Panel to discuss boy swimmers on girls’ teams
MIAA expected to find options
The question of whether swimming opportunities should be expanded for high school boys - or cut back for both boys and girls - will be weighed by members of a Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association panel tomorrow as they discuss what to do about the growing number of boys joining girls’ swim teams in fall competition.
Boys competing with girls in the pool had drawn the attention of MIAA officials in the past, but hadn’t created much of splash until November, when several boys swam in the girls’ state championships and Will Higgins, a male swimmer from Norwood High School, broke a sectional meet record for the girls’ 50-yard freestyle event.
Now the association appears backed into a situation where it’s expected to take a stand.
This peculiar quandary came about because high school swimming in Massachusetts now takes place in the fall and winter, but not equally for both genders. In the winter, schools have boys’ teams and girls’ teams, and the MIAA holds separate state tournaments for each gender.
But in fall, swimming is considered a girls’ sport and there is only one state tournament - for girls. If a boy wants to swim competitively, and his school does not have a boys program, he can swim on the girls’ team. And if that girls’ team follows the fall schedule, the boy has no option but to compete in the girls’ state tournament and championship.
A number of boys did just that last fall, and Higgins broke the sectional 50-yard freestyle record that had been held since 1985 by Cynthia Kangos of Wellesley.
Had he been swimming against boys, his winning time probably would not have qualified him for the boys’ tournament. But Norwood does not have a boys’ team. And MIAA rules don’t let boys swim on their own and qualify for boys’ tournaments. “You have to be on a team,’’ MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzel said Thursday. “And it has to be on a member school team. You have to have a coach, a practice schedule for the season, and be registered as a team.’’
So for male swimmers at Norwood High, the only option is to swim with the girls in the fall.
Boys swimming on girls’ teams is not unique to Norwood High: Of 48 high schools statewide with girls’ swim teams last fall, eight - Billerica, Dracut, Marshfield, Methuen, Norwood, Walpole, Weymouth, and St. Peter-Marian of Worcester - had male swimmers on their rosters, according to the MIAA. Those eight do not offer boys’ programs.
How the MIAA will try to resolve this situation has become something of a parlor game within scholastic swimming circles. The eight-member committee meeting tomorrow is to present its recommendations April 12 at MIAA headquarters in Franklin.
Some coaches have suggested making swimming a boys’ sport in fall, too. Schools without enough male swimmers could partner with other schools and field “co-op’’ teams. Then the MIAA could offer a fall boys’ swim tournament, and have boys qualify under boys’ times to compete - just like it does in winter.
But there’s a fear shared by many coaches: What if the MIAA decides to condense boys and girls swimming into one season?
If the MIAA made swimming strictly a winter sport, one state tournament would be held for boys and girls in the winter. The girls’ fall season would cease.
That does not sit well with James A. Davis, a member on the MIAA Swim Committee charged with tackling this issue. He said such a drastic move would greatly reduce participation and make it even more difficult for winter swim teams to find pool time.
Last fall, there were 48 girls swim teams in the MIAA, and - as always - no boys’ teams. This winter, there are 190 boys teams and 154 girls teams. (Schools can offer girls’ swimming in fall or winter - but not both.)
“If you moved it all into one season, it would be a detriment to the sport,’’ said Davis, the athletic director at Belmont High.
When the MIAA attempted to address this issue three years ago, it weighed three options: create a boys’ tournament in the fall; make swimming a single-season sport in the winter; or wait and monitor the situation. At that time, MIAA officials took the wait-and-see approach.
This time, Davis said he believes the committee will come up with a solid plan that can be in place before next fall.
Davis noted that in winter, boys and girls must meet different qualifying standards to compete in the post-season. “What if we took those qualifying times for winter and applied them to the boys in the fall?’’ he said.
Most coaches agree something must be done. If not, there’s a chance next fall that a boy could win a girls’ state title.
Richard Lennon, MIAA director for winter and fall girls’ state tournaments, is also on the committee. He said he too hates the thought of limiting swimming to one season. “That would be killing a sport, in a sense,’’ he said.
Davis and Lennon will discuss potential solutions tomorrow with the other members of the committee: chairman Ray Grant, MIAA tournament director Pete Foley, Monson Public Schools Superintendent Patrice L. Dardenne, Northampton swim coach James Hirtle, Wahconah Regional High School principal James Conro, and MIAA assistant director Ned Doyle.