The Dragon Aquatics Club in Pekin merged recently with the Peoria Area Water Wizards after its long-time coach departed for another job.

Club President Chad Peterson said Dragon Aquatics was formed in 2012 as a year-round competitive club to promote swim programs for all ages and abilities; promote team spirit and good sportsmanship; educate, train, and direct the interests of the swimmers; and to operate solely and exclusively as a charitable, educational, not-for-profit organization.

Peterson said Dragon Aquatics was sanctioned by USA Swimming and Illinois Swimming Inc. USA Swimming is the governing body for the sport of swimming in the U.S., and Illinois Swimming, Inc. is one of 59 local swimming committees under United States Swimming, Inc.

“In a great partnership with the Pekin Community High School, Dragon Aquatics has been afforded to practice in one of the fastest pools in central Illinois,” Peterson said.

“This partnership allows Pekin community swimmers to enhance their skills and abilities and provides a feeder program to the PCHS swimming program,” Peterson added.

And that will remain the same.

“PAWW will handle the operations function and both pool sites, Pekin and Peoria, (and) will have use of all coaches from Pekin and Peoria,” said Peterson. “It will primarily remain Pekin coaches in Pekin and Peoria coaches in Peoria with a rotational basis to be worked out.

“DA swimmers will now swim under the PAWW name. Pekin PAWW swimmers will still swim at the PCHS pool. Peoria PAWW swimmers are not moving to the PCHS pool. Peoria PAWW swimmers will continue to use Central (High School’s) pool in Peoria.”

Peterson said the rotation of coaches will give participants the chance to work under different coaching styles and personalities.

“This merger will benefit all swimmers by increasing the total coaching staff to 16,” he said. “These 16 coaches are the most experienced coaches in downstate Illinois.

“Their ability to work together as a team will bring the new program to (a) level where each team on their own may not had been able to achieve. In all, nothing really changes for Pekin swimmers utilizing the Pekin pool. The practice days are the same. The practice times are the same.”

Peterson said that with the departure of Head Coach Mitch Ritchards, who helped organize the club in 2011, the club was presented with three options — remain Dragon Aquatics and continue with the current staff minus the coach, find a new coach or merge with PAWW. The DA had found an interim coach to fill in.

“After finding an interim head coach, the options were narrowed to the two — remain DA with interim head coach and current coaching staff or Dissolve DA and merge with PAWW,” said Peterson. 

PAWW approached the DA board about a possible merger at that time. The general membership voted to merge, said Peterson.

Pekin District 303 Superintendent Danielle Owens said the change to the program may cause uncertainty, but “the hope is that our local/Pekin swimmers will still have the benefit of swimming close to home.”

“With Dragon Aquatics merging with PAWW we still hope to serve the student-athletes who are Pekin residents and will, hopefully, grow up to be Dragon swimmers,” she said. “The agreement we have had to allow the DA swimmers to use the facility free of charge will be maintained, with the swimmers using it being mostly from Pekin.

“We have the ability to rent out our facilities as per board policy and this includes any of our facilities. We have chosen to allow the DA to use the facilities as it directly serves as a feeder program to our high school swim team.”

DA in the past has paid an hourly fee for custodial services if practice or meets are outside of regular school hours. The same will apply to PAWW.

Peterson said the program is about bettering swimmers.

“Bottom line, the DA board worked long and hard for the past month and a half on the best options with one thing in mind — giving Pekin swimmers the greatest opportunity to achieve their goals and aspirations to become the best swimmer they can be,” said Peterson. “The general membership has voted, and we are moving forward in a positive manner and direction.

“This is a positive thing for Pekin swimmers, and the Pekin community in allowing a year-round competitive swim program to be located at the PCHS pool. The sky is the limit for these young athletes as we begin with some as young as 6 years old. The next Olympic swimmer may just be from Pekin.” 

Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin