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Ike girls tread wave of frustration over New Berlin pool decisions

Team and parents question nature of district's decisions

Dec. 10, 2013

New Berlin — Not being able to practice in the Eisenhower Middle/High School swimming pool this season was a hardship for the school's girls swim team, parents say.

One parent wonders if the arrangement was payback for a federal complaint filed by parents concerned about the equity in facilities for boys and girls sports programs in the New Berlin School District, including its pool facilities.

During the 2013 season that recently ended, both the Eisenhower and the New Berlin West girls swim teams shared the West swimming pool, with both teams alternately practicing right after school or from 6 to 8 p.m. For meets, the Eisenhower swimming competitions are held at West, but the diving competitions are at Eisenhower.

This arrangement has caused friction, swim parent Julie Zimmerman wrote to the School Board.

"Scattering the teams between Ike and West this year has proved to be a negative decision for the girls, the coaches, the families involved and even the officials," Zimmerman said in her letter.

Title IX negativity?

The practice and competition arrangement was a hassle for the Ike team, but what concerned parent Russ Bellford was the perceived reason for the decision.

As he sees it, the problem is the Title IX complaint signed by 37 people, mostly swim parents, alleging that boys athletics have better facilities than girls in swimming and other areas.

The New Berlin West pool is used by the combined boys swim team, along with the West girls swim team, while the Eisenhower pool is a poorer facility that has been deemed beyond repair.

The goal of the complaint, Bellford said, was to try to get the district to fix or replace the Eisenhower pool, but the administration so far has not recommended going ahead with a $1.6 million pool replacement.

Another parent, Anne Rudolph-Putney decried in a letter to the School Board and administration what she called "the negativity, conflict and lack of support from the administration" tied to swim parents' concerns.

Even a current swim team member, noting the success of the district's girls swim program, questioned the attitude of officials in dealing with the issues.

"To be frank, I, along with my fellow swimmers, have felt victimized by the School Board and district," team member Ali Lodermeier wrote in a letter to officials.

The team just wants a more sensible approach, Bellford said, noting that Ike's pool was more than adequate as a practice facility.

"Holding the swim meets at New Berlin West and keeping practice at Ike would have been a common sense compromise," he said in an email interview.

A legitimate attempt

Though Bellford maintains the district's decision was punitive and retaliatory, Melinda Mueller, district director of communications, said it was far from that.

Mueller said Bellford's current statement that Eisenhower's pool is adequate for practices is inconsistent with what was said in his original complaint, which specified that the pool is inferior in appearance and function, doesn't have starting blocks and isn't deep enough for diving, under new WIAA rules.

"The district considered these facts when making its decision to have the girls practice and compete in a facility with starting blocks," Mueller said in an email interview, noting that officials also thought the girls would benefit from practicing in the pool in which they would also compete.

Moving the Eisenhower girls to West "allowed us to provide equal access to a higher-quality facility," School Board President David Maxey wrote in a letter to parents.

In fact, moving the Eisenhower girls to West should have helped even more than Mueller said.

Discrimination had nothing to do with any decisions, Mueller stressed.

"We're here to serve all our students. We do not discriminate against girls," she said.

Even so, the district agreed, in a mediated settlement of the original equal rights complaint,  to improve the girls' softball facilities at Eisenhower to make them equal to the boys' baseball field. That has meant an entirely new girls softball field.

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