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Sink or Swim

ASHLAND — When Ashland High School student Amelia Zeve was a child, she was fascinated with the swimming pool at Southern Oregon University. When her family attended SOU basketball games, she’d wander off to gaze at it, hopeful that someday she’d get to know it well.

The 16-year-old sophomore now uses the pool at least five days a week during the fall — when she competes for the Grizzlies’ water polo team — and in the winter as a member of the high school swim club. Such access for practices and meets is something she’d dreamt about since she was young.

But that will soon change.

Zeve and other local high school water-sport athletes must now consider what they’ll do next year, when — if all goes as planned — the pool is gone.

A $29 million remodeling of SOU’s McNeal Pavilion calls for the pool to be eliminated. Work is scheduled to start in the summer and the pool is set to close in June. A survey showed SOU students did not favor funding the pool.

“It’s going to sound cheesy, but the pool is like a second home,” Zeve said. “Losing it is going to be hard.”

During the fall and winter seasons, the pool is used weekdays for practice by the Ashland swim teams, Ashland water polo, Medford water polo and Phoenix swimming. Those squads, along with North Medford, South Medford, Crater, St. Mary’s and Cascade Christian swimming, also compete in meets there.

Southern Oregon University, however, does not have collegiate swim teams.

Community members also use the pool, including the Rogue Valley Masters and other club-level groups.

The SOU pool is unique in the area because of its great length and depth, Ashland High swim coach Todd Lantry said. There’s not a comparable pool nearby. Others are not deep enough to host water polo matches, Ashland water polo coach Andrew del Carlo said.

“Although SOU has determined a pool does not rank high enough to be included in the McNeal remodel, they must understand how needed it is in the entire community,” Medford water polo president Brad Buchholz wrote in an email. “The closure of the pool has far-reaching effects.”

Many in the local swimming community do not have an answer to what they will do without it.

As talk continues about the possibilities of rebuilding the pool or building a new aquatic center, prep athletes like Phoenix junior Lauren Speaks must move forward with what they know and what they have.

“Without that, it would be really hard to have a pool to swim in and have home meets,” said the 16-year-old Speaks, who is the school record holder in the 100-yard breaststroke. “It puts a damper on our swim program.”

Lantry said there will be water polo and swimming next year at Ashland. The Grizzlies will use the Ashland YMCA and other pools nearby to practice in and, if necessary, alter their meet schedule drastically, he said. Ashland, along with other teams, may use Daniel Meyer Pool — an outdoor pool in Ashland — during the summer for offseason work and possibly into the school year.

But affected teams expect obstacles, including limited availability for practices and meets because of space and time.

Hosting some swimming meets — or even simply getting a team in for practice — may be entirely out of the equation at times at places like the Ashland YMCA, Rogue Valley YMCA or Super Athletic Club.

“It just makes me sad because it’ll be my senior year and not having a swim team would be really depressing,” said 16-year-old Phoenix junior Emily Samudio, adding that she might play basketball in the winter if there is no team.

The Ashland water polo teams may have to host their home matches at pools in Eugene next year, del Carlo said.

“It’s unfortunate because the pool provides a place for the community to come together and work toward something,” he said. “It will be a big loss. A lot of kids look forward to playing water polo and swimming.”

The looming loss affects some club swimmers much less, however, than athletes who just swim for their high school, like Zeve.

Phoenix swimming captain Ethan Shepherd, a junior, views competing for the Pirates as an opportunity to generate school spirit. But his extended club season with the Superior Stingrays, unattached from school with practices at Superior, would be nearly unaltered. That may perhaps be even more important, he said, in the grander plan of college scholarships.

It’s a position that Speaks and Samudio also find themselves in.

“We generally use the high school team as a chance to come out and compete and have fun,” the 16-year-old Shepherd said. “High school, in a way, is like an offseason. What’s tough is high school state (competition) is about one week before club state, so you find yourself skipping club state or not quite being at your peak.”

That said, Shepherd cherishes his memories of SOU.

“It is very nostalgic,” he said. “I remember vividly my first meet ever there. It was a Shakespeare meet. It has more sentimental value than anything. The pool is old but it has a place in my heart.”

SOU will lose some exposure to local high school athletes by eliminating the pool, de Carlo said.

“A lot of kids see what the university has to offer that way,” he said. “It’s a bit of a recruiting tool for students.”

The pool is done hosting any more high school swim meets this year. District meets around the state begin next weekend at other venues.

Lantry expects that getting a new pool could be a years-long process.

“We just hope it won’t be four or five years until we have another option,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of momentum going and it would be bad to lose it.”

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt



While the Southern Oregon University pool has been used regularly for high school events, the school doesn't have swimming or water polo programs. PHOTO BY JAMIE LUSCH