Southern Oregon University students finally have access to the school's pool after a six-month struggle during which their only chance to go for a dip was a few scuba diving classes.

Members of the new Aquatics Club can now swim to their hearts' content from — to 4:15 p.m. on Tuesdays and 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, provided they sign a waiver and their head lifeguard &

and sole key-holder &

comes to practice. For freshman Cori Barnes, who has been trying to form the club since October, those few hours are a dream come true.

"Oh my gosh, I was so excited," she said about the moment she was finally allowed into the pool. "I was like, I can't believe this is happening."

Barnes was the captain of her high school swim team and chose SOU, in part, because she read about an aquatics club on their Web site. She saw nothing about a financial crisis that forced the pool closure last July.

"It turns out that they haven't had any swim club for over three years, so I was pretty surprised," Barnes said.

Taking initiative

Determined to swim, she looked into forming her own club. She registered as a regular student club in October, when she was told she would also need to register as an athletic club. The club became official in January and then, "everything sort of came to a standstill," she said.

It took three more months and conversations with at least seven different people to get insurance waivers and volunteer lifeguards approved, a time slot scheduled and an actual key, Barnes said.

"It sounds easy enough to accomplish, but I fear that our paperwork is being overlooked on the desks of administrators and faculty," said head lifeguard Kiffani Iverson a few weeks before the club got permission to hit the water. "Even if we do get a group in the pool this year, the same all-too-cumbersome process will have to be repeated next year."

SOU Athletic Director Dennis Francois said the chances for the club's return next year depend on student interest and the fate of the pool itself.

The four outside groups that have used the pool this year, including local high school swim and water polo teams and Rogue Valley Masters, negotiated to last fall pay $100 an hour to cover operating costs &

and those contracts are scheduled to run out with the end of the university's fiscal year in June. The pool will stay open only if those groups can continue to pay, he said.

Paying groups take precedence over student clubs who use the pool free of charge &

one reason it took so long to get Barnes' aquatics club up and running.

"During the height of the season, (the pool) was being utilized from right after school all the way through 10 p.m. Monday through Friday," Francois said.

The requirement to provide lifeguards is the same for all user groups, whether paid or not, he said.

Working together

Although the outside groups limit the times the pool is available to students, those groups ultimately helped them gain access, with encouragement and a few e-mails connecting the key players.

"It was kind of inventing the wheel because there's been no swim club like that at the university, and there was no machine for them to click into to get their time in the pool," said Keith Swink, the president of Southern Oregon Water Polo, who encouraged Iverson in her attempt to get students into the pool. College students should have access, he said, because it serves as a bridge between high school athletics and adult fitness, and the more students showing interest, the more likely the school will continue operating the pool.

"We're always hoping that some of the student activity fees could help support the pool," he said, "and the university seems amenable to helping with the pool on so many different levels."

There are a diverse range of interests among the 18 students who have signed waivers so far &

from swimming for fitness to competing in water polo &

and the aquatics club is trying to cater to all of them. But whatever their reason for coming, they all love the water and are glad to have their pool back.

"Where I'm from, we don't have a pool anywhere close, so when we get to use one, it's a real treat, "said Sabra Comet, a first-year student from Humboldt County, Calif. "I just like being in the water."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .