Swimming and diving could face a 50 percent cut in practice time under the newest proposed Fairfax County Public Schools budget.
According to the proposal presented by FCPS Superintendent Jack D. Dale, the reduction in practice time is just one of the cuts that also include the elimination of indoor track and all freshman sports.
According to Bill Curran, student activities and athletics director for Fairfax County, the cuts to swimming would save $100,000. It is a move, he said, that is necessary.
Curran said the county made strides to avoid cutting the sport altogether, and researched whether teams could still be effective with just two practices.
“It’s hard,” Curran said. “The budget is what it is, so everybody has some sort of impact on it. ….. This kept the program alive, which is a big part. Swimming and diving is very popular, so we didn’t want to see any elimination of it. We didn’t touch swim meets; the opportunity to compete is still there, which is important. It’s enough practice time for them to get in some time that they need.”
The impact of decreased practice time may not affect many swimmers who compete at the club level. However a drop from four to two practices a week for those who do not swim year-round would have a substantial impact, according to parents and coaches.
“If you’re not swimming year round or swimming every day it’s awfully hard to swim a competitive [race],” said Betty Ann Dobrenz, an organizer with Save Our Sport, a group that has fought against swim cuts in Fairfax County in past years. “It’s a pretty devastating blow to the sport. I think it can go on, but it’s going to exclude a lot of kids and it’s unfortunate because not everybody has the money to participate in club sports.”
Without training during the week, kids who are unable to pay and participate with club teams may be unable to maintain a competitive level for their high school teams.
The impact would be biggest on the smaller high school teams that draw a large percentage of swimmers that do not participate in club swimming. Even at Robinson, which won both the boys’ and girls’ Virginia AAA state championships last year (the boys’ team has won seven consecutive titles), there could be a significant impact, according to Coach Clayton Joyner.
“We’re basically screwed big time,” he said. “That’s just a proposal and I’m thinking 50 percent seems a little harsh. And I know when I first started swimming there was no Wednesday [practice] it was just Monday, Tuesday, Thursday so my guess would be that it’ll go back to that and as bad as that is, it’s not the end of the world. If it goes to 50 percent that’s going to cause problems because that’s just not training at all, it’s just somewhat staying in shape. They’re in trouble, that’s all there is too it.”
Fairfax is not the first area county to limit high school swim teams to two practices a week due to the cost of renting pool time. Montgomery County has had the policy in place for as long as Wootton Coach Howard Blume can remember.
“There’s no pool time,” Blume said. “It’s not a level playing field. You have the club swimmers who swim five or six times a week and then you have everyone else who can only swim once or twice a week.”
Several schools also run dry-land practices, although Blume said many are voluntary and he recently eliminated such practices at Wootton due to lack of interest.
“Most of our swimmers are on club teams, and they just have to attend practice,” Blume said. “The kids that are in the water during our practices are your kids that don’t swim for clubs. But when you’ve only got two hours a week, you can’t do much with a kid.”
Despite the prospect of losing practice time, however, coaches around the area said they are grateful the sport avoided an even worse fate.
“I’m trying to be realistic, I don’t want them to make any cuts,” W.T. Woodson Coach Susie Hamrock said. “But I’m just glad they’re keeping the program, whereas last year they were trying to cut the whole sport.”