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Fish out of water?
Swim team barely remains at Mary Wayte
By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter
Members of the Island-based Chinook Aquatic Club will continue swimming at Mary Wayte Pool this year, despite a splash of bad news it received last month.
The news came just before the holidays. The Northwest Center, the organization that owns the pool, informed the club it would not be diving into a new contract. As the news spread throughout the club, many members became so concerned they wrote to City Council. About 30 people appeared at a Council meeting last Monday asking for intervention. Members asked for help, hoping to continue swimming at the pool named after a former club member, Mary Wayte.
According to Chris Sumi, Director of Community Pools for the NW Center, the club and the center are currently working out the details for the summer schedule, but for the rest of the year Northwest Center will allow Chinook to continue using the pool at the same hours it has in previous years. The club is getting its traditional hours through May and will get them back in September, Sumi said. He declined to state why the Northwest Center did not wish to renew Chinook’s contract.
Steve Preston, the board president of Chinook, said the club is worried it will be difficult to find places to swim during the summer because of the limited number of pools and the time constraints of availability.
“Earlier swim times, like 3:30 to 5 p.m., are OK for older kids because they have access to cars and we have a full-time coach for them,’ Preston said. ‘But for the younger swimmers, the coaches have other jobs and so do the parents. So it can be hard for them to get there at 3:30.”
Though the club was able to preserve its hours, Preston described tumultuous dealings with the Northwest Center over the 2007 contract. According to Preston, the center hesitated to renew the club’s contract last fall because of potential additional needs during the summer. After months of appealing to the center to retain the traditional contract, the club received a letter on Dec. 18 informing them the contract would not be renewed and the club would not be able to use the pool after March 10.
When Preston sent an e-mail out to club members to inform them of this, the parents and their children were flabbergasted.
Kate Sipe, a coach with the club, said the news especially surprised the young swimmers.
“The kids are really confused,” Sipe said. “Why this would happen, they just don’t understand.”
After Sipe told her team the news, she suggested they write a letter to their city government.
“I said to them, ‘You guys live here, this is your city council, why don’t you write to them and tell them what you think?” Sipe said.
About 25 percent of her group sat down and wrote letters to Council that night.
“I think it’s really neat to see the group — we’re talking about 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds — come together to face the problem and ask the council to help.”
Preston said the center was unwilling to give him any reasons why it decided not to renew the contract. He said the club offered to pay more money, but the center wasn’t interested.
After appeals to Council were made, Preston met with the Northwest Center on Jan. 3 and the center rescinded its letter and offered some of the club’s traditional pool times back.
“They told us the club would have to split the time with King Aquatic club, but most of the time we would receive was from 3:30 to 5 p.m.,’ Preston said. ‘Times that work good for older teens, but not younger who depend on their parents for rides and the coaches are still at work.”
“That felt like they kicked us out again,” Preston said.
The club has been swimming at Mary Wayte for 30 years and the pool’s namesake was a Chinook swimmer, according to Sipe.
In an e-mail sent last week, Councilmember Dan Grausz said the Council had been deluged by complaints from dissatisfied members of the swim club in response to the schedule changes announced by The Northwest Center. He also said that city staff was checking with the center to ensure that the pool is operated for the benefit of Islanders.
“Although the city cannot order The Northwest Center to change its scheduling decisions,” Grausz wrote, “we do have the right to withdraw the $100,000 annual subsidy we provide them.”
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