Golf and cheerleading have officially been sanctioned as high school varsity sports in Howard County. Now, a group of parents and students want the same status for the sport they love.
A whooping, boisterous, standing-room-only crowd of parents and children overflowed the school board meeting Thursday night, urging Howard County school officials to start a high school swimming program next year.
The loud, but cheerful and polite crowd presented the board with a plan for a 240-swimmer program that would cost $65,000 -- mostly for coaches pay -- and use indoor pools in midafternoon, when they are least crowded. County high schools do not have swimming pools.
"There are thousands of swimmers in Howard County who are appalled to find there's no swimming in high school," said Andy Lazris, a Dorsey Hall resident whose three children, 12, 10 and 7, swim on Columbia Association teams.
With a new state championship competition scheduled for 2007, he and other speakers said it is the perfect time for Howard County to join Montgomery and Prince George's counties in establishing a program. High schools in those counties also do not have indoor pools. Lazris said Howard could use Columbia Association, YMCA and Howard Community College pools.
Earlier, Lauren Branch, 17, a senior at Long Reach High, and Ann Miller, 16, a Wilde Lake High junior, also tried to persuade superintendent Sydney L. Cousin to include swimming in the school budget for the 2006-2007 school year.
"My dream has always been to participate in high school sports, but I'm a swimmer," said Branch. That means the time she spends practicing swimming excludes her from high school activities and sports, which will look bad on her college applications, she said.
"I swim three hours a day and no one [in school] knows I'm an athlete," she said.
Miller said there are 2,251 swimmers on Howard County swim teams who want a chance, when they reach high school, to compete for their schools.
Board members welcomed the swimmers and their boosters, but school officials made no promises.
"This is a tremendous showing," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, who said she was nervous about the crowd exceeding fire department limits (150) for the room.
Cousin said he has begun discussing the swimming idea, but he gave no assurances.
"We can see the enthusiasm you bring to this," he said, referring to several sustained, whooping cheers for several of the speakers.
In other business, the board heard a plan for relieving crowding at western county schools by 2010 without building a new, 788-seat West Friendship Elementary. By adding 100-seat additions to Manor Woods and Waverly elementaries, incorporating a 125-seat modular classroom pod into the main building of Triadelphia Ridge Elementary, and moving a few school district lines, the county could save more than $20 million in land acquisition and construction costs, said school system demographer David C. Drown.
The county would need to do a $60,000 septic system study to see if the plan would work at Manor Woods and Triadelphia. Still, Drown said, his preference would be the new school, reserving the additions for a back-up plan. If the additions are built, Drown said, Lisbon Elementary would be the only school in the county over 115 percent of capacity, but not until 2016 and 2017.
Cousin said he will present his capital budget to the board Sept. 8. He noted that Drown's plan is the result of a new approach to crowding that combines redistricting and new classroom construction into one process.
Regardless of which approach is chosen, Cousin said, the county needs more school sites.
"We need to be very active in acquiring sites where there is potential need," he said.
Two elementary schools are due to open -- one in Dayton in 2006 and the another in Ellicott City in 2007. A new, larger Bushy Park elementary school is set to open near the current building in 2007.
Current projections show four schools over the 115 percent crowding limit in the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance by 2009, including Manor Woods, Bryant Woods and Elkridge elementaries and Patapsco Middle School. Schools over the limit trigger the law, which delays planning for new homes for up to four years, or until the problem is solved.
The board also discussed resubmitting two General Assembly bills that failed to win approval last winter.
One would give the board authority to replace a superintendent whose contract was not renewed with an acting superintendent. That would forestall the bind in which the board found itself after deciding not to renew former Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's contract in February last year.
The second bill would renew a request for authority to charge fees for using school athletic fields. The legislators rejected that idea last year after leaders of several youth recreation leagues complained it might keep children from low-income families from participating.
The board formed a committee to discuss the subject, and the 17 recreation groups who participated voted 13-4 to recommend asking again for the fees, which would bolster maintenance at school fields. Leagues would grant scholarships to children whose families could not pay the estimated fee of $5 a child, said Jack Milani of the Howard County Lacrosse Association.