The interior of WIlde Lake Swim Center, about 1969. It was the first pool built in Columbia and was not only designed with all age groups in mind, but all seasons. (Courtesy of Columbia
Maryland Archives, Photograph Collection, PC-WL-0265.)

It was James W. Rouse’s realization that urban planning did not consider the broader needs of people and community that planted the seeds for the designing and building of Columbia, Maryland.

It was his team of experts from 12 different fields from education to recreation to faith known as the “workgroup” that recommended each neighborhood have a pool, according to Donald N. Michael in his essay “The Planning Workgroup” in “Creating a New City Columbia, Maryland,” Edited by Robert Tennenbaum. Michael was the group facilitator of the workgroup.

The Thunder Hill Swim Team, around 1970. Bill Snyder was the coach. (Submitted photo)

The rationale behind recommending neighborhood pools, considered to be for all ages and designed to be co-located with a store and an adjacent “eating terrace,” was to encourage community — to be a place where recreation, gathering, connection, and communication would take place, and which “we expected all income groups would want,” Michael noted.  

He further observed that, “in Columbia we expected more people to be involved in organized sports, given the increased sense of neighborhood and community and the increased opportunities for participation.”

The first pool built in Columbia was not only designed with all age groups in mind, but all seasons. The first of its kind all-weather pool was constructed in what would be the Village of Wilde Lake prior to the arrival of the first residents. Construction was underway in April of 1967.

It did not take long for competitive swimming to take hold in the New City. The genesis of competitive swimming was described as rising with the completion of each neighborhood pool, according to a Feb. 25, 1971, column in the Columbia Flier. A swim program was started in 1968 by a group of interested parents, who hired a coach to guide about 40 swimmers through a three-meet season.  

That winter, Bill Shultz became the aquatics director and “managed to keep a hard-core group of 17 competitive swimmers together over the winter months” with 6:30 to 8 a.m. practices.” 

That summer, the team grew to 65 swimmers and was able to consider a full winter schedule for the 1969-1970 season. This team included youth from surrounding areas, “some coming from as far away as Laurel.” 

The team grew to 120 swimmers including swimmers who had never competed before. There was a realization that the future success of the year-round program would depend on the development of local talent learning to swim and to compete “from scratch.” This led to the start of the Columbia Neighborhood Swim League in the summer of 1970. 

The summer league gave swimmers and their parents not only an idea of what the more competitive year-round team would offer but was an “excellent summer pastime, and good fun for 60-80 children per team, (that) lends itself perfectly to the development of novice swimmers.” The league began with four teams.

The winter of 1970-71 season continued to include swimmers from the surrounding areas. It formally became the Columbia Aquatic Association, taking out an Amateur Athletic Union charter established with parents of swimmers installed as officers. In addition to Shultz, Vince Simonton was added to the coaching staff, both of whom lived in Columbia. The program’s roots were firmly established. 

Heading into the summer of 1971 or just after, was likely when the Columbia Aquatic Association team became the CAA Gold Diggers. One young swimmer at the time, Ben Lubbehusan, joined the Gold Diggers at 4 ½ years old. He recalled that his family was one of the first twenty to move into the Longfellow neighborhood. He said that “the rise of the neighborhood swim league stemmed from and was enhanced by the growing CAA year-round program.” 

The first neighborhood teams were Bryant Woods, a fierce rival to Longfellow, and the combined teams of Running Brook-Thunder Hill and Faulkner Ridge-Swansfield. 

Gerry Emery, an early Columbia resident who moved to Thunder Hill in 1970, recalled that the Running Brook-Thunder Hill team was called “Rolling Thunder.” It did not take long for there to be enough swimmers to fill these neighborhood teams so they could compete individually. By 1972, the Thunder Hill neighborhood team was no longer combined with Running Brook. 

From the start, the neighborhood swim league received local newspaper coverage. The coverage grew as the city and sport grew. It included weekly dual meet results, top individual swimmer results, and photos and articles about charity fundraisers, including overnight swim events. Summer swim team has brought joy, community, fun, friendships, and lifelong skills to generations of area swimmers.

Angie Latham Kozlowski is a staff writer for Voices of Laurel focusing on local history and Howard County; Email: [email protected]

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