Franklin interim Associate Principal Sara Unertl remembers what it was like to head up a homeless girls swim team, one without a pool of its own to practice or contest meets in when she coached the still viable, but still homeless Germantown squad some years ago.
So when the Oak Creek girls swim team was temporarily evicted from its pool for the first month-and-a-half of the season so extensive repairs could be made, Unertl was happy to aid her friendly rivals by making the Franklin pool available to the Knights.
"Absolutely," she said. "I knew what it was like, having been through it myself, so to help somebody else out was easy to do."
Unertl said it was not as big a hassle as it could have been because the Franklin Recreation Department swim lessons didn't start until about the time the Knights got their home pool back on line at the end of September.
The curious thing about this whole venture is that Oak Creek may have to return the favor.
That's because approval has just been granted for about $350,000 in pool improvements at Franklin, to be started at the end of the boys' season in March.
"Lighting, deck, painting and converting the pool from meters to yards, it was passed unanimously (by the School Board)," Unertl said.
Unertl was a former state championship swimmer herself at Homestead, so she could barely contain the glee in her voice at the prospect of all those improvements.
"We're hoping that that work will be done by early spring," she said.
But if it's not?
"(Oak Creek Athletic Director) Greg (Lampe) texted me that in case we run over our time line we will have a pool to practice in,'" Unertl said.
Project grew in scope
The Oak Creek issue arose in mid-summer after the district agreed to spend $200,000 on pool upgrades that would allow the team to use regulation diving blocks. In the process of doing that work the contractor noticed that the pool pipes were clogged, with some nearing full blockage.
"It was like opening up an old house," Lampe said. "We just found more and more stuff."
Approval was granted Aug. 12 to spend an additional $157,000 to replace the pipes. Lampe said it was a lot of money to absorb, but it had to be done.
"It was a long time coming," he said. "There was only so much lipstick that you could put on that pig. That pool was built in the 1960s, with only limited upgrades since."
The only problem was that practice for the fall girls' season was set to begin Aug. 13. Initially both Franklin and South Milwaukee agreed to step in and help Oak Creek. Franklin was the eventual choice.
It took some adapting.
"The girls are doing great on getting to practice even if they are in additional after-school activities," wrote coach Katie Andreska in an email early in the process.
The disconcerting thing for the kids was that all the home meets were rescheduled for the road.
"I was mad," Knights swimmer Amanda Marciniak said. "It was my senior year, when things were supposed to be perfect, but then eventually it got to be fun because we all traveled together (to Franklin)."
Like all ventures similar to this, there were hiccups along the way.
"One day a girl got sick on the bus," Marciniak said, "and then another day someone else sprained their ankle (getting to practice) and then there was the time the fire alarm went off (during practice).
"...I tell you, it did help us become more adaptable and flexible."
Home, sweet home
So when that first day back at the shiny, revamped Oak Creek pool occurred around Sept. 30, senior Gabi Salamone made sure she had her camera.
"The new blocks, the new lane lines," she recalled. "It was like, 'Oh my gosh, look at this and look at that.'"
"We could do real starts (off of blocks)," said a giggling Marciniak.
The improvements included a deeper pool (to allow for the use of the full-sized blocks) and a full six-lane scoreboard.
There also was one precious rescheduled home meet against Racine Case on Oct. 22, the final dual of the season. It served as parents' night.
"Everyone was like 'Yeah, we're at home!'" Marciniak said.
Andreska was pleased with her team's response through all the trial and error.
"I believe we did a great job adjusting to the change of schedule at the beginning of the year," she said. "I know it was hard on the girls, trying to balance the schedule with other activities, but they were able to work it out.
"I know it was also hard on the parents at first, trying to find rides for their daughters and working with the schedule, but they made it work. I want to thank them for that."
Lampe was pleased to see the process of inter-district cooperation work so well.
"Everyone was very accommodating," he said. "We look to help each other out. The girls had to endure a real hardship, but they, the coaches and parents did a great job of adapting."
In the process, Salamone felt that everyone on the team gained a little perspective.
"I think we learned that you don't take anything for granted, especially this (the pool)," she noted. "It's a luxury that we have it. We understood what was missing (in the time we practiced at Franklin), and now it's an honor to be able to swim at our own pool."
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