Diving boards on side won’t work for WMHS pool

Diving boards won’t be coming back to the Watertown-Mayer pool any time soon, but it appears the event won’t be immediately going away, either.

Watertown-Mayer Athletic Director Mary Haugen informed the school board last week that Minnesota statutes and regulations regarding pool safety won’t allow for diving boards to be installed on the side of the high school’s pool, as swimming and diving coach Chuck Charnstrom had recently proposed. However, she also changed her recommendation to the school board from one that would immediately eliminate  diving to one that would phase it out over the next three years.

Haugen recommended to the school board last month that the district eliminate diving as an event from its swimming and diving program. Because the Watertown-Mayer pool does meet state regulations for diving depth, the diving boards were removed in 2009 after a girl from an opposing team hit her head on the bottom of the pool. Competition had been allowed up to that point only if all involved parties signed a waiver of consent.

Diving has continued as an event for the Watertown-Mayer swimming and diving program, but only through the use of pools in other neighboring towns. For the past several years, the girls’ and boys’ teams have held practices and competitions at Safari Island in Waconia.

However, Haugen, in her initial recommendation to the school board in April, said it no longer made financial or logistical sense to continue to support an off-site event that required specialized coaching and $3,000 in funding for an event that featured just eight total athletes last year. At a public comment session during a special school board meeting earlier this month, numerous parents, coaches and former divers spoke in favor of saving the event, and Charnstrom floated his idea of moving the diving boards from their previous location at the end of the pool to the side of pool.

The theory was that by moving the boards to the side, they would be placed directly above the deepest part in the pool, a depth that would be consistent all the way across the pool. Previously, although the water was deep enough at the end of the board to allow for diving, the depth decreased too quickly as it approached the shallow end.

Haugen said Charnstom’s proposal would have worked in terms of having the proper 10-foot depth for the requisite 12-foot distance in front of the board. However, she said that upon investigation, the proposed setup would have failed in several other areas.

Haugen said that upon speaking both with the school’s primary vendor for school supplies and with the pool inspector for the Minnesota Department of Health and Safety, she learned that the 10-foot depth must also extend five-feet to each side of the board, a requirement the Watertown-Mayer pool still would not satisfy. There also needs to be 16 vertical feet of unobstructed space directly above the end of the board, and also extending eight feet to the side in every direction from that point. Watertown-Mayer’s pool would not meet that requirement because of the cables that hold up the pool cover.

However, while the boards will not be coming back to Watertown-Mayer, Haugen did change her recommendation to one that would allow all current high school divers with previous experience to finish their careers. Girls’ diving would still be eliminated immediately, because the team has no ninth- through 12th-grade divers returning with experience.

However, the boys’ program would continue for possibly the next three years under her recommendation. There are currently four boys in grades 9 through 12 who have previous experience, and the proposal would not eliminate the event until after all of them have graduated.

Haugen said that she is looking into a partnership with other schools that could be formed during those three years. Under such an arrangement, the Watertown-Mayer divers would practice with another team’s divers in their pool and receive coaching from that coach, but would still compete during meets with the Watertown-Mayer team. Haugen said she received a favorable response to the idea from Orono, and was still waiting to hear from Buffalo, a school with which Watertown-Mayer has utilized a similar arrangement with in the past.

Haugen’s proposal is only a recommendation to the school board, which ultimately could still decide to eliminate diving immediately or to completely leave the event as it is. The school board has not issued any public comments on its thoughts on the issue.