ON IMPENDING CLOSURE OF KAN PACIFIC POOL
Saipan Swim Club founder and Father of Swimming in the Pacific, Bill Sakovich, called the imminent closure of the Kan Pacific Swimming Pool a tragic loss.
In a letter sent to Saipan Tribune, the Hawaii-based Sakovich, who co-founded SSC with wife Jeannie in the ’70s, said they were shocked and saddened to hear that the pool will cease operation at the end of this month.
“Jeannie and I are especially concerned about the pool since it is the ‘only’ competition swimming pool on island. Back in the ’90s and ’80s, we put a lot of effort to gain use of the golf course and pool for training our athletes for international competitions. Although there are now other golf courses on island, there is no other pool. This is a tragic loss,” Sakovich said.
Kan Pacific, which manages the 50-meter pool and other facilities in the Marpi area, will have its extension of lease agreement with the government expiring on Sept. 30. A notice of intent to award the new lease has been given to Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC, but IPI, though it has expressed an intent to keep the pool, has to go through a long process before it could take over the property and its facilities.
Kan Pacific, on the other hand, had already served a notice to SSC and two other swim groups using the Marpi pool, informing the clubs about the closure of the facility at the end of this month. SSC will have its last practice session at the Olympic-sized pool on Sept. 28 and if the closure pushes through, the club will have to train in the lagoon at the Civic Center in Susupe.
Early swimmers of SSC used to train in lagoons behind Saipan Community School and in the waters at the hotels located in Garapan.
“The Saipan Swim Club began in 1974, utilizing the lagoon areas behind Saipan Community School and the former Saipan Intercontinental and Hyatt hotels, until we were able to convince Kan Pacific to open the half completed swim complex. The pool was officially opened in 1987 with the assistance of the CNMI Public Works, Saipan Swim Club coaches and parents, and Kan Pacific. Mr. Naoko Kitami and Mr. Min Hi Won of Kan Pacific were very accommodating in allowing Saipan Swim Club to use the pool for training and later for Red Cross swimming lessons. The Saipan Swim Club utilized the pool mornings and afternoons six days a week, and annually held international competitions. In addition, Japanese Olympic and national teams conducted numerous training camps on Saipan,” Sakovich recalled.
The lagoon swims gave birth to the grassroots program in the CNMI and with the opening of a proper venue for trainings and practices, swimming became one of the most successful sports in the Commonwealth.
“In order to get to that level of international competition, we had to start from the grassroots, which we did in golf and swimming, and Kan Pacific was all part of that process. We progressed, bringing medals home from competitions in both sports, and now what?” the CNMI Sports Hall of Famer said.
Besides helping discover and train competitive swimmers, the Marpi pool also serves as a venue for water safety programs. It hosted, too the 1990 and 2006 Micronesian Games where the CNMI collected a handful of medals.
With time running out, Sakovich hopes that the government and other concerned parties will get their acts together to save the pool, especially that in three years time Saipan will be hosting the Pacific Mini Games.
“Yes, the swimmers can go back to train in the lagoon, which is OK, but it’s not conducive for the development of top level and competitive swimmers. We only hope that with the support of the parents, community, and the government, something can be worked out to keep these facilities operational for the sake of our athletes, to continue our strong showings in Pacific competitions, and for the future development of our youth,” added Sakovich.