City of Commerce Parks and Recreation Department
2011 Paragon Award / Water Polo
CITY OF COMMERCE-BETTER CITIZENS THROUGH SWIMMING
A MODEL PROGRAM FOR ACHIEVING DIVERSITY IN AQUATICS
With recent studies showing most Latino’s don’t know how to swim, and less than 2% of competitive aquatic athletes are Black and Latino, you wouldn’t think that the City of Commerce, a mostly Latino, blue-collar working community of 13,000, in east Los Angeles, would be known for aquatics. But Commerce has one of the finest aquatic facilities in the state of California and has been producing Olympians since the 1960’s. III Brenda Villa a three time Olympian will be captain of the USA Women’s Olympic Water Polo Team. Another Commerce player, Patty Cardenas, a member of the 2007 World Championship Women’s Water Polo Team is also expected to make this year’s USA Olympic Team.
In Commerce it’s “cool” to swim.
“We put them in the water as babies and they continue,” says Bylsma-Houghton, “because our city thinks swimming is important.”
There are no financial barriers to swim in Commerce. Residents swim in the 1)001 for free. Child swim lessons cost $3 for two weeks of lessons- Adults pay $10 for a month of lessons. The city employs a full-time swim coach and full-time coaches for both the boys and girls water polo teams. Each team is limited to 100 kids and there is a waiting list to join. There are no monthly dues for team members and the city pays entry fees and travel expenses.
At Commerce, every child must swim on the swim team before they can join the water polo team. Some do both, but many gravitate by high school to water polo.
“We put a heavy emphasis on swimming, but clearly the success of our polo girls is a major reason why Commerce athletes gravitate to water polo. It also appears that team sports in general have more appeal to our citizens. Water polo games provide more of a social atmosphere for the families and that’s important.”
While the Commerce Aquatorium can accommodate swimming meets, it was de signed primarily with water polo in mind. The main pool is 39 meters long and 25 yards wide. Spectator seating is 250, enough for fans of two teams.
“I don’t think our kids would be participating in swimming and water polo if they lived in other cities,” says Bylsma-Houghton. “And that’s a shame because our kids have gotten so much from our program. Over the past five years, 100% of our senior girls have gotten full riches to college for water polo. Their GPA average has been 3.8 and they gone on to schools like Bucknell, USC, UCLA, Michigan, Stanford and Berkelely. For most, they are the first of their family to swim and the first to attend college.”
“Now we are beginning to see the second generation, children of our children joining our program. In Commerce, swimming has become part of our Latino culture.”