Minutes before Western Massachusetts swimmers hit the pool in Westfield in what would have been the last high school swim meet for many, the MIAA reversed its Thursday decision and will allow all sectional qualifiers to automatically advance to this weekend’s state championships.
The girls’ Division 1 and 2 state championships are Saturday at Springfield College. The boys’ Division 1 and 2 meets are at Harvard Sunday.
Before the change of heart, those swimmers who had qualified for the sectional competitions, but were shy of state qualifying times, had their seasons — and in the case of seniors, their swim careers — ended by the weekend snowstorm.
In Eastern and Central Massachusetts, the majority of the sectional qualifiers already had qualified for the state meet as well. But in the Western section, where the sectional meet is the biggest meet of the season, most had not qualified for states.
The decision by the MIAA means that 163 competitors will be added to the boys’ state meet from Western Massachusetts alone. For the girls, add in 117 competitors. Without knowing the exact totals, girls’ state meet director Dick Lennon called them “crazy numbers.”
Lennon called this weekend’s state meet at Springfield College a “logistical horror show. Our challenge is to make sure a mom and dad from Sandwich don’t go all the way to Springfield and get turned away.’’
The MIAA explained the decision in a statement Monday afternoon.
“The concerns forwarded by some of our school leaders in response to the cancellation of sectional swim tournaments have caused further consideration of the conclusions of last Thursday and Friday. With the support of our swim committee/tournament leadership, we will be entering all of the individual swimmers as they were listed on the psych sheets for this past weekend’s sectional tournaments.
“There will be some questions or concerns related to this decision, but we believe that it is the best manner of providing tournament access to the maximum number of students possible.
During the week, we will need your cooperation in some areas; e.g. we will need to limit attendance at the Springfield College site.”
Concerns by school leaders was only part of the story. Print, radio, and television media questioned the decision and social media joined in as well, including support for Western Massachusetts swimmers from Olympians Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte. As a result, Minnechaug athletic director Mike Roy helped organize a Western section swim meet for girls at Westfield Monday and one for boys at Chicopee Tuesday.
The times from those meets still will not count toward state qualifying, but the MIAA decision opens the door for most of the region’s top swimmers to finish their careers at the state championship.