Tupelo’s Learn to Swim Program taught 238 participants this summer – a 47 percent increase from last year, according to statistics from the Tupelo Parks and Recreation Department.
The C.C. Augustus Pool also saw an increase – 1,565 people swam there from Memorial Day through July 31, a nearly 22 percent jump from last year.
Rob Leake City Pool, the city’s biggest, had about the same number of swimmers this summer as last at 9,817.
The overall increase comes on the heels of Tupelo’s decision to build an $11 million indoor aquatic center in Veterans Park that will vastly expand its recreational offerings.
The sprawling complex will house one Olympic-size pool and one smaller pool for fitness or instruction classes. It also will have spectator seating, locker rooms, restrooms, offices, a multipurpose room, kitchen, lobby and an outdoor area for sunbathing.
Crews broke ground on the project last month. Construction is slated to last 14 months.
“I foresee our aquatic programming ... increasing significantly because we can have year-round programming,” said Amy Williams Kennedy, senior recreation director.
Kennedy attributed the increased popularity of the sport to its numerous health benefits. It’s also accessible to people of all ages and abilities, making it an appealing choice for the whole family.
“You can start at one year old and do it your entire life,” said Dan Kasen, director of research and information for the National Sporting Goods Association. “It doesn’t have to be a stressful sport, even if you have a sprained ankle you can still swim.”
The NSGA tracks annual sports participation rates and found swimming generally ranks No. 3, behind walking and exercising with equipment.
An estimated 46 million people nationwide went swimming at least twice last year alone.
More young people have been filling the pools, too, said Tupelo High School Swim Team and Shockwave coach Lucas Smith.
“We’re filled,” he said of his teams. “We couldn’t take many more than what we’ve got now.”
Smith attributes swimming’s rise to the popularity of Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps. The sport, he said, is likely to gain even more participants after the city opens its indoor aquatic center.