Welcome to this year’s Best of Aquatics issue, where we shine a light on facilities that excel in serving their communities, whether through programming, outreach or other aspect of operations.

It’s a wonderful experience to go through the entries each year — most are submitted by facility managers, and the glowing pride in their work and appreciation for their staffs are abundantly evident. Aquatics folks are passionate about what they do; integrity and dedication are just part of their makeup. As such, the Best of Aquatics judging process always leaves me feeling humble and inspired.

In the end, the facilities that topped our list were those that had one thing in common: They all offered a level of detail and a thinking-outside-the-box mindset that helped set them apart.

Take, for example, Conroe Aquatic Center in Conroe, Texas, honored for best programming. It’s a municipal facility serving a diverse community, and they strive to offer a variety of programs to fulfill their patrons’ needs. But it goes beyond the typical aqua fitness classes, lap swimming and learn-to-swim fare that are integral to every aquatics facility — Conroe takes programming seriously, and is innovative in exploring other ways to serve its community. They offer a variety of sessions for specialized groups: Texas Parks and Wildlife agents, U.S. Coast Guard officials, military servicemen and Homeland Security agents practice emergency rescue; Boy and Girl Scouts train in water safety and emergency response; and religious groups can even perform baptisms here.

Another facility that comes to mind is one that you’ll no doubt recognize. River Road Park and Recreation District in Eugene, Ore., was honored last year for training. They’re back this year in the same category, but for a different program — an intensive junior-level swim instructor course built from scratch, to better equip those who are too young to take the Red Cross Water Safety Instructor certification with the necessary skills and confidence to be an effective swim instructor.

And lastly, Brownell-Talbot School in Omaha, Neb., deserves a special call-out for targeted programming. To celebrate the 2016 U.S. Olympic swim trials held in their city this past summer, the school suspended its normal programming and devised a rich series of Olympic-themed events designed to generate excitement about the Games and promote water safety.

Our 10 winners will be honored at a special awards event on Feb. 7 during the Association of Aquatic Professionals Conference and Expo in St. Pete Beach, Fla. I invite you all to come and celebrate the Best of Aquatics with me!