signs which produced about Bds$450,000, raffles and swim-a-thons accounting for approximately Bds$100,000 and donations of material and labour came from a number of construction companies. Many companies, besides taking advertising space, also contributed cash and equipment.
Shortly after the Centre was opened, parents and other well-wishers staged “SPLASH” a remarkable presentation around the pool combining water ballet dancing and other performance on a stage that had been erected on the western side of the pool. This effort raised approximately Bds$100,000. The Government’s schools’ learn to swim programme generated additional income. The loan was repaid in full by the Barbados Olympic Association, thanks to their generosity.
The Barbados Amateur Swimming Association is therefore very proud of what it has been able to achieve since the opening of the Aquatic Centre in 1990 and wishes to thank all of its many volunteers, swimmers and sponsors without whose help none of this would have been possible.
Swimming at the Aquatic Centre
Age Group Swimming
In 1985, before the Centre was opened the Association had a registered number of approximately 100 age group swimmers. At the opening of the Centre with several of the age group swimmers present, Mr. Maurice Foster, one of the main driving forces behind the building of the Centre, shared his vision on how the opening of the Centre would impact on the success of the sport: “When at some future Olympics“, he stated, “we hear the starter say ‘swimmers take your marks’, and we see one of these young swimmers standing on the starting blocks, we will watch with excitement and pride, knowing we have played some part in making it happen.”
In 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics, Leah Martindale became that person and Barbados watched with great excitement and pride as Leah became the first Barbadian swimmer to reach a final at the Olympic Games. Leah placed 5th in the 50 metres freestyle. Olympians Nicholas Neckles, Damian Alleyne, Bradley Ally, Terrance Haynes, Martyn Forde and Andrei Cross are all products of this venture. The age group swimmers tally doubled after the opening of the Centre.
The Centre facilitated a high level of training which enabled its many swimmers to make the national cut for higher level competitions. Barbados has been represented at the following international meets since 1990: Carifta Swimming Championships, The Caribbean Islands Swimming Championships, The Central American and Caribbean Swimming Championships, the PanAmerican, Central American and Caribbean, Pan Pacific and Olympic Games, Commonwealth and Youth Commonwealth Games, The World Swimming Championships -Short and long course.
From among our top swimmers have come a number of Barbados and Exibition Scholars, proving that competitive sport and academic excellence can go hand in hand.
Perhaps the Aquatic Centre’s greatest achievement is its contribution to the youth of this Country. Presently, more than 40 schools use the pool every week where over 1000 young children are taught how to swim through the National Sports Council Sports programme. Interschool swimming competition and house sports is also among the activities taking place at the Aquatic Centre. Approximately 20 schools now participate in the Purity Bakery Primary Inter-School meet and the Secondary Inter-School Competition attracts over 18 schools. Over 450 children now take part in these events.
The Aquatic Centre is home to approximately 300 swimmers, water polo players and synchronised swimmers from across 8 clubs. These swim clubs have been involved in the development of swimming for many years and have contributed admirably to the positive outlook of the sport:
- The Alpha Sharks Swim Club – 50 years;
- Pirates Swim Club – 40 years;
- Stingrays Swim Club – 30 years;
- Silver Fins Swim Club – 26 years;
- Heatwave Aquatics – 23 years;
- Dolphins – 16 years.
Water polo was returned to vibrancy in the year 2002 with synchronised swimming now in the embryonic stages of its rebirth. The synchronised swimmers achieved a bronze medal competing at the CISC Championships during the time it was at its peak. Masters Swimming is alive and healthy at the Centre.
MARKETING & SPORTS TOURISM
Over the past 25 years the Aquatic Centre hosted many regional and international events. It has been the venue for:
- 8 Carifta Swimming Championships
- 2 Caribbean Islands Swimming Championships
- 2 CCCAN Championships
- 24 Aquatic Centre Invitational (every year since 1991)
- 2 Masters Games
- 2 Latin American & Caribbean Masters Championships
- Inter-school Primary & Secondary Championships (every year since 1991)
- 2 Open Invitational Water Polo Tournaments
- 1 Darren Eastmond Barbados Invitational Water Polo Tournament
- Annual Long & Short Course National Championship
In addition to the numerous events, many teams from North America visit the Centre for winter training during the months of December and January. These include McGill University (Canada), University of Toronto (Canada), Duke University (USA), Boston University (USA), Memorial University (Canada), Assumption College (USA), and Gettysburg University (USA).
The Aquatic Centre has certainly played its part in promoting sports tourism on the island. Since the opening of the Centre, over 20,000 visitors have come to the island to take part in swimming activities organized by the Barbados Amateur Swimming Association (BASA) or use the centre for training activities.
The foreign exchange earned for Barbados by activities at the Aquatic Centre since 1990 is estimated to be in excess of Bds$28,000,000.