LONGMONT — Give me an ‘S.’ Give me a ‘K.’ Give me a ‘Y.’ Give me an ‘M.’ Give me an ‘O.’ Give me an ‘N.’ Give me a ‘T.’
What’s that spell? The end of a rivalry.
That’s right, beginning this season, the four Longmont-area swim teams are cut down to two. Niwot and Silver Creek will compete as one, and Longmont and Skyline are now friends in the water.
“It’s a blast,” Skyline senior Justin Sodja said after one of his first few practices along side his cross-town rivals.
“No,” he said in immediate response. “It bites.”
There might be a lot of grumbling and snide remarks by the poolside, but the school board really had no choice but to combine the schools. Declining numbers in boys swimming is forcing similar results all over the state, Longmont athletic director Frank Buck said.
“I really don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “Club swimming could have something to do with it, but it’s hard to say.”
Longmont co-coach Marie Huff seems to think that has something to do with it.
“The youth teams practice a few hours a day, six days a week,” she said. “The kids don’t want to go there all the time, but the parents kind of feel forced to send them there with the outrageous prices they pay. I think a lot of kids are just tired of swimming when they get to this level.”
The result isn’t completely negative, however. Last year, the Trojans had just 12 swimmers, and it might have been even worse this year. But with 21 swimmers and one diver this season, Longmont should be on a much leveler playing field with the other teams.
“We’re trying to make it work for everyone,” Huff said. “The boys are already getting along and joking around.”
The Colorado High School Activities Association has concrete rules that state teams can only be associated to one school. No Longmont/Skyline, or Silver Creek/Niwot. Skyline swimmers have to toss the red and gold Speedos and don the Trojans’ blue and white this season. Needless to say, it’s not going over too well with those formerly known as Falcons.
“I’m not liking this whole Longmont thing,” said Sodja, who has been swimming with Skyline since his sophomore year. “We have to use their sweatshirts and bags, but that’s how it goes.
“I think I’ll wear my Skyline sweatshirt to meets and stuff. It probably won’t go over too well at all, but we’ll see.”
The 32 Silver Creek and Niwot swimmers seem to be meshing almost seamlessly, however. It might have something to do with the fact that the Raptors are some sort of powerhouse after the merge. They return a combined six state qualifiers from last year, and have a few up-and-comers that should make a big impact in the Class 4A Northern Conference.
“Silver Creek was going to be strong no matter what this season,” Silver Creek co-coach Debbie Stewart said. “Now Niwot brings some very strong swimmers over as well, and we look really strong.”
Longmont won’t be so lucky with its inexperienced roster. So why didn’t they combine a strong school with a weaker school to keep it a little more balanced?
“The truth is, my vote went for the split to try and even things out,” Stewart said. “Mainly, because I was afraid that some of my swimmers would get lost in the shuffle, and not get a chance to be on state relays. But, after this year, Longmont could become the powerhouse, because that’s just the way high school sports go.
“I think the main reason it went this way is because of locality. Transportation is just easier for both teams this way.”
Things are already starting to smooth over a little bit at Longmont.
“At first, I really didn’t like it too much,” Longmont senior John Burks said. “But now that we’ve practiced with each other for a week, I’m starting to be OK with it. I’m feeling better about the situation, and I’m feeling like it’s going to go better than I thought it would.”
Even Sodja could find the silver lining in the tough situation.
“It’s a good opportunity to get a different coaching perspective,” he said. “We’ve kind of gotten along all the years I’ve been swimming anyway. We play water polo in the summer, so there shouldn’t be any fights.”
Could this be the dawning of an even bigger rivalry in the water, though?
We’ll find out March 22, when all four schools cram into one pool for the city title. The student-section chants should get interesting.