Swimmers seeking varsity status

High school students barred from state meets


High school swimmers, and many of their parents and coaches, are asking the Anne Arundel County Board of Education to designate swimming as a varsity sport for next school year.

The 30 or so swimmers who attended a board meeting last week said that, unlike their peers in varsity sports, they are barred from competing in the state championships. They are also prevented from receiving accolades from their school or classmates for their swimming achievements, because some schools don't broadcast announcements on swimming or allow swimming fliers to be distributed.

"Peer recognition is a big deal," said Crystee Ballard, a swimming coach at the Severna Park YMCA and a former county high school swimmer. "I've been waiting for this to happen for 15 years, and it's time."

The students, who compete in swimming clubs, are hoping the board acts swiftly so students can swim in the state high school meet in late February - although the board is unlikely to rule in time. Only swimmers on school-sanctioned teams are eligible to participate in the state event, which attracts college scouts.

"I really believe there is a very large, underserved community of students, including my daughter," said Bob Gicquelais, whose daughter, a senior at Severna Park High, is a swimmer. "When they fill out college applications, they can't list any involvement in [varsity] swimming. It's hurting them when they apply for college and apply for scholarships."

Gicquelais hopes that the presence of the students at the meeting, and their pleas to the board, will make a difference.

"The groundswell under this thing is rising," he said. "I just imagine, if no action is taken, it will become a much bigger issue."

It's not the first time parents have made the request. Fourteen years ago, Parents for Swimming in Anne Arundel County started a high school swimming league, with a championship meet for swimmers. These teams are formed "clandestinely," Gicquelais said, because students are discouraged from recruiting teammates during the school day.

The teens swim together during the club swimming season, but they divide into high school teams and compete against each other annually in the Anne Arundel High School Swimming Championship, which this year will be held in February at the Olympic Swim Center in Annapolis.

Last year, 11 of the county's 12 high schools were represented as more than 200 students participated, said Gicquelais, who has been running the meet for four years.

Gicquelais said he first approached the school system four years ago, and then again in January, when he handed over a 52-page binder detailing how a varsity swimming program could be formed. He said he did not hear back, and the students decided to go to the school board themselves.

Several school board members said they were unaware of the issue and the interest in swimming in the county.

Paul G. Rudolph, the longest-serving member on the current board, said last week was the first time the board discussed the issue in his nine-year tenure.

Fellow board member Edward P. Carey thanked the swimmers for bringing the matter to light. Colleague Tricia Johnson asked interim Superintendent Nancy M. Mann to assemble information on what it would take to make swimming a varsity sport.

Gregory V. Nourse, assistant superintendent of business and management, said the school board likely will have that report to review by February. Nourse said school staff would be looking at the costs for adding swimming to the varsity lineup, including leasing pool time - the school system has no pools of its own - and transportation costs. Scheduling and determining which schools can participate will also be examined, he said.

"They don't need a lot of equipment," Nourse said. "The biggest thing they need is pools, and that's the hardest thing to sort out."


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