At this past weekend’s Arizona high school swimming State Championships, there was a notable swimmer missing from the Division I meet. That swimmer was Erica Stock, a junior at Glendale-Deer Valley High School who was the defending State Champion in both the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM.
Erica is missing this meet through no fault of her own. Instead, she is missing the meet as a result of a clerical error by her first year coach. I won’t name the coach, because mistakes happen, and this is a relatively minor one that should not reflect negatively on anything but the coach’s experience level.
The jist of it is that on the Friday that entries were due, Stock’s coach emailed a list of her state-eligible swimmers to Tournament Director David Hines just over an hour before the 6 PM deadline. Unfortunately, the swimmers were supposed to be entered via directathletics.com. by 4:48, when the entries were sent, Hines had already left his office for the weekend, and therefore didn’t receive the email until Monday morning, after entries had been pulled from the website and the list of 24 qualifiers in each event had been sent out.
Despite pleading with the Arizona Interscholastic Association and appealing even as high as the National Federation of High Schools, Stock and her coach were told that no exception to the rule would be made.
This, of course, brings up a harsh truth about the nature of rules, especially in a sport like swimming that seems to be heavily bogged down with paperwork and entry technicalities. Rules are made to be followed, and giving any leeway or allowing any exception can open a can of worms. “If you give a mouse a cookie….” But in a situation like this, it becomes very tough. This swimmer is being punished because a coach, who was hired without her consultation, made a huge procedural error. How can we hold a swimmer responsible for the actions of her coach when she was not responsible for choosing that coach?
If Josh Schneider misses an event at Nationals, that is his own fault. Swimmers of his age, and at that level, are responsible for knowing their own events. High school swimmers, on the other hand, have never been responsible for knowing entry procedures, and most coaches would likely take offense if a swimmer questioned them on it.
But in this situation, it is my opinion that an exception should be made. At some point, especially in youth sports, we have to consider the intent of rules and who they are designed to protect. The fact was that ithe person in charge of accepting entries was not reachable shortly before the entry deadlines, which is when most of the chaos and ensuing mistakes happen. The tournament director should have been available and checking his email an hour before the deadline in case a coach had an issue, there was a website error, or for any other number of reasons.
I’m all for enforcing rules that keep people from taking advantage of the system. But in this case, the coach has evidence that he made a good-faith effort to meet the entry deadline. It’s really kind of surprising that the tournament director didn’t check his email between the entry deadline on Friday and the release of the psych sheets on Monday. What if directathletics.com had crashed over the weekend and some coaches hadn’t been able to make their entries? What if the power went out? What if there was a scratch over the weekend? There are any number of legitimate situations that could have arisen that would have necessitated the tournament director’s attention prior to release.
Some have noted that allowing Stock back into the meet would mean removing another swimmer. But in a sport that has tried to be focused on inclusion, there are solutions that would allow Stock to swim but not at the expense to another swimmer. Her coach suggested adding a fourth heat for those two events, with the first three heats having 6 swimmers, and the last 7. Something surely could have been worked out.
Many exceptions to the rules should not be granted. An exception made in honor of a clearly good-faith mistake have to be considered more strongly than it sounds like the AIA and NFHS did.