YMCA Swimming Cancellation in Central Ohio Left Coaches Shocked, Searching For Answers

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

When the YMCA of Central Ohio announced last week that it would be cancelling competitive swimming for the upcoming season, it was a huge shockwave felt by all involved in the area. The YMCA sent a letter to swimming families announcing their decision with no prior warning that a decision of that magnitude was impending, or even being considered.

“I always felt like we would be safe because we are not at a college or a school,” said Jeff Riegler, head swim coach of Gahanna YMCA Gators. “I had been in communication with the association aquatics director and sent him a 12-page return to pool plan and also have been running my own group for the last seven weeks of social distant practices.”

But when the news broke, many swimming families in central Ohio were not surprised based on the existing relationship between the YMCA and the swim teams.

“I was using and sending him info and offering my experience and expertise as we’ve gone through it. It was always like, ‘thanks, whatever,’ there wasn’t anything like, ‘let’s talk about this.’ The only thing when I sent him the final plan — my brother and I talked to the coaches at YOTA (YMCA of Triangle Area in North Carolina) because they have a multi-site team and his response was: ‘Didn’t North Carolina shut swimming down?’

“And I sent him the link and said they are one of the few things in their state that are still going. So he went right to tearing apart what we sent, and that’s all I heard. Then there was the meeting and the meeting was: ‘Here’s our core values we believe in,’ and then said they made the difficult decision to cancel the competitive swimming.”

The reasoning behind the decision to cut swimming at the YMCA was that, “managing our competitive swimming program while balancing the criteria of health & safety, organizational readiness and financial capacity would prove to be difficult,” as stated in the letter sent out to families. But this didn’t convince coach Riegler, who argued that the swim teams were safely holding practices while adhering to strict social distancing guidelines. And he says that none of the decision makers have responded to any questions asked.

“They pretty much went down the safety platform and said we have a responsibility to the public and community to be safe. And they also said the financial side of it that they could fiscally do it, which I totally can bash that to pieces. The numbers are the numbers — it is pretty simple math,” Riegler said.

“I get the safety aspect of it but we are also doing it like everyone else, but they have also cancelled nothing else. They can run group fitness and I don’t know if they have camps going but they haven’t announced any other cancellations. They have singled out one program that makes them a lot of money, and would guarantee membership which they need. Everyone is going in and cancelling their membership, even people that aren’t part of the swim team. It’s not enough of an impact, unfortunately.

“But if they don’t want to run competitive swimming, at least let someone come in that can.”

Riegler had argued that the YMCA violated their own core values: caring respect, and honesty.

“I personally don’t like the fact that this affects a lot of kids including my own. And I’m like, ‘What do you want me to do?’ They didn’t offer us any mental health help. My 14-year-old son not having swimming is devastating to him. And they offered nothing on that front so that is not caring.

“They didn’t give any of us the respect to talk to us, ‘How can we do this in the right way?’ It was just terminated and there was no talk or nothing in between about my plan or anything like that, or what anyone else is doing.”

With no more YMCA swim teams, this directly impacts a lot of high school swimmers who no longer have a place to train. Ohio State Swim Club, one of the premiere USA club teams in the city of Columbus, has cancelled its summer season according to Riegler. That club shut down weeks ago, and those swimmers had filtered out to the YMCA teams in the area.

“I let (our aquatics director) know that weeks ago that we need this because there are other kids out there that this is their last resort, and I said even my own kids — we have nowhere to go. If they cancel, these kids have literally nowhere to go. And it affects not only the Y kids but there’s numerous high schools that there’s easily 1,000 kids that are now done.

“In my own house, I have a senior that is a Y national qualifier and a team and school record holder and he’s a senior. He is basically done. I have nowhere to take him. For me, it is about all the kids but it is even more personal for me.”

Riegler is frustrated at the lack of communication between the powers that be and the families in the club.

“I don’t think they want competitive swimming and this is their excuse to get rid of it. Because otherwise, why wouldn’t you do what is best for the kids? We have a ton of seniors, like my son and all his friends, we have a huge senior class that now have nothing. And their life already sucks. That’s the part I think ‘what are we doing for these kids?’ When it can be done, and they’re not willing to sit down with us or explain to us.”

The YMCA did not specify if swimming would come back if deemed safe after this upcoming season, but Riegler and many others involved don’t believe the YMCA will entertain that thought in a year.

