For decades, McClain students’ aquatic skills, and memories, have been developed and encouraged in the school’s natatorium.
The school’s indoor swimming pool, built as part of the vocational building in 1923, according to longtime swim coach Danny Long, is, like McClain itself, a source of pride in the community. The indoor pool was the first in the state for any school, according to the school district’s website.
Over the summer the natatorium was repainted, regrouted, and received LED lighting, all upgrades that have considerably brightened the facility. Aside from things like that, not much has changed since it was built more than 95 years ago — the heavy air tinged with the smell of chlorine, the glistening water, the rafters from which mischievous students in years past would spring into from the diving board.
Long said Edward Lee McClain, who bequeathed the high school and its art-filled hallways to the village, had a fondness for swimming pools. He said McClain also had a pool built in the original Methodist church building, and built another in the community he had constructed for workers at the American Textile Company mill in Atco, Ga.
“Atco (an abbreviation for American Textile Co.) was McClain’s solution to a shortage of cotton material needed for his pads. He built a village centered around a three-story cotton mill,” according to the Greenfield Historical Society’s website.
Over the summer, the ceiling and girders were repainted, a chore that was last completed in 2007, according to maintenance supervisor Jeff Pence. The color chosen was white, versus the light blue that was there previously. The natatorium is further brightened by new LED lights, which replaced the old sodium bulbs that cast a somewhat pinkish light. Pence said the new lights are more similar to daylight and people will notice the lighting difference.
The pool had to be drained for all the repainting, so it was regrouted while it was empty, something Pence said is typically done about every five years.
The 96-year-old pool has stood the test of all the years, and all the students who have paddled in its depths from swim meets to mandatory gym classes. The pool has been maintained with the same detailed care as the beloved high school, and as the rest of the school campus.
Long, who coached McClain’s varsity swim team for 25 years and was a longtime swimming official, recalled having to travel long distances for meets, to the schools who either had their own pools or access to a pool.
Current coach Bradley George recalls those long trips from his own school swimming days. But now more local school districts have access to pools, so the traveling long distances is not so prevalent. He said they still travel to a couple invitationals that are not so close, but for the most part the long traveling days are a thing of the past.
Those long trips, though, are how George first became a bus driver, by driving the swim teams on those long-distance trips. He is now the transportation supervisor for the school district.
George spoke about the scoreboard that was installed a few years ago — not an inexpensive item. But he went on to say that it has not cost the school one penny. He said a group of parents got together to not only raise money for the purchase of the system, but its operating costs as well, and they raised that money “in no time.” It is a testament to the support of the community for the school, he said.
George is about to begin his 23rd season coaching the high school boys team, and has the privilege of coaching his sophomore son. His son is one reason George has stayed on so long as coach, but another is love of the school and swimming.
The sport itself, while technically a team sport, is all up to the individual swimmer, George said. When the kids are swimming, it is out of his hands.
“There is no timeout, and it’s all up to the student,” he said. It’s the environment that swimming offers, he said, and the natatorium has been a part of nurturing that in all the swimmers that have dipped into its waters.
In a Facebook post by Mike Seely, he captured the natatorium in a photo during its summer facelift, empty and covered with drop cloths. So many former students posted their fond memories of swimming there, of having to walk to class with frozen hair in the winter after swim class, and their overall positive experiences of having access to that pool throughout their years at the school.
That is not something many schools can speak to.
Outside the natatorium door on the new gym side of the pool hangs a swimming outfit from the 1930s that was donated by a local family, Long said. The decades-old relic is preserved in a case right near the door.
Generations of McClain students, and their swimming competitors, have swam in that pool, and that deep purple, nearly-century old swimming outfit is an attestation to that. That the pool is still in use, the natatorium so well maintained, as well as the whole of the campus, is evidence of the pride of a community that continues more than 100 years after the first cornerstone of the high school was laid.
“We are very unique here at McClain,” George said, “and very blessed to have this school.”
Angela Shepherd is a correspondent for the Greenfield Exempted Village School District.