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Lacamas Athletic Club Decision Forces Out CHS Girls Swim Team


Camas, WA — After many weeks of negotiations between Lacamas Athletic Club and Camas High School (CHS), the school’s athletic program was forced to find a new home for the Girl’s swim team this season, and is leaving the future home of the two-time State Championship winning Boy’s swim team in doubt.

“Our girls swim program will be swimming this season at Cascade Athletic Club,” said CHS Athletic Director, Rory Oster. “Cascade Athletic Club and Evergreen School District has been excellent in working with us to accommodate our kids. All I can say is that our preference would be to have Camas High School girl’s swim program using Lacamas Athletic Club facilities. Unfortunately an agreement could not be made in order to do so for this upcoming swim season, my hope is that our boys swim team will be able to use Lacamas Athletic facilities as again, that is the preference of Camas School District Athletic Department.”

Oster said that Camas High School will not have any “home meets” and that all of their competitions will be at other pools.

In June, Denise Croucher, owner of Lacamas Athletic Club, approached Oster with demands that CHS could not meet. Among those initial demands, according to Mike Bemis, CHS Head Swim Coach, was to find another coach who wasn’t affliated with Columbia River Swim Team (CRST) — a competitor of the Lacamas Athletic Club’s Headhunters private club swim team. Bemis is a two-time State Championship swim coach for CHS, and the team won back-to-back State titles in 2017 and 2018.

Camas reaffirmed their loyalty and commitment to Bemis and his successful program.

According to Bemis, Lacamas Athletic Club accused him and CRST of recruiting athletes away from the Headhunters program.

”Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Bemis. “These are great kids and we have athletes from multiple clubs who compete for Camas High School. The athletes all get along quite well, and it shows with their accomplishments. CRST, for which I work very part-time, has not recruited any athletes from Lacamas or any other club.”

Bemis said the final gap that couldn’t be bridged was that Lacamas Athletic Club also demanded that Bemis sign an agreement between CRST and Lacamas Athletic Club that neither club could recruit any swimmers from each other’s clubs that are aged 14 or older, and that after turning 14, they could never switch club teams.

”That’s an agreement I simply could not sign,” said Bemis. “I have no authority to do that, and the owner of CRST was never approached. Such an agreement also infringes on parental choice as to where they want their child to practice and compete.”



Camas High School girls swimmers hold up the US flag during the pledge of allegiance at a 2017 home meet.

The management at CRST concurs.

”We were never approached by Denise or anyone at Lacamas Athletic Club with an agreement,” said Darlene Lumbard, owner of CRST. “I even spent four days next to Denise at a recent club meet and nothing was ever said. In fact, the kids from both programs get along very well.”

When Lacamas Magazine approached Croucher in late June about possible outcomes, Croucher said of Oster: “He may be considering moving the team, but this is not the outcome we are hoping for.”

Following the official move to Cascade, Croucher was asked to reply to details about the negotiations, and she said:
”Our agreement with the school district had to be re-negotiated because the current terms no longer worked due to the time changes at the school district; they could no longer swim at 2:30 pm. It is not uncommon to renegotiate the terms yearly if needed. With our drastic membership growth over the past two years, the members’ pool usage has also increased. This makes an agreement more difficult as we have to keep our valuable member’s needs a top priority. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach an agreement this year that worked for both parties. Being a private business, we will not discuss the details of a business agreement. Hopefully we can accommodate the school district’s pool rental needs in the future.”

At one of the 2017 Camas High School home swim meets.

“I think again this just goes to show you that you can’t demand this upon parents,” said CHS Assistant Swim Coach, Leslie Levesque. “She [Croucher] has no legal ground to stand on. Parents have the right to decided which club their kids swim in. This is absurd. And Mike said we can easily practice in the morning times at Lacamas as we did last year.”
The move has scheduling, traffic, and other complications, and poses some additional burdens on the coaches, Cascade Athletic Club, and the parents. Bemis also expressed gratitude toward Cascade for making this accommodation. The club will see how things go with the girl’s season, and then make decisions about the future with the boy’s season. Levesque said CHS will have two lanes at Cascade Athletic Club from at 5:30 am, 6:15 am, and 7:15-8:45 each evening, and will share the pool with CRST.

Camas High and Washougal High School seniors honored at Senior Night.

Making It Work
“We’ve been put out to pasture,” said Bemis. “This makes it a lot tougher to keep winning championships. It creates travel issues. No home meets. It’s hard to build up new kids in a situation like this. It makes it more challenging to get to the facilities. This is my biggest fear. It’s been challenging to work with Lacamas Athletic Club over the years but we’ve always made it work these past 12 years — until now. We’re really grateful to Mitch Merwin at Cascade — he’s been great to work with. He’s been very helpful.”

Swimming at a home meet.

