ALASKA BRASS – High school brass musicians from around the state enrolled in the Sitka Fine Arts Camp's Alaska Brass Workshop play at Odess Theater this afternoon during a free concert that also featured students in the camp's new String Chamber Music Intensive. Pictured are, from left, Tava Guillory, Sitka;Mark Davis, Haines; Hudson Adams, Sitka; Jacob Batchelder, Fairbanks; and Hanna Morrow, Kenai. The musicians will perform another free concert at Odess Theater Friday at 3 p.m. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Splash! MEHS Students Enjoy Inaugural Dip

By ABIGAIL BLISS
Sentinel Staff Writer
    The first student to jump into the Mt. Edgecumbe High School Aquatic Facility’s pool at its grand opening Friday received raucous applause that echoed off the water.
    He was quickly joined by a dozen other swimmers, all Mt. Edgecumbe seniors, who have been hearing about the project since their freshman year.
    Looking on were hundreds of younger students, members of the public, and the organizers of the $26.9 million state-funded facility.
    The sight had been a long time coming.


Visitors and Mt. Edgecumbe High School students cheer as the first student jumps into the pool during an open house for the new Mt. Edgecumbe High School Aquatic Facility Friday. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)


    Sen. Bert Stedman, who has championed the project from its inception, grew emotional as he spoke at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
    “I’ve been looking forward to this day for eight years,” said Stedman, who sported an MEHS sweatshirt and hard hat. “There was a real rush from a lot of people the last month to make sure the seniors could get a little bit of exposure to the pool, and I do apologize for the pool being a little late, but sometimes late is better than never, and this is one of them.”
    The ceremony included comments from several other stakeholders, including former Alaska state Rep. Bill Thomas, former Alaska Sen. Albert Kookesh, MEHS academic principal Bernie Gurule, MEHS student president Erik Handeland, and MEHS superintendent Janelle Vanasse. There were performances by the MEHS Yupik dance group and student singers, and an invocation by father Ishmael Andrew of St. Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral.
    Gurule told those gathered that Friday’s opening represented the “beginning of a beautiful history” that promises to enrich the lives of MEHS students, as well as the broader Sitka community. There are plans to make the pool available for a fee to the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska State Trooper Public Safety Academy, swim clubs, and the general public.
    Gurule emphasized the value of such a resource for MEHS students who do not have opportunities to learn to swim in their home communities.
    “This is a great reason to celebrate,” he said.
    Handeland and Stedman cut the ceremonial red and gold ribbon, and MEHS’ Athabaskan dance group led the crowd through the open doors, into the facility.
    Only seniors had the chance to test the waters of the new pool Friday, but many younger students have already signed up for swimming lessons or recreational swim time for the next school year.
    Mt. Edgecumbe junior Stormy Simeon is one such student who plans on taking lessons.
    “I think it’s really cool,” she said. “I’m really excited.”
    Hayden Hunt, a freshman who said he may take swim lessons in the pool in the years to come, echoed Simeon’s sentiments.
    “I’m excited because I really like swimming,” he said.
    Sophomore Adeline Dyment told the Sentinel she’s looking forward to swimming as a supplement to her athletic pursuits.
    “I do cross country running, and my coach wants us to practice in the pool once a week,” she said.
    Sydnee Kimber, a senior and star wrestler, said that although she won’t have extensive opportunity to use the pool herself, she’s excited for the younger students who will.
    “I think it’s pretty awesome,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for next year’s students and the future.”
    Junior Cerena Ipalook-Reich expressed admiration for the pool’s appearance as she cycled out of the facility and back to class.
    “I think it’s beautiful, and I love how it gives off a warm type of feeling,” she said. “I can’t wait to swim there.”
    A trio of young members of the Baranof Barracuda Swim Club crowded by the water’s edge, watching the older swimmers paddle around the new pool. As one of the community user groups that stand to benefit from the new pool, the Barracudas expressed hope that the facility will allow them to host events too large for the Blatchley Middle School pool to accommodate.
    “Our pool only holds six lanes so that’s why we don’t hold a lot of meets; it’s so small,” said Riley Bernhardt, 10. “It will be nice if we get the chance to swim in here for meets.”
    There are still some finishing touches to be put into place -- a water slide to be installed, student art to be gathered for the facility walls, and operating funds to be secured -- but the fact still stands: on Friday, there were students swimming in the Mt. Edgecumbe High School Aquatic Facility pool.

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