Coming Up for Air: UW Revives Varsity Swim Teams

One month after announcing she would drop the UW men's and women's varsity swimming program, UW Athletics Director Barbara Hedges declared the program would continue after all.

"In the last month, it has become very apparent that there is interest in retaining this program, not only from the people in the Seattle area, but around the state of Washington," Hedges said on Aug. 29.

"Dropping the swimming program will truly affect the lives of young boys and girls in the state of Washington and destroy their aspirations to swim at a competitive level," she said. "There were responses from people in the state Legislature, people in the community, but probably the most thoughtful were from the former swimmers."

When she made her original announcement in July to drop the program, Hedges said her reasons included the inadequate and outdated swimming facility on campus; a lack of community support for the program; the inability to recruit top swimmers in the state; and the competitive disadvantage that resulted.

"We did not just want to have a swimming program (to have one), we wanted to have a competitive program at the University of Washington," she explained.

A factor in changing her mind was support from Pacific Northwest Swimming. The local group represents 5,800 swimmers and is a division of USA Swimming, the national governing body which chooses the U.S. swim team for the Olympics. Pacific Northwest Swimming has pledged to support the UW program and help the UW build a "state-of-the art" training facility.

UW swimmers currently train in the Hec Edmundson Pavilion pool, built in 1937 with six 25-yard lanes and no diving unit. Most top university programs have 50-meter lanes and a separate diving pool. While there is a modern swimming facility in Federal Way, south of Seattle, it is too far for training purposes. "Swimmers practice two times a day and we could not transport our swimmers twice a day for practice," Hedges said.

Swim Coach Mickey Wender says a new training facility could cost up to $20 million. Hedges said it would not have to be located on campus, but would have to be nearby.

Hedges has named a task force of community leaders, leaders in the swimming community and people within the University to look at the issues of facilities and recruitment.

Wender said with 17 freshmen joining the team this fall, he is optimistic for the future. "I do believe that Washington can be a top swimming program and these goals, if accomplished, will allow us to do that. There have been a lot of people in the swimming community who rallied behind our program in the past few weeks and I appreciate all of their efforts," he declared. See also UW Swimming Web site.

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