Student Run News Site of Venice High School

The Oarsman

Student Run News Site of Venice High School

The Oarsman

Student Run News Site of Venice High School

The Oarsman

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‘We Are The Waterless Gondoliers’

Venice aquatics teams left without pool due to construction, requiring travel to Westwood
Roxane Gama
Back on the bus: Freshman Luca Devotto and seniors Jaime Lopez, Shai Hernandez, and Brian Santiago head to a swim meet at LACES Wednesday.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Venice Gondoliers’ aquatics program has made impressive waves this year, despite not having a functioning home pool.

The girls’ water polo team made Venice history this year by advancing to Division 1 CIF L.A. City Section finals and placing second overall. However, the Venice High School Swimming Pool has undergone renovations for over four years, and little information is known about the work being done to address issues with the facility.

Making It To The Finals (Without A Pool)

Aquatics coach Rigo Mora said that both the water polo and swim teams have been using the Westwood Pool for Venice’s home games and practices.

Mora said that the team was given the option of choosing between Westchester Pool or Westwood Pool, but chose
Westwood due to aquatics coach Josh Smith having a stronger connection with Westwood staff.

Despite the remoteness of the facility relative to Venice High, the team was still shown an abundance of support.

“Venice always finds its way of supporting our athletes,” Mora said. “Throughout campus I hear the staff shouting out that the team is looking great. However, the distance definitely plays a part when you’re basically away from the school every other day.”

This support may have contributed to the success of the girls’ water polo during the winter season, who narrowly lost to the Eagle Rock Eagles 13-11 in LA City Section finals February 15.

Mora, who despite having full faith in his team, was quite astounded by the team’s run to the final.

“Making it to the LA City Section finals in our first year as coaches at Venice, with no home pool, practicing once or twice a week, and with an underclassmen heavy team was surreal,” he said.

“This team was incredibly special. To have gotten there with all of the enormous challenges was nothing short of incredible,” he said.

Despite the success, there were major challenges that every student in the program had to face this year.

“The team sacrificed time with friends on campus, time with their families at home, and even time in the classroom, missing a big chunk of their fifth period just to attend practice,” Mora said. “Having to take a 30 minute bus ride to get to practice and take a 45 minute bus ride back from practice was genuinely taxing on the team.”

‘That Pool Has Been Through So Much’

Former aquatics coach Sophie Sabbah, who left Venice High in 2022, said that the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks owns the land and leases it to LAUSD to operate the pool.

Sabbah said this is not the first time the pool has been closed due to construction.

“That pool has been through so much,” she said, adding that repairs or issues with the pool were a recurring issue. Referring to the most current issue, Sabbah said that in December of 2019, a hole in the roof of the pool formed and halted the girls’ water polo season. The issue eventually expanded and the city began major construction.

Senior Lauren Nichols, a girls’ water polo captain, said that the team has had access to the pool for the past two years, though there were periods within the season where the pool would need temporary repairs.

However, due to an unknown reason, construction resumed at the start of the school year and is continuing without a clear end in sight.

Ongoing Construction

With the current construction facing many setbacks, it seems as though this problem will continue to persist.

In October 2023, principal Yavonka Hairston-Truitt received an email from Traci Goldberg, the Superintendent of Citywide Aquatics and Emergency Management, referring to delays in the pool.

According to her, construction came to a halt after it was found that additional work on the pool was needed, which required additional permits and the hiring of a structural engineer. At the time, Goldberg said construction on the pool would go into 2024, but it was unclear how far into the year.

“That didn’t sound very promising from the beginning,” said Hairston-Truitt about the inconclusive timeline.

Hairston-Truitt last reached out to Goldberg this month for an update on the progress, but was met with an indefinite response.

“I have not received any update as of late and I’ll get back to you as soon as I hear anything,” Goldberg’s statement read, according to Hairston-Truitt.

As of now, personnel from Venice High or the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks do not know what is being worked on within the pool.

“In an old facility, you find different things,” said assistant principal Richard Valerio. “Eventually, we can get an itemized list of what was done after construction finishes. But right now, we aren’t at that point.”

Hairston-Truitt said that there isn’t much Venice can do now that the city has taken over construction.

“We don’t have that same control,” she said. “They also haven’t invited me or anyone on my team to any walkthroughs or updates. It’s concerning.”

In an email asking about the repairs on the pool, Goldberg said that she “had not been in Aquatics long enough to answer all those questions.”

In addition, Goldberg said that the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks does not have contact with the construction company working on the pool.

“These capital improvement projects go through other divisions and depts,” the email read.

Dealing With The Pool’s Absence

Sabbah said that it was difficult trying to train without a pool when it was unavaliable to use at Venice.

“We always made it work,” she said. “I knew how important it was for these young kids to have something to go to. For some people, this was their escape from their crazy world.”

Bonnie Dinka, a girls’ water polo and swim parent, points out the irony of the situation.

“Here we are, the Venice Gondoliers, in a neighborhood that is world renowned for our beaches and swimmers,” she
said. “Our motto is ‘rowing not drifting,’ and we can’t even drift or row. We are the waterless Gondoliers.”

Hairston-Truitt said that the swimmers feel the absence of the pool.

“It’s not the same as having a pool on campus without having to worry about accessibility,” she said.

Chasing Success In The Face Of Adversity

Valerio said that right now construction is estimated to finish by June 2024, but this isn’t concrete.

He also said he admires the work the coaches have put in.

“We have really devoted coaches who care about the kids,” he said. “Those are the type of people who make programs thrive.”

Dinka adds that swimming is an all-inclusive activity with significant health benefits.

“Swimming is such a lifelong gift,” she said. “It’s one of the only exercises that’s really safe for everyone.”

Valerio said that he empathizes with the struggle to gain accurate information when so many parties are involved.

“I think it’s important to continue to get the right information out there,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have control over how fast something can get fixed.”

Even though the water polo seasons have come to a close, one thing remains the same: even without the water, the Gondoliers continue rowing, not drifting.

“Swim team has done excellently, giving me optimism about our season,” Mora said. Mora feels as though the Gondoliers will continue to achieve and inspire.

“While challenges still remain, the team’s commitment have truly shined through,” he said. “We didn’t let the fact we didn’t have a pool become an excuse that prevented us from achieving the ultimate goal of becoming better athletes.”

Hairston-Truitt has high hopes for the completed construction.

“I’m expecting a beautiful pool by the end of this,” she said.

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