By Gary Hall Jr.

“My kids are only a few years away from high school. I not only want a place for them to swim but for every student and valley resident to have the opportunity to learn and enjoy a lifelong, healthy sport.”

Those words by Kristen Thomsen, the new executive director of the Santa Ynez Valley Community Aquatics Foundation, speak for most of us involved in making the SYV Community Aquatics & Sports Science Complex a reality.

Like many, Kristen has fond memories of the high school’s 65-year-old pool.

“The swim coach at the time was Iain McPherson, a true believer in hard work and follow through, “ said Kristen. “To this day he remains a legend to those who had him as a coach or teacher, and I would love for some part of this complex to reflect his dynamic spirit.”

For Kristen, swim season started off her senior year with a 6 a.m. workout in a full set of sweat pants, leaving her wondering what on earth she was doing.

“But after making it through grueling double practices, the sense of pride and teamwork took over,” she remembers. “I came out of the experience a better athlete and a stronger person. “

A large part of our capital campaign effort is reminding others in the valley what the pool has meant to their families, from learning to swim to competing on a team.

“Once we’re able to educate the community about the true condition of the current pool, and what or vision is for future generations to enjoy, people will continue to rally behind what will be so much more than just a high school pool but a remarkable health and wellness facility.”

Many people know Kristen from her 14-year tenure with the Solvang Parks and Recreation Department, where she began in teen programming. “As my position grew into director and I oversaw programming for all ages, I was genuinely drawn to serving my community to make it a better place for everyone to live and play. ”

The scope of the new complex represents Kristen’s most formidable professional challenge to date. When operational, the new complex will serve as the high school competition pool and a municipal pool for the entire valley that will allow a whole new level of aquatic, therapy and fitness instruction. We will be able to provide affordable programming to all residents, seven days a week — including hours when school is in session.

Kristen knows this will be a bit of a juggling act: “It will take some fine-tuning to get the balance right, as the demands will be great right from the start. But, being at an age where I can speak from being a youth athlete, parent, coach and community volunteer, I have always been amazed at how youth service organizations like AYSO, YFL, Pony Baseball, Arts Outreach, People Helping People, YMCA and city Parks & Recreation departments all work collaboratively to keep our kids actively engaged in healthy activities.”

The new complex will have two pools, including a 25-yard warm-water pool conducive for swim lessons, water aerobics and therapy use. The second pool will be a 50-meter competitive pool that will allow our high school, for the first time in its history, to hold league finals and CIF-level competitions for both swimming and water polo. The Community Aquatics Complex will also be a place that promotes community health and science education.

Much effort has gone into securing the foundational pieces for this capital project — and we at the foundation are still not done. But Kristen hopes to add a sense of grassroots community involvement. One of these activities is already generating much buzz in the community.

“A SYV High School Alumni Class Challenge has been issued by the Class of ’67 to every graduating class since 1965 (when the current pool was constructed) to raise support in the amount of their graduation year. The idea is for every class to rally their fellow alums to each make a small individual donation, so the total dollar amount of their combined contributions equals the year of their graduation.”

The Class of 1967 kicked off the challenge by donating $1,967 to the SYV Community Aquatics Foundation, and they have thrown down the gauntlet for other graduating classes to match their efforts.

The Alumni Class Challenge started on June 29 and will run through Oct. 6.

A good place to find out more about the project and Alumni Class Challenge is the Aquatics Foundation website,, or its Facebook page.