When politics enters kids’ sport, the waters tend to become muddied.
The latest casualty caught in the region’s recreational tailspin is the Greater Trail Stingrays Swim Club.
The decades-old institution has taught countless youth how to become strong swimmers, and the other traits that come with dedication to a sport – the value of teamwork, discipline and focus.
Above all, the swimming club embraces fair play with the philosophy that keeping fit is fun.
The problem today is that the club needs to be thrown a financial lifeline to stay afloat because with no recreational partnership in place with the City of Trail (other than Warfield), the user-pay system is too expensive for most families; and the club’s primary source of revenue, Stingray membership, was cut in half a few years ago.
Club fees are reasonable at $125 for 10 winter swimming sessions that include coaching instruction.
When that cost is combined with the non-negotiable $347 sports pass fee for 17 young swimmers from Rossland and two from the Beaver Valley, the price overhead becomes $47 per training session to use the Trail pool.
And forget about the kids using the hot tub or steam room, because that fee only covers the use of a lane to swim.
“That’s a bit heavy for a seven-year old,” says Billy Merry, the Stingray’s president and registrar. “The fees are one thing,” he continued. “But the black cloud surrounding this is most troubling. I feel we are the political football being passed from council to council.”
The learning curve to run the Stingrays has been a challenge for Merry and his executive after the parents stepped up on-the-fly a few years ago, when the previous board left to operate the TRAX (Trail Regional Aquatic Excellence) swim club.
“This was a brand new job and we missed two gaming grant opportunities over technicalities,” he explained. “We didn’t have a financial officer in place, and the biggest fundraiser, which is our membership, was down by half.”
Traditionally, the club covered the sports pass charge upfront, then stood before Rossland council to request reimbursement as a team.
“Rossland gave us what was left in their account,” said Merry. “But our cycle of registering is early October, and the submission for TRP recovery is Sept. 30,” he explained. “We got the crumbs. But I am learning and next time I will be the first in queue.”
The club still has about $8,000 outstanding and no money to cover it, added Merry.
With no other source of revenue at this time, at the suggestion of Rossland council, he is planning to approach Trail officials Monday to request a grant from the city.
“This is not my mandate,” he said. “I shouldn’t be having to sell kids recreation to the communities, but things are critical right now.”
Merry recalled his days on the Trail Stingrays back in the 70s, when municipalities were united as a common area with common interests.
“We’ve stopped that now,” he said. “Instead of councils coming to work with us, we are challenged to go to each one and defend why we are here and what we are doing.”
The impotency of our political system is being downloaded to the kids, he maintains. “Maybe on our watch this club will come to an end. That’s a hard thing to say.”
Another option to keep young swimmers in the pool, just not in Trail, is to fold the Stingrays and amalgamate with Castlegar so the kids wouldn’t have to pay TRP fees.
But Merry doesn’t consider that a favourable move for his team.
“We are treated very well by the staff at the Trail pool,” he said. “They honour our previous years booking and hold those lane times for us. The Trail Aquatic Centre is our home pool and ironically, we are proud of that.”