Tim Bobko

All pools have rules. Most rules are hated by the general public because they think of them as restricting their ability to enjoy the pool. No one likes the title of being the “rules pool” even when they have the best intentions. As recreation professionals, we spend a lot of time trying to make things fun for families. So it’s particularly difficult to tell kids that they cannot play with balls when they are using our pool facility.

Kids always want to play with balls of one sort or another, and they consistently try to “sneak” them in. At our facility, there are some large grass areas, perfect for a game of catch or “running bases.”

A few years ago, we had a relatively new manager who wanted us to revisit the “no balls” rule. He had encountered some parents who were very unhappy with the restriction and couldn’t understand why we would not allow some kinds of balls in selected areas. He suggested we consider modifying this rule to make our patrons happy.

That same summer, he learned firsthand the importance of this particular rule.

On one of the hottest days of the summer, our pool manager called in a panic. Something was wrong with our filtration system and he feared that we needed to close the pool right away! The department’s deputy director (and resident pool expert), Peter Travers, went over to investigate.

The motor was running, but no water was flowing through the system. Pete’s first thought was that there was a blockage in one of the pipes. He then started to systematically isolate and pressure-test the different pipes leading into the filter system. He started on the influent lines and worked his way to the effluent line. The tests revealed no blockage, which meant it had to be something with the motor itself.

After that, he removed the motor from the housing, only to discover a lacrosse ball lodged in the motor. Despite our “no balls” rule, this really hard ball managed to find its way into the pool, wind its way past the hair catch and into the pool motor impeller. Though the motor sounded as if it was operating, it was not functional.

We are big on “be prepared.” We had an extra motor on site, called a pump installer, along with our electrician — so we were able to keep the pool operational. In the end, pool filter operation was interrupted by just four hours. Following the pump replacement, we immediately sent out the motor for repair so we’d have it on hand the next time it was needed. There is always a next time.

Lessons Learned

1. Don’t panic. The sky is NOT falling! When you experience a problem, don’t assume the worst. Start with a systematic approach, identifying the easiest possible problems, working your way up to the hardest problems to remedy.

2. Be prepared. If possible, individually isolate areas to identify where the problem is. Always have spare parts on hand. Understand the flow through your pipes and have ways to test them. Be nice to pump installers, electricians and plumbers so they’ll come when needed because all emergencies seem to happen after business hours.

3. Always stand fast on this rule. Don’t EVER allow balls in your pool.