TORRINGTON >> Competitive swimming is a cheap sport, right? Put on a bathing suit and dive into the water.
As it turns out, it’s the most expensive sport on the Torrington High School budget, as the Board of Education re-discovered last spring.
Thanks to the fact that the Raiders have no pool of their own, swimming topped out at some $1,100 per person, or about $40,000 a year for the total cost of the girls program in the fall and the boys in the winter.
The Northwest Connecticut YMCA agreed to reduce its fees 10 percent, or about $4,000, as part of this year’s budget trimming, but finances still haunt the program.
“Every year, we have to fight for our existence, in spite of the fact that both teams are among the most successful programs in the school,” says Lisa Traub, president of the Parents of the Swim Team booster club.
With pool time limited to 7.5 hours a week, the Red Raiders still manage to finish at or near the top of the Naugatuck Valley League year after year.
Official practices are three days a week in the water for two hours apiece after school, an hour-and-a-half Saturday mornings, then voluntary time on their own for kids who make the effort to get to the pool for family or general swims. The rest is “dry-land” drills.
In a league in which four teams have pools with unlimited time to practice, Torrington’s girls team went 7-2 last year, following a reign of three straight years as Naugatuck Valley League champions, the last two undefeated.
“The Y and the teams have worked pretty well together,” said Traub, whose family has been at the heart of Torrington’s swimming community for two generations. “We need the YMCA because it’s our only pool and the Lasers (the Y’s competitive swim team) are a good feeder program for us.”
Nevertheless, things could be better, financially and competitively.
That’s what another branch of the Traub family, Doug and his wife, also named Lisa, decided in the early ’90s, when the Torrington Middle School was being built.
Doug was captain of the Torrington swim team in 1970. His wife was an assistant coach for the boys and girls teams, then became head coach for both teams in the mid-90s.
“It was Lisa’s dream to have a place where kids could learn to swim,” said Traub, citing a study from that era showing that a significant percentage of the students at the Vogel-Wetmore School, immediately across the street from the Y, couldn’t swim.
Torrington Middle School was originally designed to have a pool at one end.
“It was to be an eight-lane competition pool with two diving boards and seating for 300, not only for Torrington High School but other area events like AAU meets and the NVL swim meet,” said Traub. “But mainly, we were trying to push this as a community pool with indoor and outdoor use all year round.
“At that point, the state was reimbursing 70 percent of the expenditures it would have cost.”
In the wake of political arguments, the pool cost was separated from the overall school funding issue and defeated.
“We tried three times with referendums,” said Traub. “We came close, but we failed, so we decided to do it ourselves.
“I was told time after time, ‘It’s just not the right time,'” said Traub. “Well when is the right time? There are a lot of kids out there who don’t want to be tackled or have a ball thrown at them.”
The Traubs started The Torrington Community Pool Project, Inc., through Torrington Savings Bank, with hopes of raising the $2.5 to $3 million they estimated the Torrington Middle School pool would now cost.
“Since it’s on school property, it has to go through the Board of Education. The school would have to run it. A lot of things would have to be worked out,” Traub said.
Lisa died in 2011; her request was for money to be donated to the fund.
“I haven’t pushed it as Lisa would have pushed it, but I firmly believe in it,” said Traub. “It’s not as though we are re-inventing the wheel. Many communities across the state have this kind of arrangement.
“It’s as close as Watertown,” said Traub, pointing to Kennedy, Crosby and Woodland as other nearby NVL schools with pools.
“With our own pool, we’d be going from 5:30 to 6:45 a.m.; 3 to 5 p.m. every day, then three or four hours on Saturday and optional on Sundays,” said boys coach Andrew Marchand. “But the biggest thing would be to build the program up – just teaching kids to swim without it costing a ton of money.”
“We would definitely be in the water more than we are right now,” said girls coach Katie Gregory. “We could do more distance work, more drills. We could have a middle school program that would be a great feeder along with the Lasers. It would let the kids practice in the off-season; and we’d have our own equipment.”
“We’re looking for a huge benefactor, but, like all charities, every little bit helps,” said Traub.
Donors, large and small, can contact Traub, the president and principal of the fund, through the Torrington Savings Bank.