Officials from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association are expected to review the issue in January, and discuss what - if anything - can be done to address the new record and other concerns raised by female swimmers and some swim coaches.
According to MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzel, one issue is not up for debate: There's no stopping boys from competing on girls' swim teams.
Under state laws requiring equal access to sports for both genders, if there is no boys' swimming program at a male athlete's high school, he can swim for the school's girls' team.
``On several occasions,'' Wetzel said, citing court challenges faced by the MIAA, ``we have tried to mitigate that ruling for individual sports . . . and each time we try, we lose. So there's not much we can do about ending mixed-gender teams.''
Last summer, Wetzel said, several field hockey coaches proposed limiting the number of boys allowed on a field at one time. The MIAA had the proposal reviewed by lawyers, who ultimately decided that the plan - regardless of how well intended - would not stand up in court. Wetzel said: ``Our attorney said it won't fly.''
In high school swimming, there are boys' and girls' teams in the winter, but in the fall it's strictly a girls' season. This fall, about a dozen boys qualified to swim in the Division 1 state finals, held at MIT this month.
Recalling the state championships, Andover High School swim coach Marilyn Fitzgerald said she had never seen so many boys at a girls' swim meet. ``It changes the whole demeanor'' of the event, said Fitzgerald.
The all-girl teams cheered extra loudly for other girls swimming in the MIT pool, she said. When Sarah Broderick of Haverhill High beat out several boys to win the 50-yard freestyle, ``the place erupted,'' said Fitzgerald.
Two boys - Scott DelRossi of Methuen and Nikita Kirik of Billerica - placed second and third. If one of them had won, noted Fitzgerald, ``We would have been crowning a boy as girls' state champion. Inherently, there's something wrong with this.
``Everybody is upset about it. I'm sure the boys themselves would rather swim against boys.''
The situation was particularly noticeable this fall, observers said. Of the 48 schools with girls' swim teams this season, eight - Billerica, Dracut, Marshfield, Methuen, Norwood, Walpole, Weymouth, and St. Peter-Marian in Worcester - had male swimmers on their rosters. (Many more high schools offer swimming as a winter sport. There were 190 boys' swim teams and 154 girls' teams competing last winter.)
In previous years, the issue of boys competing on girls' high school swim teams was not much of a problem, Wetzel said.
Typically, only a handful of boys participated, and they did not perform as well as the best girls, he said. ``We haven't had any boys that were good enough. They've swum but haven't qualified to move up'' into postseason competition, Wetzel said, or threaten to break any records.
Wetzel said that any school with a mixed-gender sports team must inform the MIAA and all of their opponents during the season. Under MIAA rules, any opposing team can decline to play against the mixed-gender team. When that happens, the mixed-gender team gets a win (due to forfeit) but the opposing team doesn't record the loss, so it does not hurt their record, he said.
Swim coaches say they don't want any boys to lose the opportunity to swim. They just want to make sure that both the fall and winter seasons offer fair competition for both genders.
These are among the concerns likely on the agenda when the MIAA's swimming committee meets Jan. 5. Officials also expect to address the record set by Higgins, the Norwood swimmer who broke the mark set by Cynthia Kangos of Wellesley in 1985, after consulting with the National Federation of State High School Associations, Wetzel said.
``It's becoming more of an issue. We hope it will be addressed,'' said Norwood High coach Kim Goodwin, who had six boys on her roster this fall.
Goodwin said whenever the boys swam with their female teammates, gender became secondary. ``We're one big happy family,'' she said. But as the boys improved, and began finishing stronger, more opponents began taking notice, she said.
The strength of the boys ``is an unfair advantage,'' said Goodwin. ``It's also unfair to have them not participate in a sport they love.''
At Norwood High, the boys are timed separately from the girls. ``They're all racing against the clock'' and trying to beat their own best time, said Goodwin.
She said she hopes something like that can be done on a larger scale, so that during state tournaments boys are only competing against other boys' times.
Source: The Boston Globe