Official high school swim team to be decided in 2 weeks

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the swim team's facility rental fees and membership dues would be funded by a private donor and the remainder of the proposed program would be sponsored by parents in its first year.

It will be another few weeks before the Steamboat Springs School Board makes a decision on whether or not to add swimming to the high school's list of sports. The prospect was met with somewhat mixed reactions from board members at Monday night's board meeting.

Old Town Hot Springs program director Jill Ruppel first tossed out the idea to Superintendent Brad Meeks a few years ago, and the two again talked about the possibility before this school year began. Alongside Steamboat Springs High School Athletic Director Luke DeWolfe, Ruppel made the case to add the school’s 19th Colorado High School Activities Association-recognized sport.

Ruppel heads up the current club swim team at the Hot Springs, which includes swimmers ages 6 and up. She said the rise in numbers on her club roster and a heightened interest among local teenagers to represent their school in the pool is the catalyst behind the proposal.

But future financial support for the program, along with a few other issues, had school board members a little skeptical.

“We don’t know if there is money on the horizon or not,” board member Denise Connelly said, also noting recent cuts and under-funded arts programs at local schools.

Part of Ruppel’s and DeWolfe’s proposal, however, is a five-year financial plan that has a private donor funding the swim team’s rental fees and membership dues and parents funding other costs in year one. The plan has the district assuming 25 percent more financial responsibility each year. After five years, the program would be 100 percent district-funded.

Ruppel addressed board member Robin Crossan’s concerns about private donor money by saying Ruppel could have a written outline from the donor ready for the board to consider as early as Tuesday morning.

DeWolfe also was confident in addressing funding concerns.

“I’ve looked into that quite a bit, and I really don’t think that’s the case,” DeWolfe said about the idea that the program was not financially sustainable. “If it was, I definitely wouldn’t be here.”

In order to stay within Title IX compliance, swimming would not be a boys-only sport, DeWolfe said. The team would use the Old Town Hot Springs facility, which Ruppel said is an able and willing partner. The private donor money would also cover that facility-use cost.

Ruppel said she sat in on the Western Slope League scheduling meeting with its current coaches, and she presented the Steamboat board with a tentative boys and girls team schedule. The schedule has five separate meets for each team with the farthest regular-season meet being in Aspen.

Transportation costs on the financial sheets Ruppel and DeWolfe handed to the board factored in current dollars-per-mile rates for athletic busing.

Meeks explained that after the program's first year, the board could take another look at financial intricacies once it had a better idea of season costs.

The current club team offered through the Old Town Hot Springs can compete at USA Swimming-sanctioned meets but can’t enter athletes in any CHSAA-sanctioned events.

“Many of the kids, more than anything in the world, want to swim for their high school,” Ruppel said.

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

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