Sage YMCA Piranhas Accuse Local Y of Trying To “Eliminate” The Club

The Sage YMCA Piranhas, a club team based out of Crystal Lake, Illinois, has accused its host YMCA of trying to “eliminate” the club over several years.

The YMCA accused of trying to push out the club is the Sage YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

The club sent out an open letter addressed to the “Crystal Lake Community and YMCA members” that lays out how the YMCA has impeded the club in various ways, ultimately leading to coach Ed Richardson‘s resignation on August 2.

What brought things to a head was the Sage YMCA developing a return to swim plan for the club amid the COVID-19 pandemic without consulting the coaches and ignoring emails from parents.

“These arrangements were developed without any input from the parent advisory council or coaching staff and the reaction from the members was bitter disappointment,” the open letter reads. “This state championship and nationally ranked team knew the reality that returning to practice would not be the same as it was pre-pandemic, but they did not expect a plan as the one presented.”

The plan, per a source, was to have the team reduced in size by 100 (from 220 to 120) and have two 30-person training groups offered practices twice a week for an hour each day beginning August 25. There was reportedly no word on why the team couldn’t be offered more training time or who the new coach was.

“The leadership at the Sage YMCA of Metro Chicago attributes the outcry from its swim community as overzealous and unsafe. But the real story pre-dates the global pandemic that the YMCA is using as a smokescreen.

“The truth is the decisions and actions of the YMCA of Metro Chicago have been nothing short of their quest to eliminate a ‘swim team that has been a problem for years’ according to one local director at the facility,” the letter says. “Let us reiterate that last fact. The actions taken by the leadership at the Sage YMCA to malign an important program in the lives of many young members began long before COVID-19 came to light. This program, built by generous community donors, talented coaching staff, dedicated volunteers and most importantly the children who benefitted from it, have been targeted by YMCA leadership.”

The letter then dives into how YMCA leadership has hindered its ability to host meets, has raised fees, and claimed the club is too much of a strain on its operating budget despite it being ‘self-sustaining and profitable’.

“They refuse to let the team take their turn at hosting the Northwest District Championship meet under the guise that it’s too disruptive to members when, in fact, the true reason is that they wished for a fee higher than is customarily paid to the host facility. The Northwest District meet is rotated through several area YMCAs and is a huge fundraising arm for swim teams. To deny this team the ability to receive funds over the reported ‘disruption to the other members’ while stating the team does not bring in enough revenue is contradictory. The team is asked to host this district-wide meet one weekend every three years in a rotation with other Illinois YMCAs for which not only the team, but the Sage YMCA facility is financially compensated.”

The club has more than doubled in size since 2013, up from 100 to 220, and there’s been a waiting list to get on the team since 2016, meaning they’d likely be approaching 300 swimmers if there was more pool time.

The team has also reportedly operated with a surplus of revenue every year, with last season around $8K.

When hosting the 2018 YMCA Northwest District Swimming Championships, it grossed $9.1K, with $3K going to the Sage YMCA. The approximate revenue stream the club has provided the YMCA as of 2020 is around $32K. After being asked to host the 2021 edition of the meet, the Sage Y management reportedly denied the opportunity.

“What has happened to this team over these past years has been nothing short of a travesty. Instead of using this program as a shining example for other area Metro Chicago centers it has been systematically silenced and extinguished.

“The spirit of this swim community has been crushed. It was never about swimmers needing more time in the pool or the restrictions to minimize the inconvenience to the other members. It is about the total disregard for what these members have contributed to the YMCA mission and the absolute unprofessional and unacceptable way the Sage YMCA leadership have maligned the mission of this team.”

In addition to the resignation of coach Richardson, several members have also left the club and are looking to train elsewhere, the letter says.

“While the Sage YMCA will continue with its Piranhas swim team program many of us have chosen to resign our membership. While we pick up the pieces and go our separate ways the sorrow is deep and the loss palpable. With the lack of area pools there is no place for us to go together as a team and even individually we will struggle to find places due to the capacity limits COVID-19 brings. The monopoly the Sage YMCA holds over the local community and the lack of a public aquatics facility is the sad reality.

“To belong to a non-profit entity that claims its ‘mission is to build strong kids, strong families and strong communities by enriching the lives of all people in spirit, mind and body” but sees its “swim team as a huge problem” is intolerable. But in the end, perhaps the YMCA achieved its stated mission–we ARE a team of strong kids, strong families and a strong swimming community, and we will go where we can live that mission fully.”

