New pool almost reality

In 1993, "Jurassic Park" was a hit on the movie screens, President Bill Clinton was still in his first year in the White House and Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" was in heavy rotation.

Justin Taylor has another memory from that time period.

Taylor, then a freshman at Costa Mesa High, was just starting his water polo career in the quirky "L" shaped, 25-yard home pool. Taylor heard then the promises of a new pool on campus.

"I was told by the time I was a senior, I'd be swimming in a brand new pool," Taylor said.

Taylor didn't think that meant by the time he was a senior citizen, yet four years came and went and no dice. But Taylor, now the Mustangs boys' water polo coach, finally has what he wanted back then.

Costa Mesa High's new 50-meter Olympic size pool is just about ready. It's scheduled to open by Nov. 1, said Newport-Mesa Unified School District spokeswoman Laura Boss.

After decades of wishing, that new pool is now almost a reality.

"The pool, in and of itself, has been a long time coming," Taylor said. "Essentially, it's a turning point for our program. I think having everything new and state of the art will draw in kids at a younger age, which will in turn help the high school program. We're excited."

Indeed, Taylor said he and the Mustangs' other aquatics coaches, girls' water polo coach Tim Postiff and swimming coach Patty Smith, plan to start the Costa Mesa Aquatics Club at the facility almost immediately. Costa Mesa High Aquatics Booster Club president Alisa Wilson said the club, featuring both youth swimming and water polo, is set to begin Nov. 8.

Construction began on the new pool, which features a state-of-the-art scoreboard, new water polo goals and touch pads for swimming, in June 2009. It was one of 10 NMUSD projects originally scheduled to be funded by Measure F, a $282 million bond measure voters approved in 2006.

A slumping housing market inhibited the district's ability to sell the bonds. But, Boss said, the district lobbied for extra funds from the state from the Newport Harbor High Robins/Loats renovation project, so the Costa Mesa High pool project could move forward.

Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who drummed up plenty of support with other officials from the nonprofit community group Costa Mesa United, agreed that the pool is a long time coming. You could look at it as a package deal for Costa Mesa city high school athletics, after Jim Scott Stadium opened on the Estancia High campus in 2008.

"Thanks to the vision of Jim Scott, we now have a stadium and a new aquatics complex," Foley said. "This was his vision, to have a stadium at one high school and an aquatics complex at the other. It only took, you know, over two decades, but it got done."

The benefits for the Mustangs are obvious. They will now have a home pool, instead of being forced to practice as "nomads" in alternating shifts at Estancia and Orange Coast College. Taylor said that really affected his team last year and could again this year as well, although he is hopeful the pool will actually be ready in October.

The boys' water polo regular season typically only lasts until early November.

"Most likely, we'll still be nomads this season," Taylor said. The girls are probably the ones who will break it in, so to speak. But the nice thing is, there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel."

Plus, there is the pride of knowing the pool is there in the first place. The water polo teams can host tournaments now. And no longer will the Mustangs have to "host" a CIF playoff game at Estancia, since the "L" shaped pool was not regulation size, not to mention the shallow end on one side where goalies theoretically could leap off the pool floor.

"It's not just the school that's excited," said Postiff, entering his ninth year as coach at Mesa. "It seems like the community as a whole is excited."

Susan Marty definitely feels the excitement. For a while, she and her husband Tom were angry, as it seemed plans to move ahead with the pool weren't coming to fruition. She remembers helping to set up a meeting a few years ago, in the Costa Mesa High school library.

"We sort of presented to [the school board] a history of the pool that never could quite happen," Marty said. "We had people stand up and talk at that meeting who had kids in the program 20 or 30 years ago, and they were promised a pool."

The Martys are still members of the school's Aquatics Booster Club, despite the fact that their daughter, Patricia, has graduated. Patricia Marty is now an assistant swimming coach for Mesa and attends Concordia University, where she swims and plays water polo.

Susan Marty hopes that other families no longer hear what she would, when Patricia would come home from a high school water polo game.

"From a parent perspective, it was heartbreaking," Susan Marty said. "My daughter would tell me she heard a girl on the opposing team say, 'Oh, I don't even want to get in the water here.' It's a matter of having the right facilities, but it's also a matter of community pride."

Marty is helping develop the club feeder program. Wilson, the aquatics booster club president, said the new club program should prove vital for ensuring kids have some experience in their sport prior to high school. Any children ages 5 and older can compete.

"Probably at least 90% of the kids haven't played water polo before high school," said Wilson, whose son, Quinn Stone, is an incoming water polo and swimming sophomore at Mesa. "It takes a couple of years to develop and hone your skills. It's hard to catch up in a few years, so we're excited to give kids the opportunity at an earlier age."

That high school program should be on the rise. Postiff remembers when he was boys' water polo coach in 2004, and the Mustangs had to travel to Estancia to win their first playoff game in seven years by topping La Habra.

The playoff win before that was in 1997, when Mesa reached the Division II title game. Two years before, Taylor was goalie when the team won the CIF title. That capped a span of four CIF crowns in 10 years, so the Mustang boys have a strong tradition in the sport.

Now, they're finally about to have the strong pool to match.

"It's unified our parents and some of the alumni," said Smith, the swimming coach and girls' athletic director. "That's been nice to see."

For a web-cam view of the new Costa Mesa High pool, visit http://bit.ly/bjj36h.

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