A Parent’s Perspective
“Well, besides the Lacamas pool being a beautiful facility, I’m glad the Camas school district isn’t playing the blackmail game,” said Sarah Segall, mother of CHS swimmer, Bailey Segall. “Denise never treated the swimmers well and frequently wouldn’t have the pool open when they arrived for an early morning practice. It will be tight to have all the swimmers at Cascade but the girls seem excited about the opportunity to train with each other. Although it’s not ideal for them to drive so far across town for their practice, it will show their dedication to the sport. It would be great if the city of Camas were made aware of the need for a facility for the community as well as for the high level swim program at the high school. CHS is still working out details on transportation from morning practices to school, and is uncertain how this will impact the boy’s swim team season.”

The future of practice and home meets is in question for the 2X State Championship winning CHS Boys Swim Team.

“For practice we are able to give our students options for attendance so it has the ability to fit everyone’s schedule,” said Oster. “Camas SD and Evergreen SD will be sharing facilities during practice times. Our hope is that Lacamas Athletic Club has a change of heart by the time boys season begins and welcomes us back to our prior relationship which has always been positive and effective.”

Statement from Camas City Councilor Rusch

“Although the only information I have on this is what’s been reported in your article, this is disappointing,” said Camas City Councilor, Deanna Rusch. “However, I can say the City is actively working to pursue a year round pool/aquatic center/community center. A multi jurisdictional committee is set to begin meetings September 5 to discuss this. I look forward to serving on this committee and to helping to further the current momentum and progress we are having on making sure Camas has a safe and fun place to swim. My goal would be to provide a year round facility for our swimmers and divers.

Further, although the existing Crown Park pool will be demolished, City Council hasn’t made a decision on what will happen in its place. I, for one, don’t believe a small neighborhood pool and a larger community center pool are mutually exclusive and I’m examining all of our options in this regard.”

Swim Gallery


9 replies
  1. Barry McDonnell
    Barry McDonnell says:

    Those demands were absolutely crazy. I also agree that a small neighborhood pool and large community pool center should not be mutually exclusive in this town. Thanks Deanna for looking into that as an option!

  2. Brenda Hitchins
    Brenda Hitchins says:

    It’s time Camas/Washougal think about building its own community pool to support these kids and the community. We have some great leaders that can come up with a plan for the future growth of our communities

  3. dogboy
    dogboy says:

    I left this club because of the way this lady treated people and the total neglect of the weight facilities, it has become a dump. The Camas community should not support LaCamas swim and sport after this action

  4. Winski3mom
    Winski3mom says:

    This is so sad. Swimming is such a great sport but training with that many kids in the water is going to be challenging. Coach Mike and Leslie are phenomenal. Props to Camas for standing by them. Not a very community oriented decision and I would be curious what USA Swim has to say about locking athletes into a club for 4 years. Parents and swimmers decide what situation is best for them and it isn’t always the same one for their entire training. Unfortunately more water may come too late for the Camas teams. Way to go LAC.

  5. J.T.
    J.T. says:

    Denise Croucher, the sole reason this fell through.

    The way she treats people and families who throw money at her is disgusting.

    Sure she may be a business owner and may be protecting her own interests, but on a personal level she’s no different.

  6. Dave DeBoever
    Dave DeBoever says:

    The outcome of this negotiation is hardly surprising. I was a member of Lacamas Athletic Club for 13 years, from its opening in 1998 to 2010. The original owners, Bob and Doug were superb, they were people persons who cared about their members. Many of you will remember renting the whole Liberty Theater for a free movie for members, or the fun pool party appreciation days. I put up with the current owner for 3 years until I could not take it anymore, and left. No people skills, ignored all kinds of maintenance on equipment, treated staff like garbage, etc. I’m actually surprised the club is still open under her.

    Camas swim team will be better off without her, even with the travel and scheduling problems. I now belong to Cascade Athletic, for 6 years now, and I can tell you they know customer service, and Mitch Merwin is fantastic as their manager. Highly recommended.

    • Douglas Encke
      Douglas Encke says:

      Thanks for the compliment, Dave. It breaks my heart to think of our amazing CHS swim teams not utilizing such a great aquatics facility. ?

  7. Matt
    Matt says:

    Would you guys be interested in commenting on or voicing your support for competitive swimming/diving to be considered as the Camas Parks and Rec. Department starts to explore future aquatic options for our area? I’m basically going to put together something on Facebook and I’ll plan on meeting with the commission just to let them know that people in the area want to make competitive swimming a priority.

  8. Dave
    Dave says:

    It is up to each swimmer and his/her parents to decide which club to swim with. Our swimmers left LAC for CRST, but they were not recruited. CRST helped them achieve their goals. Good for Cascade Club, for helping out the CHS swimmers this year. Go Papermakers.


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