Originally published June 2011
There’s a competition that goes on every day during the summer at the Darien Swim & Racquet Club.
Like clockwork, swimmers jump off the high dive once an hour, battling it out to make the biggest splash. A very discerning panel of judges sits at the edge of the pool cheering in approval or booing with dissatisfaction.
Spoiler alert: The splashes rarely meet the judges’ standards.
That’s because the judges are kids who want to get as drenched as possible before it’s their turn to return to the pool, post-adult swim time. The grownups are the ones crashing into the water.
For more than 30 years, traditions such as this have made the Darien Swim & Racquet Club a true community touchstone.
What started as a private club is now open for membership to the whole community and, in the process, has become the center of summertime fun for families throughout Darien.
Before there was a pool at the corner where Hinsbrook and Ironwood Avenues meet, there was farmland, said Hinsbrook Homeowners Association President Jim Freidag, who lives across the street and is an expert on the club’s history.
Developers in the late 1970s originally tried to build the club at the other end of what is today , near the intersection of Beechnut and Hinsbrook, Freidag said. But the farmer who previously occupied the land left behind a garbage pit filled with rusting junk.
“When they went to dig, they hit so many cars, they moved the club to this end,” Freidag said.
Although the DSRC recently remodeled the clubhouse, the basic structures of the club’s three pools are the same: two shallow pools for kids and one pool for all ages with a depth that ranges from three to 15 feet.
The pools aren’t the only part of DSRC that hearkens back to an earlier time.
“You see families spending time together without TVs and computers,” said DSRC President Tom Belczak. “There aren’t places like that anymore.”
TVs, however, do make an appearance at the club sometimes: Staff will pull out two big-screen TVs when the Cubs play a big game.
“Fathers and sons will sit next to each other in their bathing suits watching the game,” Belczak said.
Darien resident Valerie Karpeck has been a member of the club since she was a child. As a kid she said she remembers standing at the gate every morning at 10:55, waiting for the pool to open at 11.
Her memories of the pool are rich, from the thrill of swimming at night while lights illuminated the water to working up enough courage to jump off the high dive for the first time.
“It's more than just a place to swim, it's part of the fabric of the community,” Karpeck said. “We've watched the lifeguards go from taking swim lessons as kids to teaching them as guards. You always see a familiar face and feel welcome, and I don't think many other pools can say that.”
The pool also has provided a warm welcome over the years to many a new Darien resident.
“It’s kind of like a summer-long block party,” said board member Jim Valenti. “Everyone becomes friends. If you don’t know anyone, within 20 minutes you know everyone.”
Lazy days by the pool (the racquet part of the club is a thing of the past) are punctuated by special events throughout the summer. This past weekend, the pool held a pig roast. An adults-only 80s night is scheduled for June 18.
“My summer revolves around the pool,” Belczak said. “Whenever there’s something not pool-related, I always ask first, ‘Well, does the pool have anything going on?’”
For more information about the pool or how to become a member, visit http://www.darienswim.com/