By Darryl G. Smart
Like her athletes, Shirley Shaw was extremely excited to be back at the Annaleise Carr Aquatic Centre for the first time in over six months. That was clearly on the faces of the nine local swimmers with special needs.
While the athletes couldn’t contain that excitement, Shaw, the chief organizer for the Seals and the other local Special Olympics teams, couldn’t help but be concerned about the team’s future because of the county’s inflated prices that came with the ACAC reopening.
“It really is an exciting day. You can’t downplay that,” Shaw said. “This is what these athletes look forward to. They’ve been counting down the days since we were told the pool would open up again.”
With that said, Shaw is worried. When Shaw received her contract, the price was a whopping 43% more than what it usually costs the non-profit organization.
“I was quite shocked at the cost increase,” Shaw said. “The way things look, it will be very hard for us to afford swimming the entire season.”
Shaw said it usually costs $65 an hour to use the pool for practice, which accommodates 40 athletes and a number of volunteers and coaches. When she received the contract, the bill was $95 an hour. And because of COVID-19 safety precautions, they are only allowed nine swimmers, and two coaches.
“We’ve had to add more swims to allow all of our athletes to participate. And at that rate, we’re going from paying around $600 a month to $1,300. That’s more than double.
“Because our athletes have special needs, almost every one of them uses their ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) money to pay for swimming,” she said. “If we had to raise our registration, we wouldn’t have any athletes because they wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
For those that aren’t in the know, the Simcoe Seals are one of Norfolk’s biggest sports success stories. Almost every year they have athletes qualify, compete, and medal at provincial, national, and at times world Special Olympics championships.
“It has turned into a success story because we’ve been able to find an outlet for these athletes,” Shaw said. “They have had an affordable place to practice, to go along with the long list of volunteers that have given countless hours of their time to help them on their journeys.”
Before COVID-19 stopped the world, Shaw said for the first time ever, the Seals had 12 athletes qualify for the Ontario Special Olympics.
“That’s more athletes in one sport than most cities,” Shaw said. “When you go to a provincial or national event, everyone knows who Simcoe is because what we’ve been able to build.”
For now the Seals will swim, hoping they have enough money to pay for a season’s worth of swimming. Shaw said they are also looking into possible alternatives to the ACAC.
“We may look into going somewhere else,” Shaw said. “Tillsonburg has a great facility, and the prices are right. But we don’t know how we would be able to transport all of the athletes. That’s the problem with that option.
“To be honest, we aren’t the only ones looking at Tillsonburg,” she said. “I know people that do other programing at the pool, and because of the price hikes, they can’t afford to swim here.”
Shaw said she like everyone else respects the measures that have been put in place to create a safe environment to return to play, but is baffled that the county’s price increases almost seems to deter people from using its facilities.
“Between this and the county re-purposing the Rec Centre for the seniors, just doesn’t make sense,” Shaw said. “When they decided that, they didn’t even consider how it would effect us. We used the area for dryland training. Now we don’t have a space.
“Let’s just hope something happens,” she said. “Right now I’m just frustrated that we may not be able to afford three months of swimming. I would hate to see us not finish the season.”