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Parents are fuming and many are looking to jump ship over the YMCA's decision to fire its west side swimming coach and change practice hours from evening to early mornings.
Parents were stunned when they learned the high school swimmers would no longer be practicing from 7 to 9 p.m., but rather from 5:15 to 7 a.m.
"The changes are going to make it ... nearly impossible, I think, for the team to continue," says Mimi Levinson, whose 11-year-old daughter, Julia, has been with the program for four years.
"To expect them to be at practice at 5:15, swim, shower, change, eat breakfast, get to school, is really not acceptable to most of the parents I've talked to," she adds.
And swim families, hundreds of them, were given little notice of the changes, which come at mid-season ? too late for many to switch programs.
"We're incredibly disappointed that we weren't consulted about the changes, and it's going to hurt a lot of kids, Levinson said.
The changes, announced last week, go into effect on Jan. 6.
The YMCA program has become a wellrespected cultivator of talent in recent years, turning out two current national competitors, one of them Olympic hopeful Beata Nelson of Verona.
Carrie Wall, president and CEO of YMCA of Dane County, didn't return a call last week. But in a written message she told parents: "We heard from some swim team parents that we have plans to stop offering swim team after April, and I guarantee that it is simply not true. We will continue to meet the needs of kids and families in this community that fits into our core programming."
She said the YMCA plans to focus on early youth development and sports basics while balancing facility schedules.
"With three full facilities we looked at how we can optimize our space to accommodate everyone without canceling programs like Swim Team," she writes, adding, "Swim is a core program but the priority at the Y is for the youth developmental programs. The competitive programs like swim team and Tri County Basketball will continue, but as in all healthy Y's pool and gym time are business challenges as they tend to be the highest demand."
Swim team parents have called the message dismissive of their concerns.
Levinson points out that the change comes when other local programs are full, and there are few alternatives to the YMCA program short of driving to another municipality.
Another parent, writing to members of the YMCA board, says, "These types of changes should have been proposed prior to the start of the season, when we had the ability to choose other swim programs."
Levinson and others say they spend hundreds of dollars in membership and fees to participate in the swim program, and parents also partake in fundraising efforts. Many of the more affluent parents donate substantial sums of money to the YMCA.
"We've made them money, and we feel they're not honoring their commitment to us," she says.
In addition, a lot of younger swimmers who swim on the west side YMCA from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. will have to swim at the east side, 20 minutes away, at 4 p.m.
"They get out of school at 3:30, and they're supposed to be there by 4," Levinson says. "I've talked to several people, they just can't do that. Because of their work schedules, it's just impossible."
Angry parents demanded a meeting with YMCA leadership, specifically with Wall. Instead the parents, more than 50 of them, found themselves face-to-face with Paul VanderVelde, branch manager at the west side YMCA.
"The YMCA CEO Carrie Wall has shown extremely poor leadership in that she sent Paul VanderVelde to get his brains beat in last night and she was nowhere to be found," wrote one parent in a letter to a board members. "Paul has no authority to make changes and was simply the messenger. I respect Paul for taking it like a man."
In addition, citing financial concerns, 13 administrators, including the west-side's popular coach, Mike Hanson, were fired. According to multiple parents, Hanson was making $11 an hour.
Hanson didn't return a phone call seeking comment.
"I've got a kid who's crying every night," says Jason Marty, whose 13-year-old daughter participates on the team.
Marty says he and other parents tried to help Hanson come up with a schedule that provided more open pool space and that "doesn't cause kids to quit swimming or move on to a different club."
"That was our plan," he says. "But she fired him."
Wall, in her written comments, said Hanson's firing was "part of the reduction and had nothing to do with performance."
"Again, I'm sorry that this decision has affected you and your children but it was a necessary business decision and the swim directors remaining are very qualified," Wall said.
AMBER ARNOLD/ WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL Verona / Mount Horeb's Beata Nelson, who also competes for the west side YMCA team, competes in the 100 yard butterfly during the WIAA Division 1 state girls swimming and diving meet at the UW Natatorium in November. Nelson took first place with a time of :52.06.
December 12, 2013