Object of the Day

Balboa Club Swimming Pool

It’s another hot and humid summer day in Gainesville, and that swimming pool sure looks inviting!

Balboa Club Swimming Pool
Balboa Club Swimming Pool

Did you have to be a club member to swim at the Balboa Club Swimming Pool?

This looks like it might be a swim meet or team event of some sort– do you know what’s going on in this photograph?

Have you ever swam at this pool?  Were there a lot of places to swim in the Canal Zone?

Tell us a little about the Balboa Club Swimming pool in the comments section!


  • Ray Crucet

    This appears to be in the 1920’s. Not a swim meet …more of a Saturday hoopla to impress the gals. Don’t know where the lifeguard is, but when I worked part time at the pool this kind of brawling behavier was not tolerated. I swam many a competion here for Balboa High School (class of 1952)…waterpolo included.
    We had the 3 and 10 meter boards but not that tall slide (looks like fun).
    The Club refferred to was the “Balboa Clubhouse”. The membership was simply an American who worked for the Panama Canal Commission with a “gold” payroll status and his or her dependents. Panamanians were allowed , but only for an invited competition. Uncle Sam was pretty intolarant at the time and Canal workers were given a local rate or “Silver”payroll status if they were Panamanian or non- caucasian workers (known as the diggers) from the West Indies. These good people were not allowed in most of the Canal Zone pools. Sadly, they were in fact segragated in practically all facilities within the canal Zone.

    Ray Crucet (BHS’52)

  • Jim

    Jim Sweeney, former Balboa High School Swim Team Coach, 1972-1999.
    This doesn’t look much like the Balboa Pool that we were familiar with. It was built a long time ago so the scene could have changed, or this could have been an older pool. The Balboa Pool was right at the bottom of Sosa Hill and behind the Club House and Balboa Theater. It was always popular with the kids and adults. There was a three meter high dive and a one meter diving board, covered stands for meets, a bulkhead separating the competitive 25 yard pool with nine lanes from the shallower pool for water volleyball, kids, and lessons. Canal Zone kids could work their way up from B badges, which allowed kids to go to the pool without sponsors, all the way to more advanced badges and then classes with Russ Stromberg from the College to get lifeguard training and water safety instructor certification for jobs. The high school sometimes had classes there during PE. Vincent Thomas was the last pool manager and sponsored teams there and many classes.
    I coached the high school swim team. We had a short four meet season and had various ways of organizing the league. When I first coached we had JV and varsity, with Curundu Jr. High and Cristobal High School and Balboa High School sponsoring JV teams for boys and girls, and both high schools and Canal Zone College sponsoring varsity teams, though there was no coach for the college kids. Al Sprague was the head coach for two years when I started as JV coach. The junior high girls always dominated so we changed the league when John Magee was coaching at the Junior High. Did away with the JV and Curundu entered as a varsity team. Later when Cristobal was closed we divided up Balboa’s boys into the Red and White teams, and allowed the college swimmers to join the Curundu Junior High Boys, so we had three varsity boys teams. We tried to balance out the rules to make it as competitive as we could. Usually whomever won the negotiations for how to organize the league won the league when the points were awarded. One season a meet came down to the last relay so I guess we did it pretty well, though one of the BHS boys teams usually always won the league. The junior high girls always dominated, so we didn’t split the BHS girls team. We had three league meets and a championship meet for medals in a seven week season. We also had diving, mostly coached by a former PanAm games diver, Coach Gomez for BHS and Ken Anderson at Curundu (his girls were divers). When CHS was in the league we had two meets at Balboa Pool, one at Coco Solo Pool across from CHS and the championship meet at Gamboa Pool. After CHS was closed all meets were at Balboa Pool on Friday nights which usually attracted large crowds of parents and supporters and was lots of fun.
    For a time each of the Canal Zone Pools sponsored teams in the Inter-Oceanic Swim Association, kind of like AAU, with age groups. Each military base had pools, and each Pan Canal Community. The Pan Canal Pools were Balboa, Los Rios, Gamboa, Margarita, Gatun, Rainbow City and Paraiso. Amador, Howard, Clayton, Davis, Albrook, Sherman, and Gulick had pools sponsored by the military and the YMCA also had a small pool. There were two private swim clubs. The Ciners was a highly competitive club that worked out at Balboa Pool, sometimes twice a day, and provided excellent swimmers for our school team and traveled to other countries and to Panama City for meets. A Canadian guy coached them and helped Al Sprague and I get some help when we started coaching at the high school. Dave Beldus had a team at Los Rios that focused on preparing swimmers for the schools league and the Inter Oceanic competitions. They also did quite well. Dave taught at the schools and got us to change the 400 freestyle to a 500 hundred so two of the girls on the high school team could qualify for high school all-American, his daughter, Susan and Susan McCall both got All-American as a result. One swam for the Canadian coach and the other for her dad at Los Rios for practices.
    Toward the end of the treaty time we struggled as the school administration changed, dropping for a time Curundu, now a middle school (they had their own 33 yard pool) and the college kids from the league, so one year we only swam against ourselves, making two coed teams. Then the middle school rejoined the league until the schools closed. Lots of years of fun swimming and hundreds of kids earned varsity letters and competed in the meets over the years I was there, and from what I hear about previous years there were even more swimming events, as swimming was a year round activity in the old Canal Zone. Each year Vince Thomas helped sponsor the Special Olympics meet at Gamboa Pool and our team would volunteer to help with the kids as swim buddies.
    My kids all took lessons at the pools and got their B badges at an early age, like their mom did at Gatun Pool growing up. All spent fun weekends with friends at the pool and took classes with their uncle, Russ Stromberg for lifeguard training and WSI through the College. My youngest son swam for Curundu then for me for a year at BHS, making all league. We determined all league in each event based on how many points were earned in the league meets. If you got the most points in breaststroke you earned all league, which we first called All-Zone. The championship meet was supposed to earn a medal for the best performance at the last meet of the season.

