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Fish Bowl

Kelly Walsh’s Jessica Parks competes in the 50-yard freestyle during the annual Fish Bowl between Kelly Walsh and Natrona County High School at the newly refurbished KWHS swimming pool in October in Casper. Construction at the high school has forced the Casper Swim Club to reduce its membership.

Abigail Gray found swimming and fell in love with it, both as an exercise and as a treatment.

Swimming checked all the boxes for Abigail and her family: It helped her ADHD, she liked it and she is good at it.

It was “the perfect trifecta,” said Abigail’s mother, Audrey Gray. “That doesn’t really happen for us.”

So after Abigail was ready to move on from the swim lesson program at the Casper Recreation Center, her family searched online and found the Casper Swim Club. She started swimming with the group in September 2015, when the club was training at Kelly Walsh High School.

But construction at the high school, plus a shorter pool, has forced the club to reduce its members and shorten the season, frustrating swimmers and their parents.

Last spring, construction at Kelly Walsh led the club to spend the summer months at the YMCA and Lifetime Health & Fitness. Going into this fall, Audrey and other parents knew that they wouldn’t be in the pool until October. Then October became November, and November became December.

The club “sent us an email on Dec. 4 that basically said due to the reduced number of lanes and a reduction in available practice times, we’re removing the two lowest (skill) groups,” Gray said. Her daughter was in one of those two lower groups, which are generally organized more around skill than age.

The club decided to limit its ranks to those who could swim a length of the pool in all four strokes without a break, club president Michael Lansing said.

When the club submitted its request to the Natrona County School District for pool time in early fall, it essentially asked for what it had been given in the past, said former coach John Arross. Last year, the club shared pool time with both Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high school swimmers.

But with the construction, not only was the club sharing with the two high schools, Lansing said, but the pool itself was shortened from 25 meters to 25 yards. That change made the pool competition-grade, said school district spokesman Kelly Eastes. But it also meant less water for the swimmers.

“It doesn’t seem like that much, but when you’re talking water, that’s a lot of space (lost),” Lansing said. “The lanes get congested.”

Lansing said it was “unfortunate” that Casper had one pool to serve two high schools, junior high swimming and a swim club. The club couldn’t swim at the YMCA or Lifetime, as it had over the summer, because both facilities had their own classes and swimmers. The YMCA also didn’t have starting blocks. Plus, it was difficult to split swimmers and coaches, he said.

Eastes said the club was told it could begin using the pool Nov. 1. Lansing, citing an email he received from the district, said the earliest date he was given was Nov. 11, and that was only for times so late in that day that many swimmers could not take part. So the club decided to wait.

Once the club was given more concrete and manageable times from the district, its board met and decided to set new limits, which whittled the number of swimmers in the club to around 50.

Last year, the club had around 180 members.

Lansing said they knew they would lose swimmers either way. When the club failed to start in the fall, some kids would pick up other sports instead, he said. He pointed to his own sons, none of whom decided to swim this year.

Gray said Abigail didn’t play a sport this fall because they were holding out hope for pool time.

“If we’re going to commit to something, we’re going to commit,” she said.

Gray said other parents share her frustration, which is aimed partially at the club and partially at the school district. On Dec. 12, she told school board members about the problem and about the success swimming has given her daughter, both as a sport and as a way to treat her ADHD. Several school board members expressed sympathy.

She hasn’t heard from any of the board members since that meeting, Gray said this week, but she thinks they support her plight.

Lansing said he’s heard some frustration from parents and he understands. Many parents want to rejoin the club as soon as possible, Lansing said, and the goal is to open registration again for the summer session. Kelly Walsh is working to finish construction on the “dry land” part of the pool area, Lansing said, and once that’s done, the club can rotate swimmers between the pool and that area, where athletes can lift weights, work on cardio and technique and analyze footage of themselves swimming.

Parents understand that circumstances out of the club’s control created the situation, he said.

Gray said she, too, wants her daughter back swimming with the club. Currently, Abigail is swimming in a fitness program at the recreation center to keep her skills up and stay in swimming shape; she came within two seconds of a state qualifying time in the backstroke last year.

But Audrey Gray said she was frustrated because she felt led on by the club, and she still wants answers. The club means a lot to Abigail.

“We looked into potentially getting her into gymnastics,” she said. “We asked her what she would rather do, and she said, ‘Mom, I’d rather swim.’”

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Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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