Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
From left: Erie High athletic director Justin Carpenter, Erie swim coach and teacher Kelly Shipley, Frederick swimmer Avery Morris and Frederick athletic director Leroy Lopez in Erie on Thursday. The four played in a big part in getting a girls swimming team at Erie, which will feature athletes from Erie, Frederick and other St. Vrain schools that do not have its own program.

ERIE — An avid swimmer, Avery Morris was troubled by the idea that she wouldn’t have an opportunity to swim for her own Frederick Warriors once she reached high school.

Morris knew there must also be other swimmers that shared her sentiment in what had become a crowded St. Vrain School District, so she decided to do something about it.

In the interest of trying to get both boys and girls swim teams at her school, Morris and friend Vanessa Richards went around Frederick in 2016-17 asking people to sign a list if they would be interested in participating in swimming. Morris was unaware that while her list continued to grow, the process had already begun to add a program at Frederick’s rival school, Erie High.

Fast forward two years and Erie is all set to add girls swimming as a varsity sport starting in the 2018-19 school year and the team will be made up of swimmers from both Erie and Frederick. It took a lot of hard-working people to make it happen and the bulk of that work was done by the staff in Erie.

But Morris, who will soon get to swim for a program that is at least partly her school’s as a junior, and her list were big reasons the two rival schools eventually came together to make the fledgling program stronger.

“We got a huge list of people and we went to the athletic director and talked to him about it,” Morris said. “He said they had already been thinking about getting a swim team and that they would try since there was so much interest. We got a new athletic director last year and he said that our old athletic director had talked about it and that they were already in the process of getting a team because of all the interest.

“I’ve always loved swimming so I thought it would be great for our high school to have one because we could go to Niwot or Longmont, but they’re both pretty far. I thought it would be super fun to have a team at our own school. I think it’s going to be great and now we’ll get to know all the girls at Erie, too.”

Morris first approached then-Frederick athletic director Ernie Derrera, who is now an assistant commissioner with the Colorado High School Activities Association, in 2016. When Leroy Lopez took over as Frederick athletic director in 2017, he was well aware of the growing interest in swimming at his school and also knew that Erie, which is seven miles away on the other side of I-25, had already secured district approval to add a program.

With Erie already far along in its own process, Lopez and Erie athletic director Justin Carpenter decided it would be in the best interest of the program and all interested parties for the two rivals to join forces.

The new Class 3A program will officially be an Erie team and will swim as the Tigers. It will not technically be a true co-opted program, which would require that both schools’ enrollments be counted in terms of classification. But due to the proximity of the schools, Frederick swimmers will be required to compete for Erie barring any special circumstances. Swimmers at other St. Vrain schools that don’t offer swimming will also have the option to compete for Erie.

“Really, what kind of kicked this off was Justin Carpenter at Erie and Kelly Shipley, who is a teacher there and ran the big club over at Longmont for the past few years,” Lopez said. “We knew that there were some girls out there that wanted to swim so I floated the idea to him to see if we could help get the program started.”

With roughly 30 girls interested in swimming at each school, the Erie program easily had the requisite numbers it needed to field a team. Justin Carpenter, the athletic director at Erie, said district athletic director Rob Berry was on board from the beginning and once the program received approval everything started to fall into place.

After finding a place to practice, the next big domino to fall was finding someone to coach the Tigers. That turned out to be more convenient than expected, and quite frankly a triumph for a new team.

In her fourth year coaching at Longmont, Shipley led the Trojans to a 3A girls swimming state championship this past winter. Shipley decided this offseason to take the reigns as the inaugural head coach at Erie, where she already teaches science full-time. That gives the Tigers a head start under an in-building state champion head coach with experience growing a high school program.

“Ever since I’ve been at Erie, we’ve had a number of girls interested in swimming,” Carpenter said. “We already had six or seven girls swimming at a high level at Longmont. We also had several outreach nights at our school and I was approached by a number of parents about getting a team. There were a lot of girls coming up swimming club in the area and once they got to high school, they wanted the chance to swim for Erie.

“In terms of being able to start a program with such great numbers and such a great coach, I don’t know how we fell into all that, I really don’t. But it’s exciting. It’s going to be a great situation and I’m really excited for the girls.”

There are plenty of swimmers, not just at Erie and Frederick, that will likely benefit from the addition of a new program in the St. Vrain. Though the Tigers will dilute the area’s talent pool a bit, there was a clear need for a fifth team to alleviate the pressure on some programs dealing with high numbers and limited pool availability.

All four of the current St. Vrain teams share Centennial Pool and the YMCA in Longmont. This meant splitting up two schools per pool, per day, and running practices in shifts. Erie, however, will practice at Carbon Valley Recreation Center in Frederick, which gives the Tigers more opportunity for pool time and also limits the Tigers’ start-up costs because the recreation center already has everything in place to support a high school team.

“There were four high school teams in the St. Vrain that were bulging at the seams so there was a need for a fifth team,” Shipley said. “At Longmont, we had 70 girls on the team so it’s hard for the coaches to get a lot of one-on-one time with each swimmer, get them all on a bus, things like that. Swimming is such an awesome sport so we’re really excited for this program and getting more girls more opportunities.”

In general terms, the school is in compliance with Title IX because Erie was already planning to also add boys lacrosse in 2018-19 which should safely keep Erie within the required variance between girls and boys sports offered, as well as participation.

Lopez said Frederick hopes to have its own program within two years, but for the near future the area rivals from Erie and Frederick will compete alongside one another in girls swimming. To that end, Morris said she a group of girls from Erie and Frederick are working with Shipley to help design team gear that will reflect that.

“We’ve wanted to add girls swimming for a while and the way that it all worked out is pretty cool, and better than we could have expected,” Carpenter said. “I think this is going to be a great opportunity for a lot of girls and our area and a cool thing for our community.”

Brad Cochi: or