  • Randy Cox

    Thanks for all of the information Coach Sweeney. I swam for you on the BHS team in 1976 and 77. I remember you and Vincent. I thought I would add a few items to the history you provided. The competitive swimming club that you referred to was Club Internacional de Natacion (CIN). I swam for that club. Suzanne Call (who you referred to) was one of my teammates. The Canadian who coached the team was Mike Ford. When Mike left to coach elsewhere around 1977, the CIN team hired a new coach, Bruce Williams — an NCAA All-American from the University of Florida. If anyone remembers a 6’4″, long-haired guy with a beard driving around in a fuchsia colored jeep, that was Bruce. The swimming team hand-painted his jeep one day. That jeep stood out around the CZ.

  • Robert Dillon

    I think this is a collage of many pictures of the pool done in a pre-photoshop manual method. Notice the shadows go in different directions. All the elements of the Balboa pool are there, but things are in the wrong places and “not quite right.” The shadowy outline of Ancon hill is in the background, etctera, but the pool never looked like this. Posts below the diving boards, going into the water? I don’t think so.

  • Kenneth Field

    My beautiful Mother was part of the Red White and Blue Troop at a young age. She was taught to swim by Coach Harry Grieser? who was called the Other Einstein because he looked jus like the famous Albert Einstein. Mom lived at the Balboa pool, that was her real address. Mom was fast, in 1937 she won first place free style at Jones Beach in Long Island New York at the tender age of 17! They gave her a 24 Karat gold medal which had a green seahorse on it with a real diamond in the eye of the seahorse, its absolutely beautiful.

    She dove off the biggest dredge crane from the big hook on the Canal with Johnny Wisemuller the first Tarzan in a photo shoot for some fancy magazine. She taught all 4 of her children to swim and countless other kids on the Canal Zone. Rumor has it she was the fastest women on earth in 1937in the 100 free style but it was unofficial because of the war, all the times were sent in but was not actually at the Olympics. Mon could dive also and was like a swan flying through the sky. Mom said Dad (Cyrus) was the most jealous man she new but he was the one.

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