Allie Morgan swims the backstroke. The Petersburg High School junior competed in the state tournament her freshman and sophomore year but her swim season ended early this year due to pool closures. (Photo courtesy of Joy Warnke)

It’s been less than two weeks since a fire shut down Petersburg’s pool. An electrical fire destroyed the control panel to the pool’s boiler. It’s estimated to take a few months for the repair work to get done. As Angela Denning reports, the long term nature of the closure is starting to sink in for the community’s swim coaches and swimmers alike.

Scott Burt learned about the fire in an email the morning after it happened.

“My first thought was, are you kidding me?” he said.

Burt is the head coach of the Viking Swim Club, which is an afterschool swim program for about 60 kids of all ages. He also works for the Parks and Recreation Department as a swim instructor for adults and as a life guard.

“To have the proverbial rug yanked out from under us just like that…it was just….it was devastating,” Burt said.

The community pool had already been closed down for extended periods of time this year: four months for COVID and several more weeks for complications from a cold snap earlier in the year. The pool finally opened up this fall for classes, the swim club, and open swim times. Burt says things were going well.  More kids were joining the swim club and veteran swimmers were improving their personal records. 

“To have this thrown at us just when we were really starting to fire on all cylinders,” said Burt, “my heart goes out to the kids who really enjoy being in the pool, enjoy getting to see improvements in their technique and see drops in the times of the events that they swim.”

Andy Carlisle agrees.

“It is a big deal. . .yeah, it’s a mess,” he said.

Carlisle is the long-time head coach for the Petersburg High School swim team. He says the team had been hopeful for a day or two that the fire damage wouldn’t be so bad.

“And then after I found out we just decided to call it quits,” Carlisle said.

The team was right in the middle of their season. They had had one in-person swim meet with nearby Wrangell and two virtual meets against other Southeast schools. The season had already been a challenge from COVID but then it turned impossible.

“The kids were doing great, we were on track to have a pretty good season but. . .such is life,” Carlisle said. “Cause without a swimming pool, we really can’t do our thing.”

Allie Morgan knows this all too well. The junior had competed at State her freshman and sophomore years and was hoping to again this year.

“Having the pool closed is kind of just heartbreaking,” said Joy Warnke, Morgan’s mom.

Allie Morgan stands on the podium in 4th place at the State swim meet in Anchorage. (Photo courtesy of Joy Warnke)

Warnke says her daughter took to the water early on in life, participating in the swim club, and the closures this year have been a bit depressing for her.

“She absolutely loves swimming and she was out of the pool for about eight months,” Warnke said. “And so getting back in the pool she was really excited. It just makes her feel good.”

Warnke says Morgan swims to mentally focus and physically challenge herself and that’s been hard to replace. Yet, she says, it could be worse. Because of COVID and canceled swim meets, the fire closure could have been worse in a normal year.

“I guess if any year this is going to happen I guess this is the best year because they were unable to go up to state and they probably wouldn’t be able to travel to Ketchikan and so I suppose this is the best year for it to happen,” she said.

Warnke says once the pool opens again her daughter will get back into the water with Viking Swim Club.

In the meantime, other swimmers in the club have the option of dryland training three times a week. Swimmers will meet in the community center for after school exercise in the gym and other areas. Burt says they’ll be focusing on exercises and activities that enhance and support swimming.

“I refuse to let this closure stop the progress that we were all seeing with VSC,” Burt said. “So, I’m going to do everything I can–as well as the board–to keep these swimmers active, to keep them thinking about doing things for their health, to get them ready for when the pool is back open–and it will open back up–and so then when it does we can jump right back in and pick up where we left off.”

The dryland training for Viking Swim Club happens Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at the swimmers’ normal practice times. For more information you can contact the club on Facebook or talk to a board member. Check-in occurs in the “fire exit” south entrance of the community building where the spin bikes are located.