W-M School Board votes to eliminate diving

The Watertown-Mayer School board officially voted to eliminate diving from the district’s high school swimming and diving program during its June 10 meeting.

By a 5-2 vote, with Jeff Jackson and Jennifer Hoover opposing the motion, the board approved Athletic Director Mary Haugen’s proposal to phase out the boys’ diving program over the next three years and eliminate the girls’ program immediately.

Haugen’s original proposal called for the immediate elimination of both programs, but the new proposal will allow all current high school boys with diving experience to finish their careers. There are no girls in grades 9-12 with diving experience, but there are two seventh and eighth graders.

“This isn’t something we just jumped at and said, yeah, let’s eliminate it,” Watertown-Mayer school board member Tim Thompson said of a process that spanned more than a month and included discussion at numerous meetings. “There’s been a lot of discussion about it. It’s something we’ve all taken pretty seriously.”

Several of the five board members who voted in favor of eliminating the event noted that the three-year sunset of the boys’ program could potentially lend itself to a reconsideration of the decision if anything were to change in the coming years.

“If there’s a way or a reason in the next three years that something else makes sense, I have no problem with revisiting the issue,” board member Steve Burns said. “Right now, it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to do it the way we’re doing it.”

The rationale behind the decision to eliminate diving — one of 12 events in a high school swimming and diving meet — has multiple parts, including financial considerations. Haugen told the board that it was difficult to justify spending $3,000 annually on coaching for a specialized event that accommodates only a handful of athletes each year.

However in justifying their decision, most of the board members indicated the financial aspect was only a small part of the reason for their vote.

“For me, it’s more of a logistical concern,” board member Jennifer Janikula said. “It’s not about the money.”

The logistical concerns center on the fact that Watertown-Mayer’s diving boards were removed from its pools in 2009 after a competitor from a visiting team her head on the bottom of the pool. Prior to that, diving was only allowed in the school’s pool if all parties involved signed a waiver agreeing to compete in a pool that did not meet current state standards.

Over the last several years, divers have practiced and competed in Waconia at Safari Island. For competitions, the diving portion would begin at 4 p.m., and afterward, those involved would travel to Watertown for the swimming portion, which would begin at 6 p.m.

Out of a courtesy to other teams — the decision to hold diving in Waconia is technically Watertown-Mayer’s call — head coach Chuck Charnstrom let visiting boys’ teams decide this year if they wanted to compete in Waconia, or hold meets that did not include diving.

Every visiting boys’ team chose not to dive this year, although that could have been in part to give their teams a competitive edge. The Royals feature one of the state’s best divers.

Once diving is eliminated, the Royals’ opponent will win all 13 points in diving, one of the major reasons parents were so opposed to the decision.However, school board chairman McCain said logistical issues were just too much to overcome.

“The fact that not one boys’ team that came to our home meets chose to dive says a lot about the difficulties that we have with logistics for our program,” McCain said. “I am concerned with transportation, where our divers have to swim also, and they have to go back and forth without district provided transportation during the afternoons.”

McCain was referring to head coach Chuck Charnstrom’s requirement that all divers on his team also swim in at least one event. This past year, that meant divers often had to spend the first portion of their practice in one city, and then get out of the pool and head to another city. However, Charnstrom, who was in attendance at the meeting, noted that if the school board’s decision was contingent on that policy, he would change it.

Many parents in attendance at the meeting last week, and at previous meetings, also questioned how the transportation of athletes to an off-site practice for diving was any different than the team’s golfers, which practice at Timber Creek Golf Course, or its hockey players, which practice in Mound as part of a co-op with Mound-Westonka. Athletes in both sports arrange their own transportation to practices.

However, the board has said at previous meetings, and continued to maintain last week, that it sees a difference between starting and ending a practice in one off-site location, and moving from one city to another in the middle of practice.

Another parent also indicated there was more than $6,000 in the Delano Booster Club’s swimming account — Watertown-Mayer coops with Delano for both boys’ and girls’ swimming, as well as Waconia and Holy Family on the boys’ side — that could be used however the program wanted. That information seemed to have little impact on the board’s decision.

“Money is not the biggest factor in this case, but it’s always a factor to some extent,” McCain said. “While I appreciate the willingness to help fund the program, the district can’t base its budgeting on the hope and the promise that that can continue for a long time into the future.”

Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]