Kansas State University has announced that it will keep its Natatorium closed throughout the fall 2020 semester. Furthermore, KSU will begin plans to close the facility permanently within the next three years.
Though K-State has not had a varsity swim team since 1976 when the “Wildkittens” had to fund their own program, the Natatorium has served as the center for all aquatics-related activities in Riley County, Geary County, Potowatamie County, Marshall County, and Clay County for decades.
The KSU Natatorium is home to the Manhattan Marlins, a year-round USAS club, as well as the Manhattan High School swim team. The Marlins began alternating practices between the KSU Natatorium and Fort Riley’s Eyster Pool several years ago, though Eyster Pool is currently open only four hours a day, Monday through Friday, for lap swimming.
As KSU’s pool remains closed throughout the Fall Semester, the Manhattan Marlins, who have been without consistent water time since March, have been forced to find lane space in other surrounding communities beyond For Riley.
“Due to the ventilation issues identified at the Natatorium, the university has decided to keep the facility closed this fall,” said Jeff Morris, KSU’s Vice President for Communications and Marketing. “A decision on its use during the spring semester will be announced later.”
The cost of maintaining the Natatorium and the estimated cost of repairs is very high for a university that does not have a varsity swim team or even robust intramural aquatics programs.
“A 2018 engineering study identified $4 million in needed repairs,” Morris said. “While the fees assessed to the various users of the facility are enough to cover the direct costs for its use, the university also must spend an additional $150,000-$200,000 a year on utilities, supplies and maintenance and repairs. It’s just no longer fiscally viable or safe for the university to continue its use.”
The K-State Natatorium has for many years been an invaluable resource for summer league swimmers from nearby communities looking to get a taste of year-round training and competition. Athletes from much smaller nearby towns including Clay Center, Riley, Wamego, Council Grove, Marysville, and Westmoreland have made the daily commute to Manhattan in order to swim with the Marlins for decades since those communities lack indoor pools. The KSU Natatorium is located in the heart of KSU’s campus and only about a mile from Manhattan High School. The Eyster Pool in Fort Riley is a full 26 minutes away from the KSU Natatorium, though much closer to Junction City and Council Grove, but much further from Clay Center, Riley, Wamego, Marysville, and Westmoreland.
The Manhattan Marlins have produced many NCAA and National-caliber swimmers over the years. Amy Oberhelman is the Marlins’ most famous alumnus. She achieved NCAA All-American status as a member of the Stanford women’s varsity swim team and was the 1995 PAC-12 champion in the 1650 freestyle (16:20.93) and a member of the 1996 PAC-12 champion 800 freestyle relay (7:17.19). Oberhelman and her Stanford teammates also won the 1996 NCAA Championships title in the 800 freestyle relay in a time of 7:11.28. As a swimmer for Manhattan High School under the guidance of Coach Jerry Carpenter, Oberhelman was an 8-time Kansas high school swimming state champion, winning titles in the 50 free, 100 free, 200 free, 100 fly, and 200 IM. The only other women to win 8 individual titles in Kansas high school swimming are sisters Caroline Bruce and Jamie Bruce of Wichita Trinity Academy, both of whom also went on to swim at Stanford, though years after Oberhelman had graduated.
Other NCAA All-Americans from the Marlins include Abbey Musch and Anna Grinter who went on to swim at Division II powerhouses Drury University and Truman State University, respectively. Musch won the NCAA Division II title in the 400 IM (4:25.83), helping Drury to a team title, breaking Truman’s six-year win streak.
Other Marlins alumni include KSHSAA state champions Jeremiah Ungerer (100 freestyle, 2009) and Preston Harrison (100 fly, 2018), who currently swims at Miami University (Ohio), as well as numerous other state finalists, Speedo Junior Championships, and Speedo Sectionals qualifiers.