Harvard’s Blodgett Pool was busy throughout the girl’s all-state swim meet on Sunday, until late in the program.
Then, the officials cleared the water, and C.J. Khoshabjian took his place at Lane 4 of the starting platform, the only swimmer competing in the 100-yard breaststroke and the only boy in the Division 1 all-state meet.
The senior from Billerica won the Division 1 boy’s title with a time of 1:07.02 in what was the oddest race of the day.
“I’m sure everyone [in the stands] was like, ‘Wait, there’s only one kid swimming? What’s going on?’” Khoshabjian said. “It was weird, for sure.”
The unique circumstance played out as a result of an MIAA decision in February to have boys compete separately from girls in sectional and all-state meets. When Khoshabjian qualified a week earlier at the North sectional for the 100-yard breaststroke — again racing uncontested — it created a scenario at the state championships in which he was the only competitor in the pool for his race.
“It’s weird having everyone stare at you all at once,” he said. “It’s not as easy as I thought it was. It’s a lot easier with someone beside you to pace you. But it worked out. I got one of my best times, so I’m pretty pumped about that.”
The solo competition averted the controversy that surrounded the sport last fall when Will Higgins, then a senior at Norwood, broke a South sectional girls’ swimming record in the 50-yard freestyle that had stood since 1985. Debate over the inclusion of boys in girls’ races prompted the MIAA to adopt a new policy.
“We were happy to hear that the MIAA gave us the decision at the beginning of the season so then we could focus on the rules instead of being in that gray area last year where nobody knew what was going to happen,” said Billerica coach Anthony Fiore.
The Indians head coach, who had 10 boys and 32 girls on his squad this year, was one of many coaches who were disappointed to see boys competing against their female counterparts.
“I felt that the boys should have swam in their own heat,” he said of last year’s state meet. “I think they should be allowed to compete, just separate from the girls. It takes away from the girls who deserve the recognition to have boys that can come and swim in the meet and take away their record.”
Khoshabjian, who did not swim for the school last year, said his experience was not dampened despite the fact he had no competition.
“I heard about last year that coaches were not happy with boys swimming against girls,” he said. “I probably would have gotten the same exact time if I swam with the girls.”
Without other swimmers to worry about, Khoshabjian said his only concern was not leaving the platform too early.
“I had to worry about the start more,” he said. “I kept freaking out thinking I was going to disqualify because I was the only one standing there.”
A swimmer since the age of 6, Khoshabjian grew up competing for the Billerica Boys & Girls Club before deciding to join the Indians for his senior year. Though he is unsure if he will be able to catch on with a team in college, the state champion said, like Sunday’s race, he would welcome any venue.
“I’m looking forward to seeing if I’m able to join a team, because there are a lot of fast teams out there. But if I just get to swim I’ll be really happy, because I’ve been doing it my entire life.”
Patrick McHugh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.