Swimmers, divers flip over aquatics center talks

Closest place for local divers to practice is nearly one hour away, in Oregon

Camas divers, from left to right, Shea McGee, Lyn McGee and Jacqueline Purwins gather at a meet last fall at Bainbridge Island, Wash. Contributed by Colleen Purwins

Camas diver Lyn McGee holds a pike position during a recent practice dive at the Tualatin Hills Aquatics Center in Beaverton, Ore. Contributed by Tom Purwins

Jax Purwins performs on the 1-meter board during a 2017 meet. Contributed by Tom Purwins

Camas diver Shea McGee enters the water during a recent practice dive at Tualatin HIlls Aquatics Center in Beaverton, Ore. Contributed by Tom Purwins

If you’ve ever had a flying dream, you can understand why state champion Camas High gymnast Jacqueline Purwins loves competitive diving.

“The feeling starts when you hit that diving board. Then, you have so much time in the air to flip, it really feels like you are flying,” Purwins says. “It’s more of a feeling of flying than I ever got in gymnastics.”

The Camas senior, who helped lead her gymnastics team to its first-ever 4A state title this year, has been a member of the highly successful Camas swim team throughout her high school career, and, more recently of the Camas dive team. She already has several offers that will take her diving skills to college in the fall. She is still talking with different coaches, but says she will soon make a decision about which college she plans to sign with.

Challenging sport for local athletes

Becoming a competitive diver in Camas and Washougal takes athletes like Purwins down a challenging road, since the closest practice facility — the Tualatin Hills aquatics Center in Beaverton, Oregon — is about an hour away during high-traffic times. Even though divers are part of the Camas swim team, they can’t practice with their teammates.

“One of the biggest difficulties of growing a successful diving team in Camas and Washougal is that there are no diving boards or water deep enough to practice, and few people can make the commitment to drive all the way to Tualatin Hills every day and pay the club fees in order to practice,” Purwins explains.

Last fall, during the girls swim and dive season, Purwins carpooled with her two teammates, Lyn McGee and Shea McGee, to Beaverton five days a week, after school. The roughly 40 other girls on the swim team — there are 30 from Camas and 10 from Washougal — traditionally split practice between Crown Park Pool in the summer and Lacamas Swim Club in the fall. Neither facility has water deep enough for competitive divers, who require at least 13 feet of water to safely dive. Not a single pool in Clark county has water deep enough to support a diving team.

“It was kind of weird when we went to the state swim meet, because we didn’t really feel like we were part of the team,” Purwins says. “We would look at each other and say, ‘geez we barely even know you guys.'”

Coach says hassle, expense too much for most would-be divers

Plans are in the works to demolish the city of Camas’ 64-year-old Crown Park Pool. Although city officials will likely replace the aging and expensive-to-maintain outdoor swimming pool with a water feature, not a pool, some area leaders have discussed opening some sort of communitywide, Camas-Washougal aquatics center.

That is something that really appeals to the Camas-Washougal girls and boys’ swim and dive coach, Mike Bemis.

“If we could get a dive tank in that facility, we could keep our divers here locally, so they would no longer have to travel all the way to Beaverton just to practice,” Bemis says.

The winning coach helped his boys swim team win the state championship in 2017 — quite a feat when you consider that the local team has no divers. The lack of divers meant that the swim team had to forfeit nearly 60 points going into the meets.

“The hassle and expense of driving to Beaverton to practice in a private diving club is just too much for most students to pull off,” Bemis says. “A local aquatics center with a dive tank would mean we finally have a complete swimming program. Two one-meter boards would be the perfect set-up.”

The coach adds that a covered aquatic facility would be good for the whole area.

“A year-round swimming facility would be a great thing for everyone in East County, because it’s not like this part of the county isn’t going to keep growing,” Bemis says.

Of course, any future aquatics center likely rests on several public entities — the cities of Camas and Washougal, the Port of Camas-Washougal and both school districts — coming together with a common goal of building a community center/aquatics center for the whole area.

Camas High Athletic Director Rory Oster says district officials have already started to discuss the idea with city leaders.

“We have had district officials talking to city officials about how much revenue an aquatics center would average each year from the Camas athletics department,” Oster says, adding that he is not yet able to disclose what those revenue projections are.

The cost of building and maintaining an aquatics center, not to mention the insurance costs associated with diving, will likely make for some challenging discussions in the coming year. There are other options being considered that don’t include a full-sized pool, which would have smaller price tags. While the economics of replacing the old Crown Park pool are still up in the air, swimmers and divers at Camas and Washougal high schools say they are still excited about the possibility of one day having the ability to practice and compete together.

“A year-round pool really makes the most sense for our swim teams and for a growing community,” Bemis says.

Purwins predicts that a Camas-Washougal aquatics center like the one in Beaverton would be a big success.

“I travel to Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center almost every day, and the open swims in that facility are always completely packed,” Purwins says.”It would be great to see the same thing happening in Camas someday soon.”