Low turnout cancels Sailors girls swim team's season

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— Old Town Hot Springs Program Director Jill Ruppel and Steamboat Springs High School Athletic Director Luke DeWolfe lobbied the Steamboat School Board for weeks to have an official Sailors swim team.

The pair's proposal was approved last month, but on Thursday, Ruppel announced that because of a low turnout for the girls team — which was set to go to its first meet this Saturday — the season would be canceled.

Ruppel said she thinks fewer girls signed up for the program because winter sports sign-ups had taken place just before the team was approved by the School Board.

The decision was a step back in Ruppel’s quest to field the Sailors’ 19th Colorado High School Activities Association-sanctioned sport, but she said her pursuit isn’t over just yet.

“We realize it gives us a lot more time to make us a quality program,” Ruppel said. “It’s the first program of its kind at SSHS, so we want to make it a quality program — a benchmark — and the best it can be.”

The original plan, approved by the School Board on Nov. 11, had parents shouldering nearly the full load of the team’s expenses in the first year, including travel fees. A private donor covered the membership and facility-use fees at the Hot Springs, but Ruppel said parents would pay roughly $600 for each of their athletes, because only five girls signed up for the high school team.

When the team was approved, Ruppel had hoped parent costs would be in the $300 range.

A collective decision was made by all parties involved to put the fall season on hold, continue to push for the boys team’s season in the spring and hope promotional efforts will spark more interest in the girls team.

“Everyone is still very much committed to it; we just need more time,” Ruppel said, referring to the fact that private donors will be there should both the boys and girls teams get enough athletes.

The original contract with the donors said that if the Sailors swim team didn’t pan out, the money donated would go toward competitive swimming in some capacity at the Hot Springs.

The five girls who did come out for the high school team will continue to compete for the Hot Springs’ club program. Ruppel also announced the start of a new high school prep swimming program, which will be offered at the Hot Springs in January and February.

"Anyone in high school who wants to come down and be instructed in swimming can do so for a fee, and hopefully, it will help them become comfortable in the water and fall in love with swimming,” Ruppel said.

Ruppel said the high school teams’ new coaches Chris Schenck and Liz Doby were disappointed, as were the five girls who wanted to represent their school in the water. But optimism for the future remains high.

“It just lights our fire to get up and make sure we have programs in place to promote swimming to the high school population,” Ruppel said.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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