Boys’ state swim meet leaving town

University of Iowa awarded high school championship after 13 years at Marshalltown YMCA

The NCAA deemed the University of Iowa’s new Campus Recreation and Wellness Center Natatorium worthy of hosting the 2015 Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships, and the Iowa High School Athletic Association is swimming with the current.

The IHSAA announced on Tuesday its decision to accept a proposal to hold the Iowa High School Boys State Swimming Championships in Iowa City for the next three years, turning down Marshalltown’s bid to retain the rights after 13 years as the meet host.

The decision hit local representatives like a tidal wave.

“Losing the bid for the Iowa High School Boys State Swim Meet was a disappointment for the entire community as well as the Marshalltown YMCA,” said Marshalltown Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Val Ruff. “However we know this is no reflection on our hospitality as provided by our incredible volunteers, fine facilities and accommodating businesses (lodging, dining and retail). It will be challenging to match our warm and welcoming atmosphere here in Marshalltown.”

Carol Hibbs, the Marshalltown YMCA-YWCA’s Chief Executive Officer since 2007, had a week to prepare for the official announcement after hearing from the IHSAA in advance of Tuesday’s press release.

“I received a nice courtesy call from (IHSAA Executive Director) Alan Beste last week informing us that they were extending a contract to the University of Iowa in conjunction with Iowa City West and Linn-Mar to host the boys state swim meet,” Hibbs said. “Alan was very complimentary of Marshalltown and all the hospitality and expertise with which we run a state meet.

“It really came down to Iowa City had promised to do that going forward for the next three years along with the opportunity for coaches and swimmers to compete in a venue that has hosted NCAA events. It really came down to the fact they felt they had to provide that opportunity at the high school level.”

Marshalltown’s own three-year contract with the IHSAA expired this past winter with the Feb. 2 state meet. That agreement came in conjunction with Iowa City’s initial attempt to return the boys state swim meet to the University of Iowa since the school’s Field House Pool had served as host from 1986-2004.

After 20 months of construction, the Marshalltown Y opened the doors on its new Horne-Henry Center in January of 2004, and its competition pool was eventually awarded the opportunity to host the boys state swimming championships in the winter of 2005.

Twelve years and 13 state meets later, the event is moving on to the next big venue.

“It’s a disappointment for our school, our community and the economic impact that the state meet had on Marshalltown,” said Marshalltown High School boys’ swimming coach Mike Loupee. “The University of Iowa’s natatorium has hosted the NCAA Division I nationals and will again in 2021. It’s a facility the NCAA deems worth of their biggest event, so it’s hard for the state to say it’s not good enough for the high school state meet.

“There are some logistical issues the state association will have to address. No place is perfect.”

Not even the Wellmark YMCA pool in downtown Des Moines will hit the water without a splash. Oft-stalled construction has resumed, but there will not be a diving pool, creating a conflict if Des Moines has its eyes on trying to outbid the competition for the Iowa High School Girls State Swimming and Diving Championships. Either way, the Marshalltown Y — which holds the contract with the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union through the Nov. 3-4 state diving and swimming meets — will make its proposal to keep the girls’ event where it’s been for 13 years and to reacquire the boys’ competition when that contract expires in three years.

“Marshalltown has a lot of strengths, especially when it comes to the community support and volunteer support,” said Hibbs. “We feel that will be hard to match anywhere else, just as there are areas that are hard for us to compete in. The venue is a 50-meter pool on the University of Iowa campus. We competed against them last time, but they reached out and have Iowa City West and Linn-Mar co-hosting and I think that makes a difference.”

Former Marshalltown High School athletic director Craig Huegel is now preparing for his second school year in the same post at Iowa City West, where he was able to offer Linn-Mar a number of valuable pointers in preparing its proposal to host the boys’ state swim meet.

Huegel saw first-hand what it takes to host a state swimming competition — he was in Marshalltown for six of them — and Linn-Mar’s representatives reached out to him as a fellow member of the Mississippi Valley Conference and a potential co-host of a meet that would be a few blocks down the street from Iowa City West’s campus.

“It’s hard because it’s bittersweet,” said Huegel. “I was sad for Marshalltown but at the same time I’m obligated to do my job here. I certainly felt conflicted as I started the process, but I felt an obligation to help Linn-Mar put together the best bid they could.

“I did not go looking to bring the state meet to Iowa City. I was approached by a conference school and if I can help them, great.”

Huegel said a number of swim coaches from the eastern third of the state saw the University of Iowa’s competition pool as a no-brainer to host the boys’ state swim meet, and the IHSAA ultimately agreed with the region’s most recent proposal.

“The Marshalltown YMCA-YWCA and Marshalltown Community Schools were exceptional hosts and the Y provided a great venue for our state swimming championships,” Beste said in a statement. “The move to the University of Iowa’s Campus Recreation and Wellness Center provides an opportunity for our championships to be held at a site where the NCAA Men’s Championships have been held and will be held again in the future.”

The scenario gave Loupee flashbacks to the summer of 2005, when Sec Taylor Stadium (now Principal Park) in Des Moines began hosting the state baseball tournament after Marshalltown had entertained at least half of the event from 1975-2004.

“It’s nice to have those kind of things that put Marshalltown on the map, and in the almost 30 years I’ve been a coach here in Marshalltown, I remember the golden days of cooking brats and turkey tenders and being a part of the grounds crew for state baseball,” he said. “There’s a lot of community pride that comes with pulling off a state baseball tournament and there was the same feeling with state swimming.

“That’s the thing that hurts the most having been here a long time, I think it’s a loss for our community and a loss of the opportunity for us to have that sense of community pride.”