HC pool supporters donate $1.6 million

After almost two years of fundraising, the Friends of the Don Watson Aquatic Center were able to present a $1.6 million donation to the Hinsdale High School District 86 Board last week.

“It really was a pure team effort to get to this goal of raising $1.6 million,” Vince Allegra, a former stand-out swimmer at Hinsdale Central and fundraising committee member, said at the board’s April 22 meeting.

The contribution made it possible for the district to build a 10-lane pool instead of the six-lane pool approved in the April 2019 referendum. Five months after the referendum passed, board members agreed to spend an additional $3.5 million to build a 10-lane pool — with support from the community. Additional funds were obtained through value engineering.

The new facility will bear the name of the late Don Watson, the legendary coach who led the Central varsity boys swim team to 12 consecutive state titles.

More than 240 people, representing all 62 years of Hinsdale swimming and other supporters, contributed to the total, Allegra said.

“The rumors are true — we actually had people from LT and St. Charles,” he said with a laugh.

George Tidmarsh, a 1978 graduate who swam under Watson, was the lead donor in the effort, agreeing early on to match the first $750,000 raised.

“I’m very honored and grateful to be here representing hundreds of donors,” Tidmarsh told board members. “I owe a tremendous amount of what I am as an individual — just the positive parts, not the negative parts — to Hinsdale swimming and Don.”

Tidmarsh, who was part of four state championship swim teams and won five state titles, noted the dire need for a new facility.

“Forty-three years ago when I last swam in that pool we thought it was old and decrepit and on its way out then,” he said.

Allegra also thanked athletic director Dan Jones and Principal Bill Walsh for their cooperation.

“You have been fantastic. We know that with your diligence and oversight, this swim facility will be the best swim facility in the state of Illinois,” he said.

Superintendent Tammy Prentiss easily could have pushed the group’s plan aside, he noted.

“Tammy, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to listen back in May of 2019 when this was hypothetical,” Allegra said. “There is no doubt that none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for you, your partnership and your creativity.”

Fundraising committee member and former swim coach Carol Bobo said supporters walked through the natatorium Friday morning after presenting the check Thursday night.

“It was just very surreal,” she said Friday. “It was very exciting last night, just the culmination of a long time of talking about this, for years, and trying to figure out how we were going to do this.

The $20.5 million facility should be finished in June. Bobo said a dedication ceremony is planned for Aug. 20 in conjunction with the girls red and white intersquad meet. Details will be announced at a later date.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean