Montgomery County's top swimmers pull double duty -- Gazette.Net


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When the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association instituted a state championship swim meet in 2007, participating teams became obligated to abide by MPSSAA regulations.

Until last winter Montgomery County Public Schools resisted becoming an MPSSAA sanctioned sport, choosing only to participate in the then season ending Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships, which perennially is among the country's fastest high school competitions.

MCPS athletes won all 22 events and set 16 state records in their inaugural appearance at the Class 4A/3A state meet won by the Walter Johnson High School boys and Walt Whitman girls in February.

Sherwood coach Brendan Lees said the state championship in New York, where he grew up, featured the area's best competition.

Maryland is trying to get there, but it's a work in progress.

Standing in the way is a set of rules that although not particular to swimming, does make participation in the high school season difficult for MCPS' top swimmers and divers.

A rule in the MPSSAA handbook states that although students are permitted to participate in the same sport outside of school during the sport's season, those outside commitments cannot conflict with high school practice and competition.

Prior to 2011-12, the MCPS swimming handbook stated that in order to be eligible for high school competition, club swimmers who have additional practice obligations must actively participate in a minimum of one of the two weekly practices and five of the six dual meets.

The county has been forced to change those guidelines, MCPS league coordinator Todd Garner said. MCPS coaches expect all athletes to attend both practices, he added.

But that means that during the three-month school season, high level club swimmers will attend up to 11 practices and sometimes three training sessions per day.

“I practice nine times a week [with the Rockville Montgomery Swim Club], every day after school and Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings. It's definitely a challenge because on days I have high school practice, I go straight from [Montgomery] Blair practice [at Montgomery College, Takoma Park] to RMSC practice at [Martin Luther King, Jr., Swim Center] and it really gets tiring,” Blair senior Jack Foster said. “I wish it was different, but there is not much I can do, I want to swim for Blair.”

Lees said every high school in his hometown had its own pool and come the winter season, year-round club teams gave way to high school programs.

Many areas throughout the nation follow a similar infrastructure.

“You had a club team and then when high school season started, you swam with your high school team. We had eight practices a week because there was a pool at our school,” Lees said.

That system, however, is not feasible in Montgomery County, where 25 public school teams must share pool time at eight public facilities that charge rent and already are nearly booked with club practices and classes.

MCPS only funds two, hour-long practices per week. At this point, most of the area's top swimmers seem to be willing to make the sacrifice.

Progression in swimming is majorly reliant on repetition and yardage. Cutting down on practice time, even just two days' schedule, Garner said, could hinder swimmers' performances.

Given that, limiting themselves to only high school practices would be detrimental to athletes' results, not just in high school competition but the national competitions they train for year-round.

According to MPSSAA rules, students who do not participate and practice with the school team throughout the designated sport's season are ineligible to represent the school in all contests that determine a county, district, regional or state championship. Competitions only can be missed if prior written approval has been obtained from the school principal and coach.

The MPSSAA is unlikely to change the ruling, the organization's Executive Director Ned Sparks said, because it's important for high school coaches to be in tune with their athletes.

There would be, however, no penalty regarding Metros as it is not an MPSSAA-sanctioned event. But MCPS athletes' absence would hurt the level of competition at the public high school season's premier event.

“I'm all for a state meet, it's what every state does and it's something everyone can identify with. Right now, I think Maryland is in a learning process as to how they want to make their state swimming meet work,” Lees said. “We as coaches provide our input and our opinions and what we think works, but I do think Maryland right now is in transition.”

jbeekman@gazette.net