Alumni offer to endow SOU pool

A group of Southern Oregon University alumni said they have found a way to breathe new life into its pool.

Former members of SOU's swimming and water polo teams, led by Michael Ashe, offered to endow a university aquatics program last week if the school will reopen the pool.

Ashe said he has a network of 700 aquatics alumni willing to fund a resurrection of the competitive aquatics program that ended in 1984, the same year Ashe graduated.

"We're challenging the university to take on a leadership role," Ashe said. Because there are only four collegiate aquatics programs in Oregon, Ashe said SOU is in a prime position to develop a winning team.

He encouraged the university to see the pool as an asset rather than a liability, citing the 27,000 high school swimmers and water polo players in the Pacific Northwest. According to Ashe's calculations, SOU could attract 100 athletes, split evenly from Oregon and out of state. Those additional students would net more than $2 million for the university, he said.

But SOU administrators are not convinced creating programs is the best move during a budget crisis.

"There are several issues that need to be researched," said Jonathan Eldridge, vice president for student affairs. "Would there really be enough positive impact given the cost of an aquatics program?"

Eldridge said the university remained open to any ideas, but could not afford to operate the pool before the program got started, or even a comprehensive study about the costs and benefits of an aquatics program.

Ashe said the alumni would be willing to pay for such a study if it would persuade the university to create teams.

Also present when Ashe made his proposal was Lee Howard, the aquatics director at SOU from 1966 when the program began to 1984 when it ended. "It had been a pretty successful program both regionally and nationally," Howard said. "It helped draw a lot of students to the university."

SOU won 14 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics regional championships in swimming and 12 Pacific Northwest championships in water polo, according to Ashe.

But Howard said recreating such a program would require time, including a year just to find the staff.

"I think it's going to be a work in progress," he said. "That doesn't resolve the immediacy of the community needs for it, and that's rather unfortunate in itself."

Cyndi Mathews, the executive director of the Aquatics Foundation of Southern Oregon, said she thought the proposal sounded like a win-win situation for both the university and the community.

"It seems like a great opportunity for high school kids to be able to stay here in the valley and swim and or play water polo in college," she said.

The aquatics foundation and other organizations have so far raised $45,000 toward the $112,000 the university said was required to reopen the pool.

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