“It doesn’t specifically say the season. It says we may explore bringing it back when it is safe, but I think the people that have been around and know how they are, know it’s not coming back. That’s my opinion – and who would want to come back if this is how they treat everybody?

“If we can come back in December, they won’t start the team back up. They could at least give us this year, and after that if they want to bring the team back, but everyone is going to be somewhere else and there is no incentive for anyone to come back because you can’t trust them. I’ve spent many years building our program and it’s just gone. I’ve moved on quickly because I know it is never coming back.”

Now the ten swim teams are trying to find out answers from the YMCA, and hoping that this decision handed down catches the attention of people elsewhere.

“At this point we are trying to find someone that can get answers. Some of the people we know that we’ve known for a long time have said they are hoping to bring back the high school team. As my wife said, hoping does not mean they are coming back. That is not enough. It would be different if the governor shuts everything down and there’s no high school sports. We can deal with that, that’s different. This is a couple people that have their own agenda. I just want the truth and I am very upfront with everyone. Let’s have the conversation and have them tell me their reasoning and I can tell them that it can be done. We are trying to find the people that will help us go to fight. We need that powerful person to get in there and actually get somebody to talk to them and tell them the truth, which I don’t know if we would get. If they don’t have anything to hide then why wouldn’t they want to talk to us?

“They had no communication. That’s what tells me they didn’t even explore anything in between,” he said. “We have a lot of people pulling for us, but I don’t know if we have anyone big enough to do anything. I think that is why they are not talking to anyone, because they just think it will go away. We have some pretty vocal people and we are trying but we tried to get the city involved because the city owns the building and the land. The Y’s are set up that way. That’s what happened in Delaware last year. There’s a history of them and the bad relationship with competitive swimming, and so it’s like if they don’t want to do it, then at least just tell us that. They’re not even willing to answer your questions or prove to the community this is why. My thing is if you are going to hide behind COVID, then why are you having all this other stuff going on? They are offering group fitness. Are you still going to bring back other programs, but why are you singling out this one thing? If they are hiding behind that, then why are they doing other things? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

13 comments

  1. Ja Bounce

    Would like to see all Testing numbers of Pool Chems & Athletes pre/post/team sharing, etc… Still yet to see ONE article in the U.S that can prove/disprove Chlorinated Pools/Athletes will/will not be affected?!?

  2. Katy Bateman Brown

    Yet Soccer fields and basketball courts are full of kids all over each other with no masks. Chlorine kills, this makes no sense.

  3. avatar
    Mitch

    Given the way Columbus YMCA has treated us these past three years I was not surprised. The “yeah whatever” quote was dead on. Coaching one of these ten teams was a secondary job for me and in someways I am relieved that I don’t have to deal with the stress of trying to fix broken fins etc to just get by.

  4. Frank McCutchan

    This is just stupid. Modified competition can be done. We may May have a vaccine by 2021.

  5. avatar
    Anonymous

    My daughter has been with the Y as a competitive swimmer since she was 5. Now she is 10. It’s the only team she has ever known. I was forced to look elsewhere for her swim training due to this horrendous decision. We have always considered the Y a swim FAMILY. Now it is broken and the kids have scattered to other teams. This decision was unnecessary. Swimming is about as safe as it gets in regards to sports. Bad Move. We cancelled our membership.

  6. avatar
    Swim Mom

    The Central Ohio YMCA has been de-emphasizing their swim teams for years. They deliberately put in place measures to make the teams less competitive, which forced a lot of swimmers to leave. Most teams became shadows of their former selves. This decision has nothing to do with safety. It’s just the final action that they’ve been wanting to take for a long time. I was a Y member for over 20 years, and I cancelled my membership.

  7. avatar
    Connie

    maybe it’s actually when they put on 5G, the microwave energy is even so much more dangerous in the water, so no more swimming forever more, here comes 5G

  8. avatar
    Karen

    I think the YMCA has lost touch of their core values. When we lived in Powell the LTPY team had 2 meets that raise thousands of dollars of help the YMCA and their service initiatives. The kids not only had a great swim meet but learned first had doing something so it benefits others. Swim team and the Y are part of so many families. When we moved we could not find another team like the Penguin team. I don’t think the leaders of the Central Ohio YMCA truly understand the positive experience this activity creates for our kids and communities. It is a very sad day for swimmers throughout central Ohio.

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