My Favorite Swimming Pool in the Whole Wide World
For 80 years at the Watoga State Park Swimming Pool, countless sunbathers and swimmers have graced its water and tread on its time-worn concrete decks.
Tentatively, this will be the last summer for the pool as we now know it. Plans are underway for the construction of a “new and improved” facility for future generations. As more details become available, I will provide timely updates. And, in that vein, I also look forward to telling you the differences between life at the pool — then and now.
But, today’s musing focuses more on a personal thrill at the pool at West Virginia’s largest state park. Since this is a continuing blog, we will talk to others about their days at the pool, and we will also get the inside scoop from behind-the-scenes personnel for continuing updates.
The swimming pool is legendary for its ice-cold, frigid, Siberia-like water temperatures. Just pick a winter-like adjective and it fits nicely when talking about going for a dip. I too vividly recall those arctic waters while growing up at Watoga. No matter how cold the water, this pool is and always will be my favorite swimming pool in the whole wide world!
Current Swimming Pool Opening Day Plans
Detailed plans for opening dates at state park swimming pools have not been released. For the most up-to-date information, please utilize the following resources:
West Virginia-specific information: Call the toll-free hotline 1-800-887-4304 or visit:
West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources: www.dhhr.wv.gov/COVID-19
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – www.cdc.gov
World Health Organization – www.who.int
The Swimming Pool and the Thrill of Victory
When you learn how to swim at a young age, oftentimes you are called “a fish.” As a result of days, weeks, months and years of “living” at the pool, I dream of being the next Mark Spitz and winning multiple Olympic gold medals. Imagine a mentor instructing you how to perfect a dive from the pool’s springboard.
Remember “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” from ABC’s Wide World of Sports? And, it is nice to say that those memories at Watoga’s pool are dominated more by the “thrills” than they are the “defeats.”
Likewise, it is still a thrill to know that where I learned to swim is part of the majestic expanse of natural beauty and wonders nestled in the expanse of 10,000-plus acres. Certainly, I didn’t give it much thought when I was younger, but the foresight and planning to build the pool where it is amazes me.
Learning How to Dive
In 1973, “Coach” Tom Sanders is one of the lifeguards at the swimming pool. I am 12 and can swim well, but I have not conquered the art of diving yet.
“Ok, John, remember to tuck your chin,” Coach says. “Feet together. Bend your knees a little. Lean forward. Don’t look up. I am going to help you fall in. Ok, you ready?”
“Yeah, I’m ready, Coach.”
“You sure? Get set? Here we go!”
And with that, Coach ever so slowly nudges me forward into the deep end of the pool. I do not keep my chin tucked and subsequently complete what is commonly known as a “belly smacker.” Ouch!
At this instant, I think that this process may take longer than the time it took to walk the few miles to the pool from our home near Beaver Creek Campground at the north entrance to the park.
“All right, John, let’s try it again. It is going to take some practice just like those corner shots you like to take at the gym. Remember why we practice basketball for two hours after school, right?”
As a matter of fact, I did practice that dive for several days. I would arrive at the pool early each day before park guests had arrived for the day. The pool opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. When Coach had time or the pool wasn’t crowded, he would provide much needed guidance.
“Remember to keep your head down when you go in the water. Toes together. Don’t look up.”
After the third day, I have the technique down, thanks to Coach’s encouragement, cheers, hand claps and positive reinforcement techniques.
Coach, This Dive’s for You!
In conclusion, Thomas “Coach” Sanders was a teacher for a decade and a principal for 31 years in Pocahontas County.
Until now, I never conveyed to Coach how instrumental he was in not only my aquatic development, but also in my educational and career choices. Undoubtedly, absent Coach’s guidance, I would not have been able to do what some consider a simple maneuver. Above all, Coach Sanders instilled in me to always try my best in life no matter what the task. So, it pays dividends to never give up, to give it your all, and as the proverb states “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”
Without a doubt, Coach, this dive’s for you!
Throughout the next few months, John will be compiling stories, memories, facts, and tidbits about readers’ experiences at the swimming pool. Near Labor Day, he will publish that collection for posterity’s sake. Please share your swimming pool experiences with John at or post on his Facebook writing page by clicking this link to go to John C. Dean, Writer.
About the Author
John C. Dean lived at Watoga for 16 years from 1960-1976, until his dad, Vernon C., retired after 43 years of service with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.