One year ago, Twin Falls High School swimmers had limited transportation options.
Team buses were out of the question because swimming was a club sport, which prevented it from receiving funding like football, softball or soccer. Swimmers couldn’t drive themselves to meets, either.
“The coaches said they didn’t want hundreds of teenagers on the roads,” Twin senior KatieEmma Harris said. “I was told if we got caught driving, we’d be disqualified.”
The travel situation was a microcosm of club swimming’s place in the sports pecking order. Club sports don’t enjoy the perks of sanctioned ones. They’re afterthoughts.
Swimming no longer falls into that category.
In December, the Idaho High School Activities Association voted to approve swimming as a sanctioned sport. Over the last two weeks, teams across the state have been preparing for their season-opening meets. This year, swimmers can earn a state tournament trophy.
“I’m excited for the swimmers to have the recognition, the school support,” Canyon Ridge coach Katie Swallow said. “A bus.”
The IDHSAA’s board of directors voted 8-6 in favor of sanctioning swimming, according to the Idaho State Journal, after intensive prodding from the Association of Idaho High School Swimming.
In 2007, an Idaho swimming organization came to the IDHSAA about with a proposal to sanction swimming, and it wasn’t successful. The AIHSS was formed a year later, and it spent the next nine years working toward that goal.
The first attempts to sanction swimming occurred much earlier than that.
Julie Prince, the AIHSS’s executive director, led a push to get swimming sanctioned in 1989. At that time, Idaho had about five swim teams and 50 total swimmers at the high school level, according to Prince. This past year, 63 schools provided club swimming, and more than 1,000 students participated.
To become sanctioned, club swimming had to align its rules to the IDHSAA’s. The sport also had to iron out the small, but necessary, logistics to operate at the higher level. Perhaps no factor was more important than costs, from coaching stipends to uniforms to transportation expenses.
In March, the Times-News reported that the addition of sanctioned swimming teams would cost the Twin Falls School District $37,486, or $18,743 each for Twin Falls and Canyon Ridge high schools.
“The concern was that schools would not be able to handle the costs,” said Hammons, an assistant director and the swimming director for the IDHSAA. “Those same concerns were brought up this time.”
Schools throughout the state, mainly at the 5A and 4A levels, decided the addition of swimming was worth the costs. The AIHSS got the club teams up to speed with the IDHSAA’s rules, as well.
When the AIHSS came up with another proposal last year, the IDHSAA couldn’t say no.
“It took a village,” Prince said.
Several schools in Magic Valley have watched swimming gain popularity this year. Twin Falls had 15 students participate in swimming last year. That number swelled to 24 this fall, according to head coach Beth Camp.
Canyon Ridge saw its participation rise from 14 to 21 over the last year, according to Swallow. Kimberly, which formed a cooperative with Jerome, has 25 swimmers this year, per coach Christi Gilmore.
A handful of these swimmers were recruited to join, or developed an interest when they heard the sport became sanctioned. But most of the athletes swam for their club teams before this season, and they’ve already noticed differences.
“There’s a little more recognition at the school,” Twin Falls senior Max Todd said. “Before now, it’s been like, ‘Oh by the way, there’s swimming.’ But since it’s sanctioned now, they’ve been pushing it a lot more. We’re allowed to do a lot more things. I’m pretty sure they’re gonna be announcing a whole bunch of the results on the intercom.”
Swimming will need at least one season to get caught up to speed with the other sports. For one, the sport has few restrictions on who can participate at the state meet. That will change next season.
Swimming is also unique compared to every other sanctioned sport in Idaho.
Travel to any high school in Idaho, and you’ll probably find a basketball gym, which can be also be used for volleyball and wrestling. Baseball, football, softball and soccer fields are nearly as common. Many schools have tracks and tennis courts. Golf courses are everywhere, and they often double as cross country venues.
Swimming pools are scarce.
Twin Falls City Pool is one of Magic Valley’s few swimming pools, and it sustains three high school swim teams: Canyon Ridge, Kimberly/Jerome and Twin Falls. They have to share the pool with other swimming programs in the area, as well.
Canyon Ridge drew the short end of the stick. Riverhawk practices begin at 5:45 a.m.
“Originally, the biggest challenge was getting the program up and going, converting from a club to a sanctioned sport,” Swallow said. “My swimmers would say the biggest challenge is getting up in the morning.”
Building a new pool isn’t exactly easy, nor is it always desired by community members.
“Pools are super duper expensive, and it would be hard to even fathom that schools would have pools,” Gilmore said. “We’re lucky to have the 50-meter pool in Twin, to be honest.”
For now, the schools will make due with what they have.
On Saturday, the three Magic Valley schools competed in their first meet of the season. They competed against four other teams at the Blaine County Aquatic Center in Hailey. They traveled by bus.