Swimming has been more than just recreation for Matt Hulstine in his high school career.
As a Moffat County High School freshman, Hulstine qualified and placed at the 4A state swimming meet.
This year, as a sophomore, he has already qualified for the state meet in two individual events and three relays.
His passion for the sport, Hulstine said, won’t stop when he graduates.
“The only way for me to get a scholarship to college for swimming is to have a swimming program,” he said. “I train all year long, from the summer to the winter to the spring, and if there is no swimming team, I don’t know what I would do.”
Hulstine may soon find himself without a team with two years left before he graduates.
Facing potentially steep budget cuts, the Moffat County School Board is expected to make a final decision next month whether to continue upkeep on the MCHS swimming pool or direct money elsewhere.
While the decision is due to tight finances, the loss of the swimming pool would mean the loss of the MCHS boys and girls swimming programs, MCHS athletic director Richard Wildenhaus said.
“If there is no pool, there is no other place for them to swim competitively,” he said. “Steamboat (Springs) has an outdoor pool, but that won’t work for winter or for spring teams. No pool equals no swimming teams.”
Meghan Francone, the head coach for the boys and girls teams, said losing the pool is about more than just losing the swimming programs.
“I would feel absolutely devastated,” she said. “The pool means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, from therapeutic reasons to a way for kids to get to college. It would be a big thing to lose.
“I know we are in a budget crisis because I may lose my job, but removing the pool is not just taking it from the athletes, it also takes it from the community.”
Francone took her boys swimming team to the March 28 school board meeting to express their concerns.
Hulstine, Francone and junior John Kirk all talked to board members.
“(Swimming) is the sport I thrive in,” Hulstine said in his speech. “Summer swimming alone can’t grant me a scholarship to a highly competitive school like the high school pool can. Nor can swimming provide the friends and skills I obtain from being on a team. Swimming is, in more way than one, my life.”
Kirk, who has been on the team for three years, said the success of the boys and girls teams has been outstanding.
“I talked a lot about the success the teams have achieved and brought to the school,” he said about his speech to the school board. “The boys team went from eight people last year to 14 this year. We keep growing.”
Aside from state qualifiers at the high school level, MCHS has also had athletes succeed after they leave Craig.
Caitlin and Kelsey Conci, twin sisters who graduated MCHS in 2008, both swim in college — Caitlin at the University of North Dakota and Kelsey at the University of Wyoming.
In July 2010 and again in February, Kelsey qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympic Trials and a chance to be part of the national swimming team.
“We have had excellent athletes come out of our swim programs that have participated in college and Olympic trials,” Wildenhaus said. “It brings notice to our program and Moffat County to have our kids successfully competing in college and being part of the swimming world.”
Francone said the chance for athletes to compete in college swimming programs without a program at MCHS would be almost impossible.
“A bunch of kids worked so hard for so many years from when they were little to now trying to make it to college,” she said. “Without the pool, they won’t have that avenue to help pay for college and all the focus and work they put on the sport would be gone.”
Francone brought up the community and her own experiences swimming in her speech to the school board.
“I learned life lessons that for me could only be learned in the water,” she said in her speech. “I learned about fairness and what that term really meant. I learned about respect, respect of others as well as respect for myself. I learned of trust, trusting my teammates as well as your own abilities.”
Kirk said being part of the swimming team isn’t about making it to college for him, but rather the bonding experience.
“Being part of the swimming team provides opportunities for leadership and teamwork,” he said. “Swimming is like an individual sport wrapped in a team sport. When our teammates are competing, we cheer them on and try to help them any way we can.”
If the swimming programs are lost, Wildenhaus said there are no immediate plans to implement new athletic programs.
“It takes time to start a program up, so it’s not just a financial concern,” he said. “We have to become part of a league and apply to (the Colorado High School Activities Association) to be a sanctioned team. You can’t just do it a couple of weeks before the season because it takes time.”
Wildenhaus said softball and hockey teams have been the most discussed in the community as additions. For softball, it comes down to participation and travel costs.
“Softball is a fall sport and we don’t want to take numbers away from cross country and volleyball,” he said. “Steamboat had to cancel their (softball) program because of a lack of numbers, and I think we would be similar.
“There is always traveling concerns with any sport, but with softball the closest teams are in Grand Junction and Montrose. We know we would have to travel to the Front Range on a consistent basis to compete.”
Wildenhaus said he hopes to keep the swimming teams, but the final decision rests with the school board.
“I never want to lose a program, but I understand there are financial concerns,” he said. “I will respect the decision of the school board either way. Educators are losing their jobs because of budget cuts, so I look at it from a full perspective and not try to be blinded because I am the athletic director.”
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