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Missoula high school swimming in doubt as University of Montana faces lifeguard shortage

Missoula high school swimming in doubt as University of Montana faces lifeguard shortage

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MISSOULA — The University of Montana has a lifeguard shortage for Grizzly Pool and it is impacting Missoula high school swimmers.

There is a real chance there will not be a swim season for Missoula teams — Missoula Hellgate, Missoula Sentinel, Missoula Big Sky — simply because there are not enough lifeguards for the pool. The three schools, as well as Missoula Loyola, compete separately, though all share a head coach.

Brady Baughman has taken over the program as head coach this year.

The pool is mostly staffed by UM students and with the coronavirus pandemic forcing much of school off campus, on-campus jobs have taken a hit. They are, however, looking for anyone that is a certified lifeguard.

"There is a lifeguard shortage," Steve Thompson, UM's director of campus recreation, said in an email Tuesday. "The pandemic has not only discouraged students from applying for jobs at the pool, but the subsequent changes to the university’s academic schedule has had more student lifeguards leave over break. The bottom line is, we need lifeguards, so if there are certified guards out there who are looking for work, please have them contact the Grizzly Pool."

On UM's website, it lists Red Cross certification classes, though the online registration does not list lifeguarding, First Aid, and CPR/AED as being available. Potential lifeguards can email an application (Found here) to Tonya Kiser at tonya.kiser@mso.umt.edu.

Thanksgiving and holiday vacations also produced a hit on the availability of lifeguards. According to the daily Grizzly Pool schedule on UM's website, only one hour-long session from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. is available from Dec. 28 to Jan. 1.

Starting Jan. 4, two hour-long swim sessions for lap swim are scheduled, but that will be the extent of its availability. With so few lifeguards, it makes having long high school practices before or after school an impossibility.

It stands to reason there also might not be enough lifeguards for any meet hosted in Missoula.

"The biggest problem, right now, is just that there's no staff to run the pool," Hellgate Athletic Director Nick Laatsch said. "From my understanding they need to hire five to seven certified lifeguards in order to staff the pool for high school swimming practices and that's why we need to get the word out, to call on certified lifeguards to work at the pool."

Swimming has long been an important sport in Missoula, especially at Hellgate. The Knights won six consecutive Class AA state titles on both the boys and girls side between 2013-19, with the streak broken by Bozeman last February.

If more lifeguards are not hired, it could be a blow to high school swimming in Missoula, with the possibility of canceling the season.

The start date for high school swimming in Missoula is Jan. 2 and the state championships are scheduled for March 5-6, 2021. No site has been selected for the Class AA swim meet.

Laatsch did say he is encouraged that with students returning over the next couple weeks it could include an influx of lifeguards.

Missoula County Public Schools superintendent Rob Watson told the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com on Tuesday evening he had spoken with Sarah Swager, Vice Provost for Student Affairs at UM and said he was told the university had made progress on hiring more staff. Watson also said he did not have a timeframe for when swimming would be restarted.

In any case, the season likely will start later in Missoula than other parts of the state.

"We want our kids to participate in any way possible," Laatsch said. "We've definitely had success at Hellgate over the last 10 years but, really, this is a program that's all inclusive. It's one of the only no-cut sports we offer at the high school level at all three schools.

"To not have an opportunity for the students to participate would be disappointing and we want to get that started up as soon as possible." 

Jordan Hansen covers a bunch of stuff for the Missoulian and 406 Sports. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com

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