Mundelein Mustangs jump back in home pool
Mundelein High School swimmers and water polo players begin a celebratory relay race Jan. 21 during the rededication of the Wayne R. Bottoni Natatorium. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 31, 2013 8:42AM
MUNDELEIN — Mundelein High School hosted its first swim meet in nearly a year Jan. 24.
The Mustangs swim meet schedule was created with all road contests this season due to the uncertainty of when the school’s $2 million pool renovation would be completed. With Mundelein’s new pool now open, Libertyville voluntarily offered to switch its home meet for the away date at Mundelein.
But before the first meet, members of the school’s swim and polo teams celebrated the project’s conclusion Jan. 21 by leaping into the pool for the first time since early 2012. More than 400 members of the community were on hand to celebrate as well.
“The redesign of the pool is a beautiful feature added to Mundelein High School,” said Jody Ware, District 120’s superintendent. “The student-athletes are proud to be able to host competitive swimming and water polo meets, once again.”
The $2 million pool project is part of a $10 million referendum that voters approved in 2011.
Mundelein’s pool was originally constructed in 1987 with six lanes for competitive swimming and a deep end for competitive diving.
Aquatics director Rahul Sethna, who coaches the Mustangs’ boys swim and water polo teams, explained that the pool’s swimming lanes previously were 3-feet, 6-inches deep. The National Federation of High School Sports decided in 2002, however, that swim races cannot start from diving blocks unless the pools are at least be 4-feet, 6-inches deep.
Until 2010, Sethna said the swimmers were diving off the edge of Mundelein’s pool when races started. At that time, the rules became even more strict. All diving, during swim races, was prohibited unless the lanes were 4-feet deep.
“For a whole year, every race started in the water and teams didn’t want to visit us anymore,” athletic director Perry Wilhelm said. “Nobody ever suffered an injury at MHS, but enough incidents happened throughout the country to change some minds.”
The new pool has 10 lanes, and the starting point is 7-feet deep.
“Our Board of Trustees and administrative team said, ‘We’re only going to do this once, so let’s do it right,’” Sethna said. “Even if the rules get changed again, we’re well beyond the required depth, and won’t be affected by any conceivable change.”
The deep end, where the polo teams play, now offers consistent, regulation depth as well. Wilhelm and Sethna said players previously struggled when they approached the boundaries, where the pool gradually became 3-feet, 6-inches deep.
“In water polo, you’re not allowed to touch the floor,” Wilhelm said. “It’s tough to not touch the floor at that depth. Now, the regulation area is between 7-feet and 12-feet deep.”
In addition to revamping the pool, the facility’s ventilation system was replaced.
According the Ware, referendum funds also will soon be used to replace or treat windows in the oldest portion of the school. That project, along with the installation of a new electrical system, will begin in the summer.
Avoiding student disruption was not an option for the aquatic project, however.
Even though all but one meet was scheduled away from home, Sethna said the teams are ecstatic to be finally practicing at MHS.
During construction, the swim teams would arrive at school at 5:30 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. From there, they would be bused to Vernon Hills High School, practice until 6:45 a.m., and then return to Mundelein.
After school, the student-athletes would be bused 25 minutes to the YMCA Camp Dunkin, near Fox Lake, where they’d practice from 4 to 6 p.m.
“We could not have had a season without Warren, Stevenson and, most importantly, Vernon Hills High schools,” Sethna said. “They were very generous in coordinating schedules to allow us to practice.”
The 2011-12 boys swim season ended before construction commenced.
Despite the hardship this season, the Mustangs are currently ranked seventh in state. The girls swim team finished 13th in state last year, despite the frantic schedule.
Water polo was the exception.
The girls team finished with a winning record last year, but the perennially-ranked boys team endured a 5-26 season in 2012, the team’s first losing season on record.
“The long days really took a toll on the guys,” Sethna said. “We had to practice more intense because we were short on pool time. In a team sport, you need time to gel and build chemistry. I’m predicting a big rebound this season.”
In addition to allowing the high school teams to return, several community-based feeder programs are now returning to the high school’s pool during non-peak hours.