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11/28/2018
Swim meets receive an upgrade

By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor

Phase three of the Ketchikan Gateway Aquatic Center upgrade process is complete.

Nearly a year ago, the pool began receiving improvements, in regard to swim meet effciency.

In December 2017, relay judge platforms were installed, adding a visual cue to the audio start on all eight lanes, as well as measuring time between relay exchanges. The system helps sense when a swimmer coming into the wall touches the touch pad and the exhanging swimmer leaves the starting block.

Then, over the summer, the pool’s starting blocks received a new wedge and rail system, which added more stability for swimmers off of the starting blocks.

”(The swimmers) can lead with more powerful starts,” Ketchikan Killer Whales coach Patrick Burda said of the wedge and rail system. “And, in turn, they can be faster.

“The relay judge platforms add a visual (signal), as well as the audio start signal,” he continued. “If we have anyone who is deaf we’re required to have a strobe for that swimmer. And, it doesn’t happen frequently, but every block is taken care of now. We wouldn’t have to do a special shuffle or anything like that. They can be in any of the lanes because of the visual start.”

Those two improvements were the first two phases. This past week, the Gateway Aquatic Center revamped its timing system and had titanium wiring installed.

It also upgraded its meet management software and added a Dolphin Wireless Stopwatch System with an automatic start.

“The Dolphin stopwatches replace our manual backups with semi-automatic backups, in the case of a pad or a button malfunction,” Burda said. “On the meet management side, the long-term benefits of not having to bring somebody out to rewire the in-deck timing every five to ten years is going to save some money.”

The original timing system was installed during the construction of the Gateway Aquatic Center in 2012.

Burda said the swimming boosters club had money to invest in the swimming successes of the community. And the club donated the funds.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough manager’s report to the Borough Assembly on Oct. 1 acknowledged that “the Ketchikan Swim and Dive Booster Club has generously donated new upgraded timing system/equipment.”

The manager’s report cited the purchase cost of the new wiring and upgraded software as $10,200, with the “entire upgrade” costing $15,600.

“Thank you to the booster club for the generous donation,” states the manager’s report.

Burda said there was a three-year plan for the upgrades.

“The first phase was going to be the relay judge platforms,” Burda said. “The second phase was going to be a wedge and rail system. And then the third phase was going to be the timing system upgrade. It just happened that the money the booster board came into, came a little sooner than we were thinking. So, fortunately, we were able to make these upgrades.”

The improvements put the Gateway Aquatic Center among one of the most advanced facilities in the state. It is one of the first eight-lane facilities to have relay judge platforms, as well as the wedge and rail system.

“We’re really fortunate to have those here,” Burda said.

The timing system is also state of the art.

“Overall, the facility is set up to run any sort of meet that we really could host in the state,” Burda said. “And these kids are very fortunate to have the amount of technology that’s available to them. It’s a great opportunity for the kids because a lot of pools down south don’t have the things that we have.”

In addition to technological improvements, the facility added two new record boards keeping track of both pool records and Ketchikan High School swim and dive team records. The aquatic center already has a board dedicated to the Killer Whales’ records.

“As far as I know, there are no other facilities in the state that have pool records — designated pool records,” Burda said. “And that’s something that can attract other people to come here, in hopes of being able to break those pool records. Beyond that, just simply giving kids recognition and putting their name up on the wall is important.”

Although the majority of the upgrades are behind the scenes, parent-volunteers will notice a difference.

“We have a good core group of volunteers that are here,” Burda said. “The fact that the in-ground timing shouldn’t fail, means that meet management is going to be much smoother — meaning that we’ll be able to garner volunteers easier. (And) the fact that the technology is easier to use and set up means the same thing. It’s going to be less work on volunteers that are coming to work the meets.”

The Killer Whales will host a home meet on Dec. 14-16. Burda has invited all of the other swim clubs in the state to participate in the decathlon event.

“It’s a really unique format; it’s really fun,” he said. “I’ve had quite a bit of interest from other coaches around the state.”

Burda hopes the upgrades will help bring more competition to Ketchikan.

“I think it’s going to take a year or two of successfully hosting a meet consistently, before you can really see a backing of other coaches putting it on their schedule,” he said. “So, provided that this year and next year go well, I think it could turn into something that’s a bigger deal.”