While their kids might have their faces in the water this weekend during the 2012 USA Swimming Central Zone 14U Championships at Donner Park Pool, the parents have plenty of time to look around Columbus.
What they have seen is an inviting city that is ready to host a big-time event.
Jennifer Carroll oversees a volunteer force of almost 500 to make sure the swimmers and their families have a positive experience in both the water and around town.
“We have a great community here, and these people get to see Columbus,” said Carroll, whose 11-year-old son Jared and 9-year-old daughter Jocelyn both swim for the Donner Park club team but didn’t qualify for this elite event, which began Friday and runs through the distance events Monday.
“I think people will see that we aren’t such a small city,” she added.
Jamie Brinegar, the director of business services for Columbus Parks & Recreation, said a package of attractions and restaurants was made available to the swimmers and their families at the admissions table. With more than 2,500 people expected to attend the event, it should mean a spike to the local economy.
“This is a showcase for our city and a showcase for our facility,” Brinegar said.
It appears the visitors are loving the showcase.
“We went downtown on Thursday and our kids loved the indoors playground,” said Dawn Jackson of Kendallville. “And they had the concert going (on Washington) as well. We thought the town was beautiful.”
Michael Roddy of Cincinnati said his main concern when he goes to meets is the pool.
“That’s where we spend all our time,” he said. “You have a great-looking facility here. This is a premier place.”
With that said, he took a bite of a big hamburger he purchased poolside. “And I love this $2 hamburger.”
While families picked up fast food or shopped to fill coolers, many of them said they try to eat a “sit-down” dinner at least once during the event.
“We always try to find a local place to eat,” said Christine Brann of Verona, Kent. “And we poke all around town.”
Cathy Davis of Cincinnati said her family was staying in a lodge in Brown County, but upon driving into Columbus, her 10-year-old son Connor loved the tree-lined streets. “This is so pretty,” he said.
One of the few frustrations noted was that some families couldn’t find a room in Columbus.
“Everything was full,” said Amy DeWitt of Kendallville. “We are staying in Nashville. But we loved the Commons, and our kids were impressed with the indoor play center.”
Even if the families do stay in Columbus, the city has a limited opportunity to make its mark.
“Usually, we’re just at the pool and then back to the hotel to rest,” said Julie Reilly of Kansas City. “And usually we are just grabbing something quick to eat. But at the end of the meet we do try to have a good dinner.”
Troy Brust of Granville, Ohio, said his family has been impressed with the architecture and the cleanliness of the city.
“We’ve been talking about how neat it is here,” he said. “This place is awesome.”
He then showed off his toe nails and noted that his family added money to the local economy. They all had a pedicure Thursday.
“We had a meet-and-greet on Thursday night, and downtown was wonderful,” said Brust’s wife, Tonya. “They have a great play area for our youngest one, who gets bored. That was unbelievable.”
Tonya Brust said it’s always nice that a town has something to offer outside the swim meet.
“You’re exhausted by the end of the day,” she said. “You get to the pool at 7 a.m. and the meet starts at 9 a.m. It’s a long, long day for us.
“I know this sounds crazy, but a lot of times we look for a pool, like at the hotel, for our little one.”
While many of the parents said they enjoy just visiting with other parents and watching the competition, Steve Cartnal of Newark, Ohio said he is ready for a little entertainment after being poolside for hours.
“These meets are long,” he said. “There is a lot of this (just sitting around). So we do other things depending on how the meet is set up. We’re going to Brown County to look around.”
Even with all the attractions in Columbus and the surrounding area, the Donner Park Pool is the star this weekend.
“I’ve lived in Indianapolis but I didn’t know this pool was here,” said Mary Perczak of South Bend, who was a volunteer official. “This place is awesome. Their equipment has worked wonderful and the timing system has been doing well.”
Perczak, who has spent time in Columbus over the years also noted, “Columbus is growing. This city is phenomenal.”
Jim Sheridan, who runs the Donner Park Swim Club, enjoyed seeing the pool packed with some of the nation’s top age-group swimmers.
“There is a lot of pride in this community,” he said. “It took a lot of dollars to get this event rocking.
“This is a showcase city.”
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