Another local high school wants to form a swimming and diving program.
Where would it practice?
Southeast Whitfield athletic director Mark Lentych said Tuesday the school is in “the infant stages” of creating a swimming and diving program. There are three other high schools in Whitfield County with the sport — Dalton, Coahulla Creek and Northwest Whitfield — and all three use the Dalton High pool for practices.
However, with no other known available indoor pool in the immediate area, it may be the only option.
That’s assuming there’s enough room to accommodate another team.
Wheels in motion
Lentych plans to have Raiders and Lady Raiders swimming and diving teams for the 2013-2014 season, which begins in December.
The Southeast program already has a coach, too. Lentych said Carol Clayton approached him about forming a Southeast team last school year, when Clayton worked in the school’s media center. She has since become a teacher and the planned coach. Clayton’s background in the sport includes swimming for 13 years, including on the University of the Cumberlands team in Williamsburg, Ky. Originally from Chattanooga, she has experience coaching two recreation teams, the Towne Lake Sharks in Woodstock the last four years and the Bartow County Cartersville Cobias the past two years.
“I’ve always wanted to coach a team, especially one in Dalton,” Clayton said. “Southeast is the only high school in the county that doesn’t have a team, and I felt our kids should have the same opportunities as the other schools.”
Morris Innovative High School does not have a swimming or diving team either.
When Clayton approached Lentych about the idea, he wanted to gauge the students’ interest level.
“She did and made an announcement to hold a meeting and see who’d be interested,” Lentych said. “There was a pretty good interest, but you never really know from that what real interest would be.”
Kara Ratcliffe, an rising junior at Southeast, swims on the Makos and Dalton Dolphins, two Carpet Capital Aquatics Club programs. She was at the interest meeting held last spring and said “the whole library was filled” with students.
“It was just talking about and telling all the kids everything that would happen,” Ratcliffe said of the meeting. “It was basic information and how much equipment would cost like swimming suits. ... I’m really excited about it.”
Clayton estimated “around 80” students showed up but explained it’s tough to know how many are really interested until practice begins.
“I’m hoping we get 10 swimmers for next season,” Clayton added.
The biggest question mark remaining is where the Southeast teams will practice.
“We’re still working on that aspect,” Lentych said.
Said Ratcliffe, “I guess it would be great if Whitfield County had a pool, but I’m just happy we have a team, so I will take anywhere.”
The limited space wasn’t kept secret at Southeast’s swimming interest meeting, Ratcliffe said. Those at the meeting were told Dalton High’s pool, the only one known to be available, “will be very crowded.” Ratcliffe knows this from first-hand experience, since she practiced there with the Makos.
“Coach Clayton was saying we probably would practice only once or twice a week,” Ratcliffe said. “To be honest, it will be really hard to become a really good team with that limited amount of space or time. But we really need more time and more space, but she said she would try her best. Southeast, if we were to swim, we’d be considered the lowest priority to get into the pool, because everyone else has been doing it. So it’d be Dalton High, then Dalton Middle, then the CCAC, then Northwest, then Calhoun, then Coahulla Creek, then us.”
Ratcliffe said her solution also includes building a new facility for her Southeast team, plus the Coahulla Creek and Northwest programs.
“If I had an infinite amount of money, I’d build another pool that could be for all the (Whitfield County) teams,” she said.
A crowded house
Last year, Coahulla Creek became the third high school in Whitfield County with a swimming and diving team. Northwest Whitfield started its program in 2006. Dalton’s team has existed since 1974 and the boys won Georgia High School Association state championships in 1993 and 2013.
The other teams that use the facility are Dalton Middle School and the Carpet Capital Aquatic Club’s Makos, which Dalton High coach Charles Todd said includes swimmers from Catoosa, Gilmer, Gordon and Whitfield counties.
The Raiders and Lady Raiders would have to find a time somewhere between those five teams.
