Pool duel: Gilroy Gators, city volley for space

Ariele Rose, from San Jose, works with Kadence Lewis, 5, from Gilroy, on doing the backstroke during mini gators practice Wednesday as part of the Gilroy Gators Swim Team at Gavilan College.

Summer in Gilroy signals 90-degree weather, the Garlic Festival and plenty of quality time playing outdoors.
For the longstanding, well-known Gilroy Gators swim club, it also ushers in a “rocky” eight weeks of being displaced from their regular practice pool and disrupting their regime to make way for the City of Gilroy’s summer recreation classes.
It’s an inconvenience the team has dealt with for years, although the situation has worsened following the recent closure of South Valley Middle School’s pool.
“It’s a bit of an annoyance for a team that’s been around so long,” admitted Gator parent Mark Craig, who has two daughters on the team. “This summer is definitely the worst that I’ve seen it.”
In light of the Gilroy Unified School District’s recent decision to shut down the beleaguered SVMS pool facility which is in need of $147,000 in repairs, one less aquatic center in Gilroy means one less default practice space for the Gators.
It’s a trying issue for parents like Lisa Filice, a Gator mom of 18 years who says being displaced from June through August due to city-run swim classes is “really disruptive” to the Gators – especially when they’re busy training for the Coast Valley Aquatic League championships in August.
With six children who grew up swimming on the team, Filice has been around long enough to understand why parents and swim coaches are pining for a sense of place and cohesiveness.
“We’re gearing up for big meets and we’re here, there, everywhere,” she said, squinting toward the Gavilan College pool, where heads covered in colorful swim caps bobbed up and down in the water during practice Wednesday.
“The biggest issue is that we don’t have a space,” Filice continued. “The minute summer hits, we get booted outta (Gilroy High School).”
When asked about this issue, Director Maria DeLeon with the city’s recreation department said the city has a joint-use powers agreement that states, “if the school isn’t using the facility or building or pool in this case, than the city is next in line to utilize it.”
DeLeon said that the city’s swim classes are “only eight weeks out of the year – the rest of the time is all Gators … we’re only using a small percentage of time.”
Scheduling practices for this summer is especially tedious, according to the team’s board members and a handful of Gator parents.
If the 80 Gator swimmers want to practice at GHS, they must circumnavigate the city’s schedule by swimming from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. or from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. As it is, the Gators already pay around $700 a month to practice at GHS.
If the nonprofit team wants to practice during their normal practice slot from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., consistency comes with a price tag.
With the GHS pool occupied by city-run swim classes from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. for eight weeks during the summer, the Gators bite the bullet and pay Gavilan an extra $200 a day to use the college’s pool for two nights a week.
“We’re going to be almost not a team by the end of the summer because it’s so expensive,” said Gator board member Dawn Guillen. “It’s just a huge financial burden.”
As for the other three days where swimmers practice at GHS from 7 to 9 p.m., Gator parents like Mark Craig aren’t thrilled with their children having to swim so late into the evening. Craig’s oldest daughter, who is 9, “finished at 9 p.m. last night,” he said. “For a little kid, I don’t think that’s right.”
Three bleacher rows above Craig, a group of Gator moms watching practice together Thursday at Gavilan brought up identical concerns.
“My daughter woke up this morning, had breakfast and then went back to bed,” said parent Jackie Stevenson. “She told me, ‘I don’t want to swim anymore.’”
It’s this sort of somber effect that has Gator advocates concerned about losing more and more swimmers to programs in Morgan Hill. The Gators are a community mainstay with roots dating back to 1970, but the team isn’t impervious to scheduling conundrums.
“If we don’t solve the situation, everybody is going to quit and go become Makos,” cautioned Guillen, alluding to one of two competitive swim clubs in Morgan Hill.
Gator enrollment is leaner these days compared to past years, with numbers dipping from a robust 200 to about 80 swimmers, Guillen said.
For some parents, the 7 to 9 p.m. practice time has “really impacted their ability to bring kids in,” noted Filice.
What irks some parents, Filice added, is the fact city swim classes averaging 15 to 20 students per class get scheduling precedence over the Gators – which has 80 swimmers who practice five days a week.
What’s the solution to this scheduling quagmire that surfaces without fail every summer?
With the city now occupying two pools between GHS and Christopher High School, some Gator parents believe the city should make an effort to work around the team’s practice time.
“We’re not inflexible,” Filice argued. “The city needs to be more accommodating.”
She’s not the first person to speak her mind about it.
In 2005, Gator parent and board member Kelly Kramer wrote a letter to the Dispatch editor, citing how the city disregards the use agreement contract between the Gators and the Gilroy Unified School District. Kramer called attention to the Gators as a valuable community asset known for picking up garbage every year at the Garlic Festival, bolstering the talent on GHS (and now CHS) water polo teams and hosting swim meets that “bring many people into this city who then support local businesses.”
Recalling how the Gators “kept getting pushed back” this year when it came to smoothing out the logistics of summer swim programming, Gators Board President Dave Foster said being re-absorbed by the city is a “great” possibility.
“I think we could help each other,” he said, underlining the “natural transition” from swim lessons to a competitive team.  
Some time ago, the Gilroy Gators was a city-run program before evolving into an independent club. No one the Dispatch spoke with from the city’s recreation department or swim team seems to recall exactly when or why the split occurred, however.
“Really, (the city) is looking at revenue,” Guillen asserted. “We don’t generate any revenue for the city. Which begs the question, should we be a part of the city recreation department?”
DeLeon said this is something the city would “totally be open to.”
In this event, DeLeon said the city would collect a percentage of the monthly $90 registration fee paid by Gator parents. The team would benefit by being promoted through the city’s recreation guide, and would be factored into the city’s scheduling of summer swim programs.
Watching her son 6-year-old son climb out of the pool and dry off with a Sesame Street Cookie Monster towel, parent Patricia Dawson agreed things might be “less adversarial” if the Gators operated under the city’s umbrella.
“There’s just been a lot of back and forth,” she observed. “You don’t know where you’re going to be.”
At this point, Guillen says the Gators would take any pool they didn’t have to move from.
While the solution to this ongoing issue has yet to be fleshed out, one thing is for certain:
“It’s a popular program,” said parent Mark Craig. “People are pretty passionate about it.”