A cooperative swimming team may give La Junta High School students a chance to compete for a local team this winter.

A cooperative swimming team may give La Junta High School students a chance to compete for a local team this winter.

La Junta Superintendent Rick Lovato was given permission by school board Monday to move forward with pursuing a swimming co-op comprised of area schools.

Lovato said he has received verbal confirmation from Lamar School District and Rocky Ford School District about forming a co-op program. Other area schools - including Swink, Cheraw, Las Animas and Holly - have been approached about participating.

The school districts participating in the co-op would evenly share the fixed costs of the program which right now run between $13,000 and $15,000 annually. La Junta would still assume the majority of the pool maintenance costs. Once approved by the Colorado High School Activities Association, a co-op would operate on a two-year cycle before having to be renewed. However, if, for some reason, the co-op wasn't effective after one year, it could be disbanded. Once a school commits to participating in a co-op, they are responsible for their annual share whether or not they have a student-athlete participating in the program.

During the July meeting, La Junta School Board decided to drop the high school competitive swimming program for the 2016-2017 school year citing lack of participation by La Junta athletes. The program has drawn swimmers from other Lower Arkansas Valley area schools.

Discussion about the future of the high school competitive swim program started last year. Because La Junta is the only school in the area with a swimming pool, it offered a high school swim program which saw students from neighboring districts participating. This last season, students from Swink, Cheraw, Las Animas, Rocky Ford and Lamar participated on the Tiger swim team.

La Junta assumed the cost of facility maintenance, coaches and transportation. As the number of La Junta participants started to dwindle, the district approached other school districts about forming a co-op to help cover the costs of coaches and postseason events. La Junta would continue to provide money for pool maintenance and transportation.

However, the co-op couldn't be agreed upon by all of the participating schools last year and La Junta kept its swim team for the 2015-2016 school year, assuming majority of the costs. But, as the district looked at the budget, as well as the dwindling number of La Junta swimmers, the board voted to eliminate the program for the upcoming school year.

The decision to cut the program was met with resistance from the local swimming community who said they were not notified this would happen and also felt it would take away opportunities for local girls. Many were again in attendance Monday night.

Ray Torrez thanked Lovato and athletic director Dan Nuschy for talking with concerned parents and community members the past month and trying to figure out a solution.

"I certainly understand their concern that there have been many free-riders," Torrez said, "but I ask the board to consider supporting discussing a co-op. I think we can all agree that it's a benefit to the girls of southeastern Colorado. Take into consideration the goals, aspirations and dreams of the young women of southeastern Colorado."

Parent Megan Yoder also thanked Lovato and Nuschy for being open to communication. She said there are about 16 girls committed to swimming and parents and community members have joined forces to help with costs associated with the program. Some of the ideas include forming a La Junta Tiger Swimming Booster Club, undertaking valley-wide advertising, fundraising and providing concessions at meets.