The ultimate pool party

COSTA MESA —Jeffrey Hubbard leaned over to Frank Albers, father of Costa Mesa senior football lineman Andrew Albers.

"You're a big guy," Hubbard, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Superintendent, said before the ribbon cutting at the Costa Mesa Aquatics Center. "I expect your protection if they try to push me in."

Soon, the big scoreboard counted down from 10 to one Tuesday afternoon at Costa Mesa high.

Some in attendance had been waiting decades for the new pool. What was 10 more seconds?

As the countdown ended, members of the Costa Mesa High water polo and swim teams didn't need to be pushed into the water at the new 50-meter Olympic pool.

Hubbard walked away unscathed. Costa Mesa High principal Phil D'Agostino wasn't as lucky, though he finally succumbed to the cheerleaders trying to push him in and dove in himself, along with water polo players and swimmers.

Finally, the school and the community have the state-of-the-art 50-meter Olympic pool they always wanted.

"This is the first step on the road to building a real strong program," Costa Mesa High boys' water Coach Justin Taylor said.

Taylor, D'Agostino and Hubbard all spoke at the ceremony, attended by a couple hundred people despite an on-and-off rain. So did NMUSD Board of Education member Michael Collier and Costa Mesa High ASB president Devan Davison. They thanked the school district, the Costa Mesa City Council and the Measure F citizens oversight committee, among others.

Hubbard said he would put the new aquatics complex, built for $6.6 million under the Measure F school bond, against any other complex in the country.

"High schools really are communities," he said. "They are communities unto themselves and they are significant components of every city everywhere. Costa Mesa High School is such a magnificent place and this is one of the crown jewels, truly, not just in the state of California."

Amy Lewis, Costa Mesa High class of '83, also spoke. She grew up swimming in the program and has had three children come through Costa Mesa High aquatics as well. Her son James, a junior, is the leading goal-scorer on the Mustangs' current water polo team.

"The school has never looked better and the pool is beautiful," Amy Lewis said. "I look now to the future, as we sit here on this pool deck, knowing that in the future we will produce fine young athletes who are successful both inside the water and out."

Another Costa Mesa resident, James Comfort, 32, listened intently. Comfort was a driver for the Mustangs, a teammate of Taylor on the 1995 Mesa boys' water polo team that won the CIF Southern Section Division II title.

Mesa had a strong program then, even with the quirky "L"-shaped pool that had a shallow end. That '95 title was the Mustangs' fourth CIF crown in 10 years, and their 10th straight Pacific Coast League title. Taylor and Comfort would love to see it return that level again.

They were told in high school that they'd be getting a new pool before they graduated. Over a decade later, the dream has finally been realized.

"I'm excited," said Comfort, who went on to play at Cal Baptist. "Obviously we've been waiting a long time for this … [Having this pool] is all the advantage in the world. Imagine soccer players and football players playing without grass. It doesn't work."

Taylor said his team will play its first game in the pool Monday, as part of its host tournament. The Mustangs' lone regular match of the year at the pool will occur Nov. 3, against Tustin.

The Costa Mesa Aquatics Club, a youth water polo and swimming program, will start in conjunction with the pool opening. Parents can pre-register in person the morning of Nov. 6 at the pool.

The aquatics center also includes a classroom, snack bar, the aforementioned scoreboard and a sound system. The scoreboard currently has some defective parts, which led to discoloration on the left side of the screen, but D'Agostino said the parts are on order and they didn't want to delay the opening.

The kids celebrated in the pool for a time Tuesday, until someone told them it was time to exit because the Mustangs had to start water polo practice in their new home.

"It's OK," Taylor said, a big grin on his face and his clothes sopping wet. "We're in no rush."

That was good, because neither were the kids in the pool. Costa Mesa High junior Sarah Souza-Liebel took a moment to talk before rejoining her girls' water polo teammates.

"It's amazing," Souza-Liebel said. "It's simply amazing. That's all I can say."

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