Enochs High pool opens with celebration, water polo games

Enochs varsity water polo team warm up before they play Gregori in the first ever game in the pool at Enochs High School in Modesto, Calif., on October 2, 2014.
Enochs varsity water polo team warm up before they play Gregori in the first ever game in the pool at Enochs High School in Modesto, Calif., on October 2, 2014.

It was all hands on deck at Enochs High ... and into the pool. The collective cannonball by dozens of black-clad staff and students served as a celebration and symbolic splashdown, mission at last accomplished.

“We’ve been pushing for a pool for years,” said senior Kirsten Dewilms, drying off poolside after the opening dive.

Beside her, water polo teammate Megan Robertson agreed. “That was probably one of the most fun times I’ve had in high school,” she said with a grin.

The James C. Enochs Aquatics Center opened at 3 p.m. Thursday with speeches, a booster club-funded hot dog barbecue and its first competition. Enochs’ water polo teams had their first honest-to-goodness home game against Gregori High starting at 4:30 p.m.

The first goal of the first game was a satisfying swish landed by Enochs junior Bailey Reynolds.

“It’s about time,” said Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able before cutting the official ribbon and opening the chain-link pool gate. “We’re finally able to fulfill our promise to our community,” she said to widespread applause.

The pool will be open from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday as a thank you to the community, Principal Deb Rowe said.

Enochs has about 150 students in aquatics sports each year, said head swim coach Keith Herring. While the massive Johansen High pool was refurbished, seven high schools shared two pools. Practices stretched from 2 to 8 p.m. each day to squeeze time in for each school’s JV and varsity girls and boys teams, he said.

Herring acknowledged the controversy that dogged the decision to move ahead with the pool. Thanking school board members, he said, “It took some political guts to do this, and we appreciate your support.”

The pool’s funding came from extra taxes paid by homeowners in new developments. More than half was contributed by Village I homeowners, some of whom protested the pool, saying they already had paid more than initial agreements allowed. Subdivisions in west Riverbank and northwest Modesto also contributed.

“It was a promise we made when we sold the (2001) bond,” said school board member Steve Grenbeaux, a steadfast pool proponent. But the cost of steel skyrocketed during Enochs’ construction, he said, and building the pool seemed too much. “It was a decision the board made at the time,” he said.

“I didn’t think it was the financially prudent thing to do at the time, but it was the collective will of the board,” said Rubén Villalobos, the only board member to consistently vote against building the pool. Now that it is built, “I came to join in the celebration,” Villalobos said Thursday before jumping in the water.

The $65 million bond passed in 2001 was to build two high schools, Enochs with a pool in northeastern Modesto and Gregori High with a stadium in the Salida area. Enochs, however, cost $101.4 million when it opened, sans pool, in 2006-07.

But architectural drawings of the school always showed the pool. “We held the senior sunrise and senior sunset here. I’d tell the kids to go, you know, where the pool’s supposed to be,” said school activities director Sara Mariano. The seniors will gather before graduation for this year’s sunset ceremony at the pool, she said.

“We waited a long time, but it is a dream. It’s great to see,” said administrator Michael Coats, the school’s first principal. “In the grand scheme of things – it’s here now.”

John Liukkonen, who oversaw the $3 million construction project for the district, stood outside the cannonball splash zone. “Watching those people jump in the pool, that was the most fulfilling to me,” Liukkonen said.

The pool opened with a working scoreboard, LED night lighting, and a grassy knoll rimming the shallow end for swimmers to pitch shades or tents. Liukkonen chose a gutter flow system based on top student swimmers’ recommendations. At 450,000 gallons, the pool is half the size of Johansen High’s but still offers 12 25-yard lanes for swim season and water polo boundaries deep enough that neither goalie can touch bottom.

A storage and pool equipment building has only a single, unisex restroom, and bleachers will come later. Parents staying for the game brought their own chairs and umbrellas Thursday.

But water polo mom Sonia Bugarin was not complaining. “Oh, my gosh, it’s so great,” she said. “It makes it easier not having to drive 15 to 20 minutes every time. I think it will help the program, too.”

“Not to have to go and fight over somebody else’s pool is good,” said Todd Risting as he settled in to watch his son’s game. Kids generally car-pooled with friends every day to practice, he said. Having the pool at the school will let more kids participate, he predicted.

Standing by the hot dog table with friends, freshman Briana Bugarin summed it up. “We feel more like a team,” she said.