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Famed Nadadores Swim Club Will Lose Its Major Sponsor : Finances: The Mission Viejo Co. says it will withdraw its support after the Olympics. City officials are wary about taking over.

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After winning 13 Olympic gold medals and setting 40 or so American and world records, the fate of the internationally famous Mission Viejo Nadadores swim club could be in jeopardy after the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

Their major sponsor, the Mission Viejo Co., has confirmed that it will not support the team after Sept. 1, 1992, and is talking with city officials about selling four recreation centers in the city--including the Nadadores’ aquatic complex.

Some city fathers are not enthusiastic about the potentially high cost of supporting the renowned swim team.

Although officials acknowledge the worldwide fame that such team members as Greg Louganis and Shirley Babashoff have brought to Mission Viejo, they are apprehensive about a recent city report that says it will cost more than $1 million to renovate the Nadadores’ swim complex.

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“I’d hate to think of losing them,” said Councilwoman Sharon Cody, “but to ask the taxpayers to support a program that supports such a small segment of our population? It can’t happen.”

Exact figures are not available from the Mission Viejo Co., which has sponsored the swim club since 1968. But Nadadores booster club officials and other sources estimate that it costs about $350,000 annually to run the team.

And that could be just the start.

If the city buys the four recreation centers, it might require the Nadadores to pay for all or a portion of the renovation and maintenance costs of their complex. One proposal examined in the city report, prepared by Economic Research Assn. of Los Angeles, would require the Nadadores to establish a foundation and raise $5 million.

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Under that proposal, the club would be operated from the interest generated by the endowment and the city would kick in about $200,000 annually for maintenance.

More than 100 people are expected to attend a special meeting Monday at City Hall to discuss buying the recreation centers. Sources estimate the value of the four facilities, located on 21 acres, at between $8 million and $10 million.

Nadadores booster president Rod Rojas says his message to the council will be simple and clear.

“We’re not asking anybody for a free ride,” Rojas said. “It’s not our intent to be a burden to Mission Viejo. All we’re asking is for them to confirm our future and give us a fighting chance to meet this future.”

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Rojas said booster parents already raise about $100,000 each year to pay for the many national and international meets attended by the Nadadores. Parents also pay about $125,000 annually in dues.

But the bulk of what the swim club must raise has to come from the business community, Rojas said, adding that a drive to enlist major corporate sponsors will begin soon.

Although the country’s recent recession and balky recovery has had a chilling effect on corporate charity, Rojas said he is confident about the booster club’s ability to raise money.

Both city officials and swim team supporters agree that the Nadadores’ immense success has brought invaluable publicity to Mission Viejo.

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Since 1974, the swim team has won 14 U.S. national team championships. In August, the squad took six gold medals in the Pan American Games at Cuba.

Besides Louganis and Babashoff, other famous Nadadores include such swimmers as Brian Goodell, Tiffany Cohen and Mary T. Meagher, along with divers Wendy Wyland and Wendy Williams.

About 250 youths participate in the Nadadores program, of which about two-thirds are Mission Viejo residents, Rojas said.

“The Nadadores have been a wonderful source of community identity for Mission Viejo,” Wendy Wetzel of the Mission Viejo Co. said. The firm, principal developer of the city, is letting go of the Nadadores as part of its plan to phase out of the city by 1995, she said.

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“The kids in the pool now have a wonderful legacy to follow,” Wetzel said. “There is no reason why the city shouldn’t be able to work with the Nadadores.”

But other community leaders say that money will be the big obstacle.

“Do most people in Mission Viejo want to pay big money to subsidize these kind of things?” asked Gary Manley, chairman of the Citizens Action Committee, a local political group currently spearheading an effort to put a proposed $18-million City Hall on the municipal ballot.

“This may only be important to such a small number of people,” Manley said. “If it’s going to cost a substantial amount to renovate the center, I couldn’t support it.”

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Rojas said he had doubts about the accuracy of the $1-million renovation estimate, calling the four-pool swimming and diving complex “one of the finest in the world.”

City officials, however, say that much of the renovation costs would go toward making the recreation center accessible to the disabled.

Councilman Robert D. Breton said that the council is likely to be deeply divided over the Nadadores issue.

“I’m sure that some of my colleagues would prefer just to pave over the (Nadadores) complex and turn it into a lawn-bowling facility,” he said.

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Like Cody, Breton said, he deeply appreciates the Nadadores’ contributions to the community, “but I’m not willing to commit tax dollars to the program until their foundation is not only set up, but the money is also committed to them. I’d be willing to give them a year or two to do this.”

But one way or another, the Nadadores will survive, Rojas vowed.

“You don’t necessarily need a Nadadore-type program to have Olympians,” he said. “Smaller programs can do that. We show our kids the world and inspire them until they get that spark in their eye.

“It’s that spark that helps them achieve at a higher level,” he said. “That’s what makes them a Nadadore.”

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