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Whitefish Bay goes 'against the grain' to solve pool problem

Fundraising starts for innovative plan

Jan. 22, 2012

The Whitefish Bay swim program of state championship athletes like Peter Clark, Doug Lillydahl and Sarah Gardiner and of legendary coaches such as Morgan Byers, Tom Dewing and Jim Davis will be back in the business of hosting meets again.

Sooner rather than later.

That is the objective of an ambitious $200,000 fundraising program that is utilizing some creative thinking to get Bay out of the box of a National Federation of High Schools ruling that prohibits, for safety reasons, any kind of deck or block starts for meets in water less than 4-feet deep.

The process, which has the official blessing of the school district, is being kick-started by an ambitious group of swim parents, known as the Nebbish Society, is being facilitated by a "White Knight" who has already agreed to match all donations up to $50,000 and is getting help from the tankers themselves who are busy stuffing and mailing fundraising envelopes.

It has the 23-year veteran coach Jim Davis, whose boys and girls teams in the last year have been limited to just one home meet each year because of the new NFHS regulations. There have been rules in place regulating the depth of water and the height of blocks that swimmers can start off of since the mid-1990s due to a series of incidents where athletes have dove in and crashed into the floor of pools, hurting themselves.

Frustrating situation

Bay, with its 3-feet and 6-inches of water at the, had been able to do standing deck starts (no blocks) prior to the new regulations, but with the new regulations now fully in place, swimmers have been forced to start in the pool making for much slower times.

To say it's been frustrating for Davis and the team is a mild understatement.

"When I look at our facility, which I consider to be one of the best in the area and know that we can't host anything, no big meets, no invitationals, no nothing, because of the fact that we can't use blocks, it really is quite frustrating," he said.

"Because people move to this community not just for the lifestyle and the excellent educational component, but also for the extra-curriculars but when we can't offer something of this caliber (a high-level swim program), we lose something."

But they're about to get it back.

The plan, which if all things go well, will have the pool ready for the summer community swim program, calls for moving the competitive swimming portion of the pool perpendicular to where it currently is, with the start to be placed under the current grandstand (the viewing areas will subsequently be moved to the sides of the pool) and the swimmers themselves swimming crossways from what they're used to.

Bulkhead needed

It will involve having the competitors swim into the current diving well which will require the installation of a bulkhead (the main portion of the $200,000 cost) at the 25-yard mark (the standard length for a high-school level pool).

Going crossways and into the diving well, the pool itself is about 35 yards in length, hence the need for the bulkhead. One of the two diving boards will also need to be moved to accommodate the plan.

If the finances come through, the adjusted pool will meet all the NFHS requirements with pool depth at the starting lines a minimum of 4-feet, 8-inches and running to 7 feet. Davis said that will allow Bay to use standard invitational grade 30-inch blocks.

The only downside to the plan is that it will reduce the competitive area from eight lanes to six, but that is still sufficient to host conference and WIAA sectional meets, said Davis. Bay has not been able to do that in many years.

Alternative costs millions

Karla Walther, the co-chair of Nebbish Society, credits Bay Athletic Director John Gustavson for coming up with the idea of going crossways. The alternative would be to dig out the pool and rebuild it from scratch, a plan which would likely cost millions and be politically untenable in these hard economic times, she said.

"Compared to the idea of a whole new pool, it's much more reasonable," she said. "We'll be able to get a large community benefit for not much expense to the individual taxpayer."

The community benefit is very important, added Walther, noting that the summer swim program had to be closed down last summer due to locker room work. Area recreation and swim club coaches Dave Clark and Karen Thien have also been actively involved in the fundraising work.

To meet the renovation schedule, the society, with the help of organizations like the Duke Pride Booster Club, the Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation, and others, is setting a date of Feb. 29 to have the matching funds in place. When, and if started, the project would take about six weeks.

"We've already gotten the fundraising off to a great start (with the matching contributions)," said Gustavson. "We hope that the people of the district will contribute and make this happen and return it (the swim program) to a level we can host meets again."

Hoping for help from alums

Davis and Gustavson said there are a fair number of swim alumni in the area and they have hopes that that group will also be generous.

Because there is history involved here.

"It's not how successful we've been (as a team) that's made the program," Davis said. "We have been successful. But what really drives everything is that people come back and they still have the greatest feelings and memories for having been involved in the swim program."

"It's just a beautiful facility," Walther said. "It has such beautiful glass work. … We really hope to make the fundraising a success so we can keep the facility in place as well as keep swimming competitive at Bay.

"This is really a very good solution. We hope we can raise the money."

Checks can be made out to the School District of Whitefish Bay with swimming pool renovation in the memo. Please remit to the Whitefish Bay School District Office, 1200 Fairmont Ave. Whitefish Bay, WI 53217.

For questions, contact Gustavson at either (414) 963-3972 or john.gustavson@wfbschools.com.

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