You can read the full open letter below:

An open letter to the Sage YMCA of Metro Chicago and the Community:

Dear Crystal Lake community and YMCA members,

The current global pandemic has affected our communities in ways that we are only beginning to understand. The disruption to education, activities, family life and our ability to come together as a community is something we have all been challenged with in one way or another.

Recently, the Sage YMCA of Metro Chicago announced a new, temporary swim team format to return the Sage YMCA Piranhas to the pool. These arrangements were developed without any input from the parent advisory council or coaching staff and the reaction from the members was bitter disappointment. This state championship and nationally ranked team knew the reality that returning to practice would not be the same as it was pre-pandemic, but they did not expect a plan as the one presented. The leadership at the Sage YMCA of Metro Chicago attributes the outcry from its swim community as overzealous and unsafe. But the real story pre-dates the global pandemic that the YMCA is using as a smokescreen.

The truth is the decisions and actions of the YMCA of Metro Chicago have been nothing short of their quest to eliminate a “swim team that has been a problem for years” according to one local director at the facility. Let us reiterate that last fact. The actions taken by the leadership at the Sage YMCA to malign an important program in the lives of many young members began long before COVID-19 came to light. This program, built by generous community donors, talented coaching staff, dedicated volunteers and most importantly the children who benefitted from it, have been targeted by YMCA leadership.

They tell us the program is too much of a strain on the operating budget of this facility when, in fact, it is self-sustaining and profitable. They raise fees despite being among the most expensive YMCA team fees in the area. They refuse to let the team take their turn at hosting the Northwest District Championship meet under the guise that it’s too disruptive to members when, in fact, the true reason is that they wished for a fee higher than is customarily paid to the host facility. The Northwest District meet is rotated through several area YMCAs and is a huge fundraising arm for swim teams. To deny this team the ability to receive funds over the reported “disruption to the other members” while stating the team does not bring in enough revenue is contradictory. The team is asked to host this district-wide meet one weekend every three years in a rotation with other Illinois YMCAs for which not only the team, but the Sage YMCA facility is financially compensated.

This past year the leadership at the Sage YMCA restricted meets to start after noon citing the disruption to members and week-end swim lessons even though lessons are held in a separate pool and the team already parks offsite at a neighboring business. While we acknowledge that the large crowds a swim meet brings 4 or 5 weekends throughout the year can be challenging, it is certainly not an unusual occurrence in other YMCA centers. The team complied when told they could not hold their meets during the customary time frames of 8 am to 4 pm. This resulted in a huge inconvenience to the families, visitors, volunteer officials and swimmers. Races children expected to participate in had to be eliminated in order to make the meets fit this abbreviated timeline. The lights constantly went off in the middle of the meet because the competition had to extend past the usual facility closing time.

What has happened to this team over these past years has been nothing short of a travesty. Instead of using this program as a shining example for other area Metro Chicago centers it has been systematically silenced and extinguished. This did not happen due to COVID-19 no matter how many times they say it. This happened when you take a dedicated swim coach who fully embodies what the YMCA is supposed to stand for and ignore him. This is what happens when you dismiss your loyal members and their contribution to the YMCA community. This is what happens when you sacrifice your local center’s most successful youth program due to it being an inconvenience. Most importantly, this is what happens when you use children as pawns of corporate bureaucracy.

These actions have caused members of the largest YMCA swim team in the state of Illinois to cancel their memberships and move on to other organizations. This mass exodus has nothing to do with the new format of the swim practices, or the cautious return to opening, but rather a culmination of the examples cited above and many many other instances when the center’s leadership refused to work in partnership with the team. This final swim team practice plan announced by the executive director and spearheaded by the aquatics director had zero input from the head coach, or any member of the coaching staff was the tipping point. Numerous emails from parents were ignored.

The Sage YMCA of Metro Chicago is trying to portray us as petulant children who are walking away because we did not get our way. This is not the case. This is important. This is a teachable moment to our youth and to the community. This is how we stand up to an organization who ignores the principles it is supposed to embody.

It is our responsibility to speak up for the membership and to the donors who helped build this outstanding competition facility and to question how the YMCA is living up to its promise to the young members. The youth of the Sage YMCA facility rely on this team not only for fitness but for building self-esteem, social interaction and mentorship. We will do our due diligence to inform the community who helped build the facility that their generous donations have been cast aside.

