Synchronized swimming team successfully petitions the district to overturn lighting directive
By Mattie Zautner, Current Staff
Over 60 dolphins swam into the last school board meeting.
Members of the Dolphins, the West Bend High Schools’ synchronized swim team, crashed the April 9 school board meeting to persuade district officials to allow the natatorium lights to be turned off during their show scheduled to open just three days later. Traditionally the show depends upon a darkened room for effect, but this school year the team had been notified that the lights could not be turned off for safety reasons.
The Dolphins were concerned because the planned show included a blacklight performance with effects only noticeable with the lights completely turned off. Because of the overwhelming support from the team and the efforts of the event coordinators, the performance went on with the lights off.
However, there is still some ambiguity about when the problem with the lights emerged and what will happen in future years.
Dolphins president Olympia Wundrock and vice president Amy Geenen were the dolphins who spoke at the meeting.
“I was feeling the stress at the beginning,” said Wundrock, a West senior. “Turning off the lights adds so much to the show so I definitely felt that I had to at least give it a shot and try changing the verdict. When the team surprised us at the meeting I felt so overwhelmingly loved and supported. My team is so close and it meant a lot knowing we all stuck together.”
The reason that the dolphins were told they needed to keep the egress lights on was for safety precautions in case of an emergency and many government rules and regulations that need to be followed by commercial buildings. Director of facilities Dave Ross worked with the Dolphins to find a solution for this year’s show.
“What complicates things is we are trying to take a venue that is designed for swimming and diving competitions and trying to turn it into a theater, and the two don’t necessarily go together very well,” Ross said. “What happens when you make that room completely dark is you end up shutting off the emergency circuit. There are six lights around (the pool) that are on the emergency circuit and these lights are hooked into a generator so when the power goes out and all the lights turn off, those lights will stay on. If they are manually turned off and there’s a thunderstorm and the power goes out, those lights aren’t going to come back on and it’s going to stay pitch dark in there.”
To solve the problem, Ross added some battery backup fixtures to outlets located above the bleachers. Those lights, at least, would come on if the power went out.
“I definitely felt that I had to at least give it a shot and try changing the verdict.”
– Olympia Wundrock, Dolphins president
There is still some confusion about when the Dolphins were first informed about having to keep the egress lights on for the show. Some team members say they didn’t know about it until a few days prior to the show, but Laura Jackson, the assistant superintendent, says the team received a letter last April.
“The official statement said in future years the egress lighting will remain on,” Jackson said. “My understanding is that there were notifications last year and that the athletic directors had met with the group multiple times this year and told them the same thing.”
That message was reinforced at an April 6 meeting between the team and district officials, including Ross and Jackson.
“I said, you knew this last year, we’re not changing,” Jackson said. “The egress lights cannot be turned off. At that meeting our director of facilities stated he would go to the city and talk with them and see if something else could be put into place, at least temporarily.”
Ross says the lighting has been an ongoing concern for the last five or six years, but he’s now focused on the future.
“My thoughts now are we got through this year’s show, now we have to concentrate and figure out how next year’s is going to be better and with no issues,” Ross said.
Dolphins adviser Melissa Hoogester did not respond to requests for comment.
District officials were impressed with the students in Dolphins and how they came together to work toward a common goal.
“I am very proud of the way students came together to voice their concerns,” said Nancy Justman, the school board vice president. “I welcome student participation at all times. I would like to commend the students for the way in which they handled themselves. When 70 students come together in a respectful and responsible manner, it certainly shows their commitment and diligence.”
Jackson also was glad to see the students voicing their concerns.
“They did a great job in presenting their views and I am proud of them,” she said. “That excites me for our future when our kids are able to weave through a situation.”
This year was the 55th anniversary of the Dolphins show, and the team was a lot larger than it has been in the recent past. With new members joining across all grade levels, the team consisted of 49 dolphin girls, 11 dolphin boys, 4 MCs and many lighting and crew members.
“I feel like this event brought our team closer together because it was something we were all very passionate about and afterwards everyone was so pumped up to be at practice and we just thought no matter how it turns out we did our best and we have grown closer as a team,” said Geenan, a West senior. “It’s cool to have so many people you can go to who support you.”
(Additional reporting by Jessica Steger, Editor in Chief. Video courtesy of the Washington County Insider. Photos courtesy of Amy Geenan.)