HELENA — The Carroll College PE Center pool was packed with swimmers and spectators on Saturday.
Unfortunately, it was also packed with chlorine — so much so that organizers had to cancel the meet, sending the three Billings high schools home with nothing to show for their four-hour trip and wiping one of the final meets of the season off the calendar for the Helena schools as well.
“It’s a pretty tough call to make, but we have to take the kids’ safety into consideration above anything else,” Helena coach Carrie Brown said.
The meet had barely begun when athletes began complaining of sore throats, itchy skin and coughing. Meet organizers contacted Carroll staff about the problem, and the water was tested. Chlorine levels came back twice as high as they should have been, so chemicals were added in an attempt to bring them down.
The move worked, in part, but the pH levels were off. Coaches and meet officials decided to give it an hour, but levels were still too low after the delay. It was at that point that the meet was scrapped.
Brown said she was told the water was tested Friday night and the chlorine was found to be too low. A chlorine feed was started to bring it up to the proper level, but clearly went too far.
“We’ve battled some adverse pool quality issues — some water quality, some air quality things — throughout the season. So, at this point, on Monday I’m hoping to get a health inspector and get some pool quality things checked out.
“It’s an older facility, so certainly battles come along with that. But hopefully, after Monday, we can get some answers.”
The loss of the meet is a blow to swimmers still trying to prepare for the state meet. The Helena teams host the 21st annual Bohn-Moerer Invitational next Saturday, then finish the regular season with the crosstown meet. After that, the only remaining meet is state, Feb. 14-15.
“There’s really no time to reschedule, unfortunately,” Brown said. “They were bummed they couldn’t compete, obviously, but relieved, too, that maybe our water quality can get resolved.”