Swim teams suffer from ventilation issues at practice pool

Athletic director Jerald VanRheen said problem has been resolved


By Hunter Ristau

Pointing down towards the pool, head coach Kelly Downward talks to swimmers during practice on Thursday, March 8.

Nora Lucas and Lexi Flipse

Both the boys and girls swim teams have consistently had problems with ventilation at their practice location, Indian Trails Middle School. These problems cause athletes to have trouble breathing, making practice more difficult and decreasing performance. After contact between coaches, athletic director Jerald VanRheen and staff at Indian Trails, the situation itself is unclear and the cause of the issues is still unknown at this time.

In response to questions regarding the lack of ventilation, assistant director of operations for the Olathe school district Denise Purvis directed all contact of the issue to VanRheen.

Purvis relayed information from the outside pool company hired by Olathe, addressing one mechanical problem from the end of last month. Both VanRheen and the staff at Indian Trails were unaware of other complaints from earlier in the year.

Assistant boys swim coach Elca Wagner noticed these issues within the facility around early January, and while the cause is undetermined, she attributes the problem to both physical and environmental reasons.

“The ventilation … is poor,” Wagner said. “Between the kids exercising, the amount of chlorine and the lack of ventilation in the pool area, it’s got to do a lot with those three problems.”

Complications within the pool have resulted in physical difficulty among the athletes, according to sophomore swimmer Avery Lawson.

“When you breathe in on every stroke, it hurts your lungs and causes you to cough,” Lawson said. “You get in these coughing fits [where] you just can’t stop.”

The coaches took various measures to alleviate symptoms during the boys season, including contacting Indian Trails assistant principal Doug Hay in an effort to reach a solution. Since the district practices together, in January, DHS boys swim coach Alissa Ruffin emailed Hay, who passed the concerns along to the district’s building and grounds director.

By Hunter Ristau
At Indian Trails Middle School on Thursday, March 8, members of the girls swim team practice 50 meter freestyle.

“I notified them of the coughing that the athletes were experiencing and asked them if they knew of the cause,” Ruffin said via email. “They told me they would notify the pool company and look into it. I never heard from anyone beyond that email response.”

After VanRheen became aware of the issue at the end of March, he contacted the pool company and the issue was investigated.

“I asked some questions of our coaches and they were like ‘well yeah, there are some kids thinking something’s going on,’” VanRheen said. “That’s when I reached out to Olathe.”

The pool company said issues with ventilation and chemicals were due to the recent repair of the chlorinator. The repair took place on Wednesday, March 28, months after the complaint had already been made by Ruffin, so underlying causes are still unknown.

During the boys season, Wagner and the team relied on temporary fixes to help alleviate the breathing troubles.

“As much as we could prop doors, we did,” Wagner said. “Every now and then, if someone was having a major coughing fit, we’d tell them to go up and get some air.”

Toward the end of the boys season, Ruffin felt that the complications with the facility did seem to subside a little.

“I would say the issue did improve,” Ruffin said. “There are a variety of theories behind the poor air quality, so I can’t speak to why it improved, but it did seem to be less of an issue the last month of practice.”

However, according to sophomore swimmer Hannah Davie, the same problems with breathing have been occurring throughout the entirety of the girls season, which began in February.

“The harder the workout, the more I would cough,” Davie said. “It definitely makes it harder to keep doing the workouts.”

Still, VanRheen said they will keep in contact with the staff at Indian Trails.

“At this particular time, it sounds like there was some work done … so it sounds like that issue has been resolved,” VanRheen said. “And at this point, if there’s anything else that pops up, we’ll just have to talk to them about it.

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