ATASCADERO — As many local high school sports fans might know, the PAC-7 division will be moving out of the CIF Southern Section and into the Central Section next season. This has been a long anticipated move for a host of different reasons, many of which provide advantages to schools on the Central Coast. The main advantage of the move is the hours of travel time teams from San Luis Obispo County can save by driving to different schools Clovis for CIF playoff games instead of making an agonizing trip to the southern parts of Los Angeles with a bus full of kids that can barely sit still for an 85 minute class, let alone a six hour bus ride.
While the move is viewed as a good thing in the eyes of many in the community, some have overlooked, or perhaps were never made aware of, the hardships that it will cause for the North County aquatics programs. Starting next fall, both boy’s and girl’s water polo will take place during the fall season. This is a typically normal thing for most team sports, baseball and softball play the same season in high school sports, same with boys and girls basketball, so why does moving water polo make a difference?
The primary concern comes from a major lack of space due to a lack of facilities and manpower. Plain an simple, there are always enough grassy areas and black tops at a high school to be able to conduct a sports specific practice for four or even up to six teams at once (boy’s varsity, girl’s varsity, junior varsity etc.). However, aquatic sports require one very vital element: a pool.
Paso Robles High School doesn't even have a pool on campus at all — all water polo players, swimmers, and divers must be bussed over or drive themselves to the Municipal Pool located near Flamson MIddle School.
Atascadero does have a pool on campus but it is outdated and still has a shallow end.
The lack of an up-to-date pool, or pool at all, affects the aquatics programs, especially water polo, in many ways.
“Well, we need a new pool,” Atascadero Head Water Polo Coach Jon Conrad said. “It's something where we're trying to get word out to the community more to know that there is a demand. Atascadero and Paso Robles aquatics have been waiting patiently for a pool for many years, I remember hearing rumors of a potentially new pool all the way back in 2010. Just to be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean the school has been depriving aquatics of a new pool, that’s an expensive endeavor that will certainly take help from state funding.”
“Our facility is not conducive to good practice time, but Mr. Clayton at the high school is telling us that with Measure M passed there is going to be a pool,” Paso Robles Head Water Polo Coach Duane McRoy said., “But I've been around education a long time and our timeline is usually a lot quicker than the state’s, but I hand it to him, he works his tail off to push the right buttons and hopefully it happens and we can get a pool on campus.”
Not having a pool presents some unique issues with spacing and practice time, that at the end of the day hurts our student an athlete's more than anything else.
“You are talking about four teams minimum I need to go three hours [with each team]” McRoy says of the practice time he needs. During next fall, he will have four teams all trying to fit in one pool roughly the size of half a tennis court. With more athletes and less space, coaches will have to get creative in how the schedule their practices.
“Having four teams in the pool at one time will probably mean us getting home around band camp time, ya know, we will be getting home around nine o’clock,” Coach Conrad stated. “Which will be strenuous for these kids, for their homework and everything. The boys and girls will have to alternate, half the season the boys will be getting home super late, and half the season the girls will be.”
Lack of facilities also hurts our aquatic program’s ability to develop its young players because both Atascadero and Paso Robles have overlapping coaches for both boy’s and girl’s water polo.
“We have an age group program, a youth program for ages six through 13 and we’re going to have to pretty much say during the whole fall, no age group and that's going to hurt because it's still warm enough to get those kids in there,” Conrad said.
Conrad also noted that with a new pool it would be easy to include the age group kids into the same practice in another area of the pool.
Not being able to work with the young players hurts the program in multiple ways. Without youth development, players enter high school aquatics needing to learn the basic fundamentals of the game as opposed to other schools that begin teaching plays and game preparation. Essentially, it is like a basketball coach showing up to practice and having to spend the first three weeks of practice teaching his players how to dribble and shoot instead of what defense he wants to run or any inbound plays they might need. It puts the team at a major disadvantage. Perhaps the smallest, but maybe the most painful problem with not having regulation pools is that our teams cannot host CIF playoff games because their pools are considered illegal. Meaning, even if they are able to overcome everything and receive a high seed in the playoffs, they will be stripped of their ability to play in front of their friends and family, and lose their home court advantage due to their lack of a regulation pool.
While there are many new hardships presented with the move, there is also great opportunity. The Southern Section is full of great aquatics teams from top to bottom. The Central Section has powerhouse schools at the top, but as coach Conrad puts it, “In Central California there just isn't as many teams, and you have a better chance with a smaller division of going farther in CIF, so i'm excited for that.”
Having all four teams in one area also has its advantages McRoy points out.
“Like I said, boys and girls playing at the same time, it has some advantages in the sense of comradery and growing the sport together,” McRoy said.
Both Atascadero and Paso Robles High School are looking forward to the move, but still have concerns and are searching for community support to help expedite the process and thus help our young athletes succeed. If you would be interesting in helping out please contact your local school or boosters.
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