The spirit of this swim community has been crushed. It was never about swimmers needing more time in the pool or the restrictions to minimize the inconvenience to the other members. It is about the total disregard for what these members have contributed to the YMCA mission and the absolute unprofessional and unacceptable way the Sage YMCA leadership have maligned the mission of this team.

Coach Ed Richardson has been a venerated swim coach in Northern Illinois for more than 30 years. His contributions to the sport are second only to his impact on the youth who participated. From the novice one-season swimmer to the Olympic hopeful he has touched more lives than can be counted. While his titles and accomplishments highlight his career, what follows him most are his former students and athletes. The stories are endless. The impact immeasurable. We could write a book filled with inspirational stories, but we simply do not have enough paper on which to capture his generous spirit and love for the swim community.

It is true. Coach Ed Richardson resigned from the Sage YMCA of Metro Chicago on August 2, 2020 after what was surely a heart-wrenching decision. Despite his requests to assist with a plan to move forward, the leadership at the Sage YMCA refused to even respond. To continue with an organization that has treated him so callously in their determination to undermine the spirit of the Piranhas swim team was probably more than any swim coach could bear. The devastating impact on the children of this team is huge and the void left in their hearts is vast.

Our swim family was needlessly shattered. There would be no need for this letter and our team would be intact if the input from just one coach was sought in the development of this new swim league. Many other swim teams have been practicing safely over the recent weeks along with soccer leagues, baseball teams and drama camps. This award-winning coaching staff would have developed a training routine that this championship team would have adopted and thrived under. But to eschew the input from these talented and dedicated coaches is just another insult from the leadership at the Sage YMCA.

While the Sage YMCA will continue with its Piranhas swim team program many of us have chosen to resign our membership. While we pick up the pieces and go our separate ways the sorrow is deep and the loss palpable. With the lack of area pools there is no place for us to go together as a team and even individually we will struggle to find places due to the capacity limits COVID-19 brings. The monopoly the Sage YMCA holds over the local community and the lack of a public aquatics facility is the sad reality.

To belong to a non-profit entity that claims its “mission is to build strong kids, strong families and strong communities by enriching the lives of all people in spirit, mind and body” but sees its “swim team as a huge problem” is intolerable. But in the end, perhaps the YMCA achieved its stated mission–we ARE a team of strong kids, strong families and a strong swimming community, and we will go where we can live that mission fully.

Sincerely,

The Sage YMCA Piranhas Family

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Greg Rees
1 month ago

Look up what the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA did to the Pottstown YMCA program and ultimately the YMCA itself. All about the dollars…

Michael Wandling
1 month ago

Michiana (South Bend, IN) YMCA Stingrays lost their Y and team this year also based on alleged financial reasons. 13 years in a row state Y Champions disbanded with no prior information about financial hardship.

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Michael Wandling
1 month ago

That was my home team & home pool in the late 1960’s & I coached there as well, so I felt saddened by this. More of the story is that the Michiana YMCA closed the SBY because it could not sustain that Y financially, but is spending > $3M in renovations for the much smaller Niles YMCA about 15 miles away. “Meanwhile, the organization last year broke ground on a $3 million expansion at its Niles facility after a fundraising campaign.” Politics? Reeks of it. https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/ymca-closes-south-bend-location-cites-ongoing-financial-strain/article_779b1b30-9c37-11ea-abe9-23fde824b3ee.html & also https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/community/daughter-of-south-bends-ymcas-longtime-physical-director-fights-to-save-the-y/article_087070cc-ba53-11ea-85df-03b53bb35be9.html

Sam Smith
1 month ago

Wow, you mean to tell me that COVID has inconvenienced your child and they can’t swim anymore. Booo Hooo, you poor things.

Matt
Reply to  Sam Smith
1 month ago

Uncalled for and you completely missed the point of the article.

F D
Reply to  Sam Smith
1 month ago

I agree, and don’t think this is an uncalled for comment at all. Every team is struggling with pool time right now. This seems to be mostly about a great coach leaving. A team bringing in $8K is not a lot…. not for a Y, where profits have to support the poorer facilities. This all sounds rich and whiny to me, and I think it’s abhorrent that they’re using the slogan “Piranhas matter.” No way- not now…. find a different slogan and then find a different pool.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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