“That’s the hard part, because no one wants to give up much. They may practice weekends and one day a week because weekends are the least crowded,” Todd said. “It presents a problem, doesn’t it? They’ve been talking about this for six months to a year. I’ve been telling them, ‘Look, we’ll do our best to make it work.’”
Todd also coaches the Makos.
Whitfield County Schools paid Dalton Public Schools for Coahulla Creek and Northwest’s pool usage. The amount depended on the number of practices per week, the times and the number of lanes needed. Dalton Public Schools board member Danny Crutchfield previously said Northwest would pay $3,800 in 2012-2013, and Todd estimated the same amount when talking about it this week. He added Coahulla Creek’s cost last year was about $1,500.
“Northwest used the pool a lot more than the Creek,” Todd said. “The Creek had two lanes to Northwest’s four, if they both used the pool at the same time. Northwest has been around longer and have more swimmers and practiced more, while Coahulla Creek was in its first year. Northwest also used the pool during holidays.”
Todd said Northwest practiced from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and also Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Coahulla Creek’s times were 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Dalton practiced Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Dalton Middle practiced Monday through Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Makos practiced Monday through Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
A possibility, Todd said, is for the Southeast swimmers to join the CCAC Makos. Calhoun High’s swimmers did this and practiced with the Makos while competing as a high school team at GHSA competitions. The cost to join is $150 per swimmer, and then there are USA Swimming registration fees, which Todd didn’t know. Todd said Calhoun’s school pays half the fees and the swimmers or their parents pay the other half.
When asked for a solution, Todd suggested Whitfield County build a pool of their own.
“I know (coach) Marta (Hannah) at Northwest and (coach) Todd (Ogas) at Coahulla Creek would love a pool at their schools,” Todd said. “Somebody’s got to fund it, though. ... It’s a lot cheaper for them to pay rent than build a pool.”
Funding is a roadblock.
“I wish,” Lentych said. “There’s tons of things I’d love to do for our athletics if we could fund them.”
It could happen.
Dalton Parks and Recreation Director Steve Card said there have been discussions of building a community natatorium, a community center with an indoor swimming pool.
“The reason we’re looking at that for some of the situations (like this),” Card said.
He said there are officials with numerous groups he’d like to speak with — the city of Dalton, Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, the Dalton Public Schools, Whitfield County Schools and Dalton State College.
“We have some very tentative ideas out there than over the next month or two we’ll be looking to meet with those possible partners to see if they want to move forward on and also present to the community to see if they’d support,” Card said. “Not only is the need for competitive pool space, which is the CCAC and all the school systems, but also to increase the swim lessons that we’re able to offer and provide a safer community as long as health benefits for exercise programs. So it would be a much broader reach for it to be successful in this community.”
With anything far from finalized, one question is cost. Card didn’t know, because the parameters of the natatorium idea are still up in the air.
“Without meeting with the groups to see what would service their needs, that number could fluctuate by millions of dollars,” Card said. “ ... At the very least, several million dollars.”
Whitfield County Recreation Department Director Brian Chastain said he hasn’t been approached specifically about helping fund a new indoor pool facility for local high school teams.
“I know the city of Dalton was pushing to have a big indoor pool,” he said. “I think maybe the two school systems could come together to build one. I don’t know that it has even been considered with them.”
Chastain believes it would be a “great idea” to have a facility in the county for teams to use.
“I don’t think the school system could build one for each school, but I think you could have one centrally located,” he said.
Hannah and Ogas agree with Chastain and Todd.
“I think the general consensus around the county, at least with the coaches, is if we add the demands then the supply will show up,” Ogas said. “Another team certainly makes it crowded there, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it this upcoming season. I’m hoping this pushes the need a little further for a new facility.”
Said Hannah, “Hopefully in the future, Whitfield County can build a pool for our schools. Right now, we want to start middle schools in swimming, but we can’t because there isn’t a pool for us.”