Water Ski Club fights to compete again


Katelyn Squiers

The Iowa State Water Ski Club has not been able to practice or compete due to “uncontrollable hazardous conditions” at their practice site, Dream Lakes Estates.

One year ago, the gravel road to Dream Lakes Estates was lined with cars five days a week. Cheers of encouragement would fill the air while people zipped through the water performing zigzags and jumps behind a red Mastercraft boat, and students would sit with their teammates at a wooden table on the dock until the sun melted into the horizon.

The Iowa State Water Ski Club has practiced at Dream Lakes Estates for 35 years, but they have not held any practices in the 2022-23 school year.

The group created a petition on Sept. 1 to fight for permission to practice and compete after the university modified the organization into an enthusiastic non-sports club on July 17, 2022.

The petition received 2,500 signatures within 18 hours of its creation and had more than 5,000 signatures as of Sunday. Several supporters added comments, including alumni and members from other university teams.

“Iowa has always been a powerhouse both on the water and on shore with their spirit and pride for their team,” Mallin Blaxall, former president of the University of Cincinnati’s Water Ski Club team, said in a comment. “They are a nationally recognized team and the collegiate scene simply won’t be the same without them.”

The university’s decision follows a year-and-a-half-long review of sport clubs after a crew club accident resulted in the death of two students in spring 2021. This review included analysis from the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health and input from sport club members.

“Student health and safety was at the forefront of this review process,” the university said in an email.

The Water Ski Club received official notification of their “high-risk” classification via email on July 17, 2022. The email informed them this decision was based on their club’s “activity in uncontrollable hazardous conditions.”

The Water Ski Club adviser reached out to the university for additional information and received no response until the Office of Risk Management invited the club’s executive board to a follow-up meeting in the first week of September.

“When we had the follow-up meeting on why we actually got cut, they flat out said that it wasn’t due to safety,” said Amanda Luttschwager Rose, a senior studying mechanical engineering and president of the Water Ski Club. “They think we are safe. It sounds like it was only because our boat and our lake is not owned by the university.”

The university rents the Water Ski Club’s lake and equipment but does not own them, according to Luttschwager Rose. The team practices on Dream Lakes Estate, a section of land with a lake specifically built for the Iowa State Water Ski Club by the club’s founder.

The Water Ski Club is one of 29 sports to receive a “high-risk” classification according to the final sport clubs restructuring and categorization document. Recreation Services sponsors 17 of these groups and academic departments sponsor an additional three.

The Water Ski Club reached out to other organizations who received a “high-risk” classification but received no responses.

To identify “high-risk” groups, the Office of Risk Management met with each sports club in fall 2021 to discuss their organization’s activities and risk factors.

Sports clubs classified as “high-risk” must meet several outlined requirements to continue their previous activities according to a report written by the Sport Clubs Review Committee. The university established this committee in fall 2021 following the release of two independent reviews of the crew club accident.

To fulfill these requirements, the Water Ski Club would need to find a university department to sponsor them. The committee report recommends Recreation Services as a sponsor but also notes that any department can sponsor a club if adequate safety plans are in place.

Luttschwager Rose and other executive members are unsure if a department sponsor would automatically allow the team to practice and compete but viewed it as an effective first step.

When emailed a series of questions, including an inquiry into the specific criteria the Water Ski Club would need to meet, the university responded with a statement and attached a copy of the final sport clubs restructuring and categorization document.

“The university recognizes that the changes to the Water Ski Club are difficult and impactful for the students involved and the club’s supporters,” the university said in an email.

The Water Ski Club emailed several academic departments, but each responded with support for the university’s decision. The Water Ski Club’s executive board created the petition after realizing a department would not sponsor them and the university would stand firm in their decision.

“We tried all other items before going to the petition,” Luttschwager Rose said. “The petition was the last call, basically.”

The university offered the Water Ski Club and other high-risk sports clubs the opportunity to become enthusiastic non-sports clubs. Under this status, groups can meet to discuss and learn about shared interests but are not allowed to participate in any related activities.

“I think that water skiing is a sport where you have to do it,” said Sydnee Keener, a junior studying marketing and vice-president of the Water Ski Club. “You can’t really sit down and talk about it, especially because a lot of people who join this club don’t really know what water skiing is.”

The university also suggests students participate individually in local, state, regional and national teams unaffiliated with Iowa State. However, the National Collegiate Water Ski Association requires members to be associated with a school.

“I miss being able to compete and represent Iowa State,” Luttschwager Rose said. “I also really miss seeing all the other water skiers from other schools.”

A red Mastercraft boat gently bobs up and down as it sits in a dock at Dream Lakes Estates. Two long strips of water reflect a picturesque image of the nearby trees, and an occasional ripple is the only thing to disturb the water’s surface. Birds chirp softly in the distance, unchallenged by any other noise. Up above, the sun begins to set over the empty seats of a wooden table on the dock.