Volunteers checked swimmers in for the Gonzales Dolphins vs. the Magnolia Woods Marlins meet, hosted June 12 at the Magnolia Woods neighborhood pool, and none of them were quite sure just how long the pool had been open.
But it’s been long enough to see generations paddle through its chlorine water, said Cathy Robichaux, who manages the recreational site, which includes a pool, a meeting hall and recreational room, and tennis courts.
Children in team colors formed a line at the starting blocks, which at first sight seemed to be the only order in the organized chaos that is a regional swim meet.
The Marlins won the meet against the Dolphins, 4,312 to 3,149, and the support and camaraderie is part of what makes the team successful, Robichaux said.
“I started coming here when I was 3 years old,” said Amber Kerth, who stood poolside with other parents waiting to cheer on her youngest son, Caldwell. Kerth, remembers riding her bike to the pool as a kid, and staying all day, all summer long.
While the modes of transport may have changed a little — more skateboards, fewer bikes — neighborhood children still make their way to the pool at opening time and stay all day, all summer long.
“You really don’t see a neighborhood like that much anymore. Magnolia Woods is really a Mayberry R.F.D. — the place that time forgot,” Robichaux said.
Kerth talked about the good old days at the pool until her sons’ relay races began. Then, she’s all concentration, cheering nonstop for him and his teammates.
It’s the close-knit ties that make the difference for Kerth. When she moved 10 minutes away from Magnolia Woods, her sons, Landry, 13, Ryder, 10, and Caldwell, 8, wanted to keep coming to the Magnolia Woods pool.
Everybody is family, she said. Everybody has known everybody for decades.
Kerth was a lifeguard and a Marlin in her younger days and eventually a coach. As such, she coached a number of the current coaches when they were children.
“When you’re here, everyone watches over everyone else, because they all know each other,” Robichaux said.
The teenagers learn patience with the smaller children.
“It’s not just that good swimmers come out of the Marlins. Good people come out of the Marlins,” she said.
“I made friends here that have been my closest friends throughout my life. We’ve gone to each others’ weddings, everything,” she said. But the ties go even deeper. Ryder’s good friend, Weston Lee, 10, stands beside him in the team’s tent after the first race.
“Weston’s mother, Dana, hung out at the pool when I was here, and we were friends,” Kerth said. It’s one of many stories of friendships, relationships, and even, in some cases, marriages, that came out of summers at the pool.
“My kids’ best friends were children they knew from the pool,” Robichaux said. “They met the people who would be their college roommates here. Their first jobs were here. It’s where they learned responsibility. It’s where they learned how to treat people, especially children.”
It’s also where they first experimented with costume design.
One of the many traditions at Magnolia Woods’ pool is a costume party that ends with a jump into the pool. Frozen treats are a tradition, as are trips to Mr. Gatti’s Pizza just down the road after meets.
Every year, the team has a lock-in at the pool meeting room, where team members play games, make signs and banners for the citywide meet, and coaches tell ghost stories that have been circulating since the 1960s.
“There’s one about a Marlin that comes out of the toilet,” said Weston.
“There’s the one about the creek monster (in the woods behind the pool),” said Ryder.
“We set traps for him with out pizza crusts,” said Caldwell.
What keeps Robichaux coming back every year is the community, the culture, of the neighborhood pool.
“It’s the best. To see these older teenagers, or a 28-year-old coach, taking time with the younger kids. It really teaches them compassion early on. It teaches them to take care of people other than themselves,” she said.
Pool membership is not limited to those who live in Magnolia Woods, but does require an application and membership dues.
For information about the pool or the Marlins, visit magnoliawoodpool.com.