Swimmers from four different Tucson-area high schools might be getting to know each other a bit better these days.
On non-meet days, the swim teams of Canyon Del Oro, Ironwood Ridge, Salpointe Catholic, and Amphitheater can be found practicing side-by-side at the Amphitheater High School swim facility. Almost 200 swimmers make up the four teams.
CDO and Ironwood Ridge, which compete in Division I, were forced to find another facility as the Town of Oro Valley’s Aquatic Center, their usual practice headquarters, continues to be renovated.
Though Ironwood and CDO face the inconvenience of a longer-than-normal commute to practice, coaches from each school are staying optimistic.
“We’ve actually enjoyed it,” said CDO Head Coach Jen Inboden. “The bus rides have built some team unity, and our new swimmers and freshman don’t know any different.”
However, the veterans on each team who have grown accustomed to practicing at the aquatics center are experiencing something new altogether, which is an area of concern for Ironwood Head Coach Anne Fitzsimmons.
“I feel bad for the seniors, because they aren’t getting to swim in their beautiful home pool,” she said.
CDO travels about 30 minutes each day to practice, but Inboden said the transport has not interfered with practice minutes or the focus of the team.
“We usually practiced about the same amount of time when we were over at the aquatics center,” she said. “It really hasn’t been much of a distraction at all to our swimmers. It’s been fine. Water is water.”
CDO generally practices from about 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m., and Ironwood usually starts practice around 5:30 p.m.
“Our team and Amphi have four lanes each, and after the 15-minute overlap, we both get out and Ironwood uses our eight lanes,” said Inboden.
For Ironwood Ridge the drive to Amphi is slightly further, time which Fitzsimmons said could be better used in the pool, practicing. “Yes, it cuts into our practice time,” she said. “The hour we spend on the bus would be pool time. Instead though, we are using that time as bonding time, which is important for the team as well.”
Ironwood Ridge Athletic Director Phil Tilicki said Fitzsimmons, in her first year as the swim coach, has been handling the challenging situation well.
“She’s done a great job keeping the swimmers focused and enthusiastic,” he said. “It’s a big task to pick up in her first year of coaching, but she has managed to deal with it excellently.”
Fitzsimmons said while she is looking forward to the completion of the aquatics center, there is nobody to blame for the current situation.
“There is no Darth Vader to be mad at,” she said. “When the facility is completed, we will have more pool time, things will be infinitely easier, and we will have a beautiful facility to use. But until then, it is what it is.”
Both Inboden and Fitzsimmons are thankful for Amphi’s sacrifices.
“They’ve been great in helping us out by letting us use their facility,” said Fitzsimmons. “We’ve all given up a bit to make this work, but we appreciate their hospitality.”
CDO Athletic Director David Thatcher said while the school district is incurring more transportation expenses for the bus rides, it is something the district is willing and able to pay for.
“The Town of Oro Valley has helped us out when we need them, and we are willing to do anything to help them out as construction continues on the Aquatics Center,” he said. “We won’t be asking for reimbursement from the Town or anything like that.”
Thatcher couldn’t say how much busing the students to Amphitheater High School three days a week will cost the district.
The Town of Oro Valley worked very closely with the schools in finding a place to practice as construction progresses.
The first phase of the $5 million aquatic center, which includes completion of the 50-meter pool, is scheduled for completion in mid-September. The second phase, to include a 25-meter pool, splash pad, and slide, is scheduled for completion in March.