High school swimmers, parents, and coaches in Newton have been writing letters and signing petitions to protest a statewide proposal that would get rid of the fall season for girls’ swim teams, saying the change would restrict the number of students who could participate in the sport.
Last month, a subcommittee of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association recommended that fall swimming for both boys and girls should be eliminated by the 2015-16 school year. The full Swim Committee at the MIAA, which oversees high school sports programs across the state, will consider the proposal next Thursday.
The subcommittee’s proposal came after a controversial swim season last fall, when several boys from schools without boys’ swim teams competed on girls’ teams, and swam well enough to qualify for the postseason competition.
In November, a male student from Norwood High, Will Higgins became the sectional record-holder in the girls’ 50-yard freestyle event. Some swimmers and their parents and coaches were frustrated, and called upon the MIAA to act.
So it was a surprise to some when the subcommittee recommended getting rid of all fall swimming - traditionally a girls’ sport - and limiting high school swimming to winter, with separate competitions for boys and girls, in three years. (Until then, boys’ swimming championships would be held in the fall.)
Getting rid of fall swimming for girls because a few dozen boys also compete would be an overreaction, according to the Newton petition-signers.
“The MIAA solution to move ALL girls’ high school teams to the winter season will severely endanger the continued availability of the Newton North High School pool for other users,’’ the petition says. “This proposal does not benefit any community programs that use these same pools.’’
The petition states that the change would have a “long-lasting devastating effect’’ on other programs that use the pool, including Special Olympics, lap swim, lifeguard training, and swim lessons.
“It concerns me without question,’’ said Tom Cahill, the aquatics director of Newton’s Parks and Recreation Department. If the MIAA adopts the new rules, the department would probably have to stop offering open swimming times for residents, he said.
Paul Wetzel, a spokesman for the MIAA, estimated that about 30 boys swam on high school girls’ teams last fall.
“Mixed gender teams have been part of the MIAA for 25 or 30 years,’’ he said. “In the swimming, I don’t believe we ever had anyone set a record. Frankly, I think we almost never had anyone good enough to break a record.’’
The MIAA once banned boys from participating on girls’ athletic teams, but in 1979 the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled the ban was unconstitutional.
In Newton, the only indoor pool that is deep enough for high school swimming and diving is at Newton North High School. Both of the city’s public high schools use the Newton North pool for practice and swim meets, as do swim programs run through the city’s recreation department.
Athletic officials at both high schools and some students and parents worry that allowing swimming only in the winter will overbook the Newton North pool.
Now, the Newton North boys practice immediately after school, then the Newton South co-ed team has its turn. Finally, the Newton Recreation swim team - which has 270 members - practices.
“We have enough athletes that have to travel to faraway places to get things done,’’ said Scott Perrin, director of athletics and wellness at Newton South, noting that Newton doesn’t have a skating rink. “Are we going to bring in teams at 5 in the morning because getting a pool is as difficult as getting some ice?’’
Tom Giusti, athletic director at Newton North, worries about overscheduling the school’s pool, as well as creating larger winter swim teams. Although Newton North allows all interested girls to join the swim teams, combining the two swimming seasons would probably mean coaches would have to cut some swimmers, Giusti said.
“My concern would be that we would have to make cuts now,’’ he said. “There would be kids that wouldn’t be able to have the opportunity’’ to swim. When boys started competing on girls’ swim teams, there were so few of them that no one paid much attention.
But when they started breaking girls’ records, some swimmers were annoyed.