Edwardsville school district announces $4 million donor for pool center

News-DemocratDecember 2, 2013 

Chuck Fruit was vice president of Coca-Cola and helped launch ESPN, but there was one thing he did every day before heading off to work: he swam.

Charles "Chuck" Fruit and his wife, Sharon, were 1965 graduates of Edwardsville High School. High school sweethearts, they married after college, eventually living in Atlanta.

After Chuck's death in 2008, Sharon moved back to Edwardsville. And it was that year that she began thinking about a way to honor her late husband's memory: a swimming facility at the high school.

District 7 officials gathered Monday to announce the details of the Chuck Fruit Aquatic Center, which will be constructed adjacent to the wrestling center in the EHS sports complex.

Sharon Fruit presented Superintendent Ed Hightower with the actual check for $4 million, presented from the Charles and Sharon Fruit Foundation. The EGHM Foundation will donate the remaining $1.3 million necessary to complete the aquatic center.

Sharon Fruit said that swimming was always a part of Chuck's life from his youth, when he was on the swim team at Sunset Hills Country Club. He was a swimmer and diver at Williams College in Massachusetts before he began his career at Anheuser-Busch, helping to create Budweiser's strategy in sports marketing. He coordinated the deal between Budweiser and the fledgling ESPN that helped launch the network.

In 1991, Fruit became vice president of global media for Coca-Cola and was recognized by the Sporting News as one of the 100 most powerful people in sports for 12 years.

But each morning, Sharon said, he would get up at 4:30 a.m. to swim a mile before going into the office. "It was very important to his daily life," she said. "It means so much to give back to the community, and especially in the area that he loved so much."

The Chuck Fruit Aquatic Center will house the region's only Olympic-sized pool on the Illinois side of the river. The nearest Illinois facility is in Carbondale, and the only other Olympic-sized facility in the entire metropolitan region is the St. Peters Rec-Plex, which has been host to the U.S. Olympic diving trials.

The 28,960-square-foot facility will include a 50-meter pool with 1-meter and 3-meter diving boards and eight swimming lanes. It will allow the Edwardsville High School swim club to become a full-fledged team that can earn team points at meets, which is not currently possible because they do not have their own facility.

That hasn't stopped 17-year-old Katie Kuhl from earning high marks at sectionals, and she plans to swim at the collegiate level at Miami University of Ohio next year. As a senior, she won't get to enjoy the new facility, but said she was very excited for her classmates.

Michael Johnson, 15, said he will be glad to practice at the campus instead of driving over to the Edwardsville YMCA. He has been swimming since he was very young. "It's a great sport, and it means a lot to me," he said.

Hightower said that the original plans for EHS included a competitive swimming facility, but it never came to pass. He called it a dream 20 years in the making.

"Today is a historic day, when District 7 will see its dream come true," Hightower said.

He also thanked the EGHM Foundation -- standing for Edwardsville, Glen Carbon, Hamel and Moro, the towns in District 7 -- for the support. "This group is responsible for most of the funding for these astounding amenities that other districts are not afforded," Hightower said.

Hightower said the facility will allow swimming to be included in the regular physical education curriculum as well as offer a competitive space for the swim team. He anticipates hosting swim meets and events, given the rarity of Olympic-sized facilities. A former trustee for Southern Illinois University, he said he hopes eventually SIUE will consider it an opportunity to form a swimming team as part of its athletic program.

"This is an exciting time for the entire community," he said.

Hurford Architects designed the building, and Plocher Construction will build it. It is due to be completed in time for the beginning of the next school year in August 2014.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 239-2507.

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