School swim team merger upsets parents

A swim team merger between FDR High School and Marlboro High School is facing heavy criticism from parents of FDR swimmers who have demanded that the school continue its program.

In a June Board of Education meeting, the board agreed to combine the FDR boys swim team with the Marlboro team for the 2013-2014 season. The decision was based mostly on the fact that FDR does not have its own swimming pool.

In an open forum at the Oct. 10 BOE meeting, members of the school community spoke on the merger, giving their opinion on why the FRD program should remain independent.

Margaret Craig, representing the parents, students, and coaches of the FDR team, approached the board. But before diving fully into her prepared statement, Craig took a moment to compose herself.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “This is really emotional for me…it’s a hard thing to do.”

Craig then pointed to a May 30 letter on the merger that was sent from Dr. Amy McArdle-Rausenberger, FDR’s athletic director, to Dr. Greer Rychik, Hyde Park’s school superintendent. The letter said the FDR team, comprised of 17 swimmers, would combine with Marlboro, which had 22 swimmers.

The total number of swimmers would just be excessive, Craig said.

“It [the number] would limit the number of opportunities for FDR swimmers to compete in events during meets,” Craig said. “It could also discourage students for sticking with the team if they don’t feel they are getting chances to compete.”

In addition, she noted, the practice time for the merged team, after school from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., meant Hyde Park parents had to drive more than a half hour to take their swimmers to practice in Marlboro. The schedule would also affect the six students from Haviland Middle School who compete on the high school team.

Craig ended her statement with a plea to the board.

“We respectfully request the board to reverse its decision on this merger, and give the FDR swim team back to our swimmers,” Craig said.

With the issue on the table, others took the opportunity to give their opinion on the merger.
Dave and Jane Coutts, the parents of three FDR graduates, talked about the impact that the swim team had had on their son, Peter, who is now captain of the swim team at Rochester Institute of Technology.

“It was one of the greatest things he ever did,” Jane Coutts said of her son’s decision to join the high school team.

“The coaches helped him realize his potential, and look at him now: captain at RIT. It helped him for the better.”

Jane Coutts was the school’s field hockey coach for years before the program disbanded under the current athletic administration. With the merger of the swim team, she believes that team could be next.

“This merger might be the first step. [The team] changed my son’s life, and I hope that it will continue to do so,” Coutts said.

Her husband pointed to the many winter and summer swim club teams around the town as evidence that the program could remain solely with FDR.

“We have so much potential, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to sustain viable swim teams here in Hyde Park,” Dave Coutts said.

After nearly 45 minutes of discussion, BOE president Douglas Hieter suggested that there be another meeting to discuss the merger in more detail.

That meeting took place Oct. 21, and according to Rychik, the board agreed to provide transportation for the FDR swimmers to attend practices in Marlboro.

While full support of the merger is still lacking, Rychik said, the back-and-forth transportation made it easier for some community members to accept the merger.

“The transportation has made a difference [in the opinion],” Rychik said. “From the feedback I’ve received, parents are very happy that the district was going to provide that.”

Rychik said she understands the parents’ concerns, but feels that the merger was the only option to save the team.

“It is unfortunate that we have no pool of our own, but this [merger] was the only viable alternative to not having a team,” Rychik said. “It’s sad, but it’s for the best.”

Swim parent Kathleen Craven told the Observer it was too early to tell whether the solution was a good one. “While the swimmers are making the best of it, they are disappointed that they are not able to represent FDR and have lost an excellent coach, Coach Darrick Kettner, in the process. He made this team a family. They are hopeful that accommodations can be made to bring an FDR team back next season.”