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Members of the Shelby Sharks swim team would like to align themselves with the prestigious Lakeside Swim Club from Louisville – but that might not be OK with the Shelby County Parks & Recreation Board.
The parks board at its meeting Tuesday will consider whether it wants to work with the Sharks on a new agreement to use the Family Activities Center at Clear Creek Park or even take over operating the team.
But the board of the Sharks, an independent team that has been part of Shelby County for 20 plus years, want to create a more stable environment after a few years of turmoil by aligning with the Lakeside Seahawks, a team known for producing Olympians, said Kim Foster of Spencer County, a board member of the Sharks who has a daughter on the team.
“Our parents are completely behind this merger,” she said. “They think it’s going to be a wonderful thing for Shelbyville and for the FAC and for our kids. We think it’s going to give them opportunities that they don’t have. We’re hoping it’s going to be a positive thing. “
However, Foster said she does not think the parks board is very receptive to the change.
“My feeling is that the FAC does not want this to happen because they want it to be the Shelby Sharks,” she said. “We have sent several contracts to them [parks board] over the past month, and they haven’t accepted it yet, so that pretty much tells me there’s a problem. We have given them a contract, and they have not said, ‘Yes.’”
The Sharks currently pay a yearly membership in exchange for so much lane space at a certain time, but with Lakeside taking over, the name of the team would change and the working arrangements could become more difficult, Shelby County Parks and Recreation Director Shawn Pickens said.
He said the parks board is not opposed to the move, but he wants to consider it carefully.
“We have to determine what’s the best thing for the FAC and for this community,” he said. “The parents want Lakeside to take it over just as the Sharks have operated it. If they had a good quality coach, and that would be a good thing.
“But that would put a lot of work on the FAC. We’d have expenses, and we’d have to make room for other things that we’d have to do, because we have water aerobics and a learn-to-swim program and lap swimming, and we have a lot of things that we have to be sure would work together in unison. It will take a lot of work on our side, which we’re willing to do, but we only have one swimming pool, and it’s only so big, and everybody wants to use it. And that’s great; that’s what we want.
“But we at management have to be careful to make sure that we don’t have too many things going on in that pool.”
Pickens said that what kind of additional expenses that an affiliation with the Seahawks would entail would depend on the kind of agreement that was reached, but that generally, it would mean that FAC staff would have to put in some overtime if attendance at the swim meets grows beyond what it has been in the past.
“Our staff would have to set up and take down equipment before and after the meets,” he said.
Hubie Pollett, magistrate of District 1 and chair of the parks board, said that what people might not realize is that the Sharks, although they practice and train at the FAC, are not affiliated with parks and rec.
“The Sharks are independent from the parks; it’s not a Parks’ program,” he said. “It’s an advanced swimming program that the parents got together because they wanted their children to swim at a certain level. We offered them an opportunity to go into contract with them to use the FAC.”
Pollett said that Sharks parents want to become a part of Louisville’s swim team because they want to train with swimming coaches who have produced Olympic swimmers.
“They have all these Olympic swimmers – several of them that qualified for the Olympics – [who] came through that program,” he said. “The Sharks saw an opportunity; Lakeside was willing to send a coach out here to kind of integrate, or merge, with the Sharks.
“It will be the same kids and everything, the way I understand it, but it will Lakeside’s board, and they will either be renting our facility or using it, whatever the parks board decides, for lane space for practice.
“That’s what they were doing before. The only thing different was that everybody was local on the board.”
Swimmers consist of children from Shelby and surrounding counties, and parents arrange and work the swim meets, something that Foster said merging with the Seahawks would help greatly.
“There are so many things that have to happen to host a meet,” she said. “As we are with the Shelby Sharks, we really don’t have enough families to host a meet without having to borrow officials from Lakeside or from the Louisville Cardinals.”
Options at meeting
Pickens said the parks board would be considering three options, including possibly taking over the team.
“The first would be that the Sharks continue as they are and we operate the Sharks. We hire a coach, and they continue on as they have in the past,” he said. “The second option is to have a Lakeside coach come in and run the operation. The third option would be to just rent lane space, just rent the pool to Lakeside, just like they do at their [Lakeside’s] other facility.
“We’ll have a vote, and we’ll go with what they vote on and we’ll make the best of whatever decision has been made. We want to make the best decision for everybody, for the FAC, for the community and for the kids on the swim team.”
Issues with Heath
Foster said she speaks for a great many parents by saying that they just want the best for their children, and they believe that becoming a part of the Seahawks would advance their swimming skills.
“I don’t care who my child swims for; I just want my child to have the best opportunities, the best coaching, and be fairly close to where we live,” she said. “It would be the same kids and parents, it would just give our kids the opportunity to train with the coaches that are needed.”
The Sharks currently have no coach, Foster said.
Jeremiah Heath, now director of the FAC, resigned in 2012 after having been promoted from the parks board’s aquatics director. That parting was not amicable, in some ways, because the board of the Sharks, Foster said, had filed a complaint with U.S. Swimming, the oversight group for all sanctioned swimming, seeking to have Heath’s coaching license suspended.
She said that action was taken by the Sharks’ previous board and that she wasn’t clear on why it happened or what happened. She did say there was a hearing by U.S. Swimming and that Heath “had been cleared.”
An E-mail to the paper from board member Chris Cozzens said he didn’t know what precipitated the dispute with Heath but that the parks board had given the Sharks’ new board “a year to turn the program around.”
Heath would not comment on his relationship with the Sharks, and calls to U.S. Swimming seeking clarification went unanswered.
Foster said that for the past several weeks a coach with the Seahawks has been providing coaching services to the Sharks.
“We have coaches from Lakeside who have willing to help us out and have been working with us for the past three weeks,” she said. “Our kids are loving it and getting great instruction. We are hoping that the young man that is helping us will stay on if the merger happens. If not, he will probably go back to Lakeside and who knows where we’ll be at that point.”