A discussion on the future of the Watertown-Mayer High School diving program took an unexpected turn last week during a special meeting of the School Board when talks suddenly shifted from whether the event should be eliminated to whether the diving boards could actually be re-installed in the local pool.
The special meeting was designed to give coaches, parents, athletes and anybody else with a stake in the high school swimming and diving program a chance to address the school board regarding Athletic Director Mary Haugen’s recent proposal to eliminate diving. Three years after Haugen recommended to the board that the district remove the diving boards after a girl hit her head on the bottom of the pool during a 2009 diving competition, she is now recommending that the district eliminate diving from the swimming program altogether.
Haugen says that the costs of maintaining such a specialized event and the logistics of holding practices and competitions in nearby towns no longer allow her to justify maintaining the event, which featured just eight athletes this year and is one of 12 events during a high school swimming and diving meet.
During last Monday’s special meeting, several parents, coaches and former divers addressed the board, pleading their case to have diving remain a part of the local high school swimming program. The arguments centered on the importance of the points awarded in diving in terms of winning dual meets, the opportunities for acrobatic athletes that could be lost if diving is eliminated, and the fact that while divers on coach Chuck Charnstrom’s teams are required to swim as well, most identify themselves as divers first, and would not be on the team if diving were not an event.
It was during Charnstrom’s turn to address the board, though, where the discussions took a unique twist. Charnstrom urged the school board to consider moving the diving boards to the side of the pool in a precise location where Charnstrom believes the depth of the pool would comply with state standards.
“My suggestion is put the diving board back,” Charnstrom told the school board. “Put the diving board on the side of the pool. We have a wonderful balcony up top, we could just take the bleachers from the deep end, stick them up on top of the balcony, and the diving board could go on the side so that when they dive in, (the depth of the pool doesn’t change so quickly). It’s deep the whole way across the pool.”
Haugen described the proposal as a long shot, but didn’t rule it out, either. The board asked Charnstrom and Haugen to look into the idea to see if they could put together any kind of a proposal before a future meeting.
Haugen said several questions would need to be answered before such a proposal could be considered. Most of those questions center on the exact depths of the Watertown-Mayer pool, and what state statutes would actually allow. The answers to those questions at this point are cloudy at best.
In his arguments to the school board, Charnstrom said the popular belief regarding the Watertown-Mayer pool is that the diving boards were removed because the pool was not 10 feet deep, as is the state requirement for a pool built before 1987. The requirement for a pool built after 1987 is 12 feet.
But Charnstrom said that assumption isn’t entirely accurate. According to Charnstrom, the pool is actually 10 feet deep (or more) at its deepest point, but the problem lies in that the pool loses depth too quickly as it approaches the shallow end. According to Charnstrom, the depth of the pool needs to still be 10 feet at least 5 feet in front of the board, where the diver hits the water, and that’s where the Watertown-Mayer pool fails the test.
Through the girls’ season in 2009, diving competitions were still allowed in the Watertown-Mayer pool based on state statute that required all athletes, coaches and parents signed a waiver before athletes were allowed to compete. Some visiting teams did; some did not.
But Charnstrom said he believes his idea could eliminate the problem of the rapidly changing depths in the pool. He argued that if the diving board is placed on the side of the pool, directly over the deepest depth, the divers would enter at least 10 feet of water no matter how far in front of the board they enter.
Questions still remain as to whether that setup would work because the board has to be a certain distance from the side of the pool — believed to be eight feet — which would need to coincide with a part of the pool that is at least 10 feet. Also, it is believed that the depth would need to be at least 10 feet for a certain distance on either side of the board. Charnstrom said he believes the pool would satisfy those requirements, but no depths or distances have been officially verified as of yet.
Haugen noted that even if all those requirements are met, there still are unanswered questions. Because the pool is not 12 feet deep, as is required for all pools built after 1987, she was unsure if a waiver of consent would still be needed to allow for diving in a 10-foot pool. She also was unsure if moving the diving board to the side might qualify as a “remodel,” which could jeopardize the pool’s grandfathered status that allows diving in 10 feet of water. All those questions should gain some clarity as the school investigate further whether the proposal is a real possibility.
Those who chose to speak during the meeting, however, all voiced strong support for keeping the diving program even if the divers would need to continue practicing and competing in Waconia. Numerous parents said they’ve managed to make the difficult logistics — predominantly the travel arrangements — work in previous years, and could continue to do so.
Matt Strobel, the parent of a Delano swimmer, also encouraged the district to look at the true cost to Watertown-Mayer before it discontinues diving. Haugen said coaching and other costs related to diving come to about $3,000 a year, but Strobel pointed out that because swimming and diving costs are split between several schools involved in a cooperative arrangement, Watertown-Mayer is not truly covering that full cost. The cost of the entire swimming and diving program is shared between Delano, Waconia and Watertown-Mayer based on the number of athletes on the team. Waconia is no longer part of the girls’ swimming program however, so those costs are shared between Watertown-Mayer and Delano.
Roxanne Johnson, like many other parents in attendance, also said diving was the only reason at least one of her children was on the team.
“Our daughter swims only because it’s a requirement for diving,” Johnson said. “She would not be on the team it wasn’t for diving.”
Charnstrom also pointed out that the argument that most of his boys’ teams’ opponents chose not to dive this year because of the early 4 p.m. start time in Waconia, two hours before the rest of the meet would commence in Watertown, should not be used as an argument to eliminate diving. He said the decision whether or not to dive was left up to opponents this year as a courtesy only, but is truly the home team’s decision.
“We had essentially a gentleman’s agreement with those people that chose not to dive,” Charnstrom said. “I said I won’t dive if you’re not going to dive, and we’ll just leave it at that. But really, as it states, if we make the accommodations and we let them know two weeks in advance of our first home meet, diving is on. If we choose to dive and they don’t, we get those points. We lost to Hutch this year by six points, and if we would have dove, we would have easily won that meet.”
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]