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An artist rendering of what was proposed to the City for the Sgt. John Pinney Memorial Pool Complex.

A well-deserved tribute to Sgt. John Pinney Pool

By Bruce Auld News Review Staff Writer

In a few months, a demolition contractor will remove the old Sgt. John Pinney Memorial pool to facilitate the construction of the Sgt. John Pinney Memorial Aquatic Complex. The old pool served its community well for four decades, often limping. One might wonder why the current pool couldn’t be modernized rather than replaced. Pinney Pool’s original design does not comply with current depth safety standards for competitive swimming and water polo. The gutter system could not be modified to state-of-art standards, which would adversely affect championship qualifying swim times. Like the new Murray Middle School and now under-construction Richmond Elementary School, the cost to modernize exceeds the cost to replace. Yet for four decades, Pinney Pool served our community well.

The new complex, as currently conceived, is far more than the pool. It is a community center: a true community asset, an economic engine, and a tool for employee recruitment and retention. I have no evidence that a critical hire declined an employment offer due to the lack of swim teams or water polo, but such a circumstance would be inevitable.

There was a community pool in Ridgecrest before Pinney Pool. The “Ridgecrest” Pool was located near the corner of Norma Street and Church Street (the dirt parking lot still exists); remnants of this pool can be seen from a distant vantage point from Sunset Street, looking northeast. First known as the “Allen” Pool, also affectionately known as “Brewer’s Sewer.”

Anecdotal accounts attribute the pool operation to Doug Brewer, a physical education teacher and later James Monroe Junior High School vice-principal. The gymnasium of James Monroe School is dedicated to Mr. Brewer’s honor. John Pinney was the lifeguard and spent nights there during the summer months keeping the sanitation filtration system running. This pool was still in operation in 1969 by the City of Ridgecrest Recreation Department, closing with the opening of the Sgt. John Pinney Memorial Pool in 1970. “I’m going to Vietnam. If I don’t come back, make sure they buy a new pump for the (Brewer)pool.” (Sgt. John Pinney to his family)

The Sgt. John Pinney Memorial Pool was the home to the High Desert Swim Team (the City of Ridgecrest sponsored youth travel team) and the Sherman E. Burroughs High School Swim Team. The pool operated from January through September annually. The Burroughs swim team occupied the pool from January through May for training and swim meets. Coach Charlie Lattig spent 23 years enduring morning training sessions in sub-freezing temperatures. The pool was heated for the swimmers. The coach’s deck was not. Charlie may well hold the record for Burrough’s coaching tenure. Under Coach Lattig’s leadership, the Burros secured three consecutive CIF state swim championships, the most in school history. I was the CIF meet official for home meets for a decade. Each year, a rival team would bring gallon jugs of their pool’s water and pour them into Pinney Pool to the blaring sound of Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” only to be defeated by the Burros.

Charlie also spent many summers as the summer pool manager, staffing morning swim lessons with water safety instructors (WSI) and lifeguards in the four-hour afternoon open swim. At 4:00 pm, I would take over the pool for two hours, coaching the High Desert youth team.

Although the Pinney Pool was well designed for water safety instruction and competitive swimming, it wasn’t designed for large-scale swim meets, hosting 200 to 300 swimmers. The security fence was at the deck line, severely limiting the number of swimmers and fan space. There was no shaded grass space to rest between events and no shade to protect timers spending up to six hours in the abundant Ridgecrest sunshine.

To correct this limitation, the High Desert Swim Team conducted a “Shade-A-Thon” on a Wednesday afternoon in July 1974. Team members, coaches, and community leaders solicited sponsors on a per lap completed during a two-hour shift basis. The initial goal was to raise $3,000. The Ridgecrest City Council pledged up to $2,000 in matching funds. This was a twelve-hour event, from noon to midnight. The initial goal of $3,000 was met at 6:00 p.m. by the eight underage group swimmers. A new goal of $10,000 was set, which was reached before 10 p.m. The final tally was $11,300.

However, this number had to be adjusted down slightly due in part to the following:

Keila Dean, a diminutive nine-year-old girl, approached a neighbor to sponsor her. He sized her up, thinking someone young and little might be good for 10 or 20 laps. He pledged “a buck-a-lap.” Keila chalked up 160 laps (2.5 miles) and would have done more had she not been limited to a two-hour shift! Everyone agreed that the sponsor should donate $40.

High Desert Swim Team member Paul Chandler designed and executed the landscaping plan to earn his Boy Scouts of America Eagle rank, creating sufficient turf and shade tree areas to accommodate large-scale swim meets. Shade structures were installed for spectators and timers. The second “Lions Club Invitational” was conducted at Pinney Pool in June 1976, showcasing the expanded facility and greatly improved facility.
For four decades, Pinney Pool served our community well. Decades of swim meets end-of-school-year swim parties, water safety training, and more.

Not funny for the young guy or his family, yet an interesting Pinney Pool gutter story… I arrived at 4:00 pm to coach. As I arrived, Kern County Fire Department (KCFD) trucks were leaving. “What’s-up,” I asked Charlie. Somehow, a swimmer got his head stuck in the gutter and couldn’t get out—plenty of air in the gutter. Not life-threatening, yet a problem needs resolution. KCFD jackhammered a notch in the gutter, scooted the swimmer down to the notch, and slipped the swimmer out to great applause.

There have been many Burroughs swimmers that went on to swim in college. Ann Allan (Auld, BHS 1967) was UCLA’s first Division I walk-on swimming. Mike Hamm (BHS 1973) has an NCAA DII national championship ring. David Chan (BHS 1998) is Burrough’s most decorated CIF swimmer. Danny Dye (BHS 1983) swam in college and, adding to his numerous coaching awards, is this year’s Santa Clara Valley swim coach of the year.

Soon our community will say goodbye to Sgt. John Pinney Memorial Pool, yet with great anticipation for the future of aquatics in the City of Ridgecrest with the coming of the Sgt. John Pinney Aquatics Complex.