Following the April 19th tornado, Shawnee Public Schools got right to work assessing the damage done across the district and what it will take to get facilities back to normal. It was quickly known that some high school sports would need to be temporarily relocated. Football was moved to Oklahoma Baptist, softball was moved to the Ball Fields at FireLake, and volleyball was moved to Shawnee Middle School. But there is one sport that had to be moved that still hasn’t found a home, and it is arguably Shawnee’s most successful program in recent history, the swim teams.
The Shawnee girls are back-to-back 5A state champs, and the boys are back-to-back state qualifiers but, right now, they are without a home. The swim team typically practices and competes at the Shawnee YMCA but that building, including its pool area, also sustained major damage from the tornado. Right now, the team is at the city-run Shawnee Splash, which is an outdoor pool and that brings its own challenges.
“We are very blessed to be at Shawnee Splash,” Shawnee swim coach Valarie Colburn said. “But now we are dealing with the heat. Normally our swim is during 7 th hour, and we’d swim down there from 3:30 to 4:30 but we can’t do that in the heat. Thankfully, the lady that runs it suggested we come in the morning. So, when it is too hot in the afternoon, we swim from 7:00 to 8:00 in the morning.”
While the heat has clearly been a challenge for the Shawnee swimmers, Colburn thought the arrangement with Shawnee Splash would only be temporary and give the YMCA enough time to rebuild but the Shawnee YMCA pool is not set to be complete until August of 2024. Now, with school underway and the season bearing down, the Shawnee swim team is trying to figure out what’s next.
“Right now, we only have this pool until September 15 th ,” Colburn says. “If the weather is warm enough then we will talk about having it maybe a couple more weeks. After that, I don’t know.” Colburn says she and the Shawnee administration don’t know what their next move will be because there aren’t many options locally.
“There’s nothing definite,” she says. “We’ve been hoping and praying for one of the local possibilities here. But that hasn’t happened. They haven’t been receptive to our cries, I guess. There just aren’t many options around. Our athletic department has been working as hard as we are and so has the YMCA. We’ve all been searching.” Beyond defending those back-to-back titles, Colburn just wants her swimmers to be able to do what they love and compete.
“Finding a swimming pool is a challenge,” she says. “I feel for these kids. They’ve worked so hard. We’re trying, trust me. We’ve made a lot of phone calls.” Colburn is even willing to make her pleas for a pool public.
“Maybe somebody will take pity on us,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t want to sound desperate. I just really, really feel for these kids. I just want the best for them.” If you know of a pool the Shawnee swim team can use, please contact Valarie Colburn at 405- 659-7305 or at [email protected].