A confusing series of events taking place at last week’s Greater Middlesex Conference Championships in New Jersey left one Monroe High School swimmer disqualified for an event in which he broke the meet record.
In a unique situation, Latvian-born Rich Fortels, a senior at Monroe High School in Monroe Township, NJ, competed in the conference meet as an independent swimmer, as was permitted under league rules since Monroe does not have an official swim team.
However, what was not permitted under league rules, was the fact that Fortels wore a swim cap bearing his club team’s name, Peddie Aquatics, as opposed to a high school. This violates the National Federation of State High School Association rules, thus rendering the cap illegal, even though the piece of gear offers no competitive advantage.
Of note, Monroe did not provide its “student-athletes who entered conference championships with caps or swimsuits for the simple reason that the school does not field a team, thus it has no uniforms available.”
The confusion comes in, however, in that at the meet, Fortels was called out for the disqualification in one event, but not another. Swimming in his club cap, Fortels scored a first-place finish in the men’s 100 freestyle (46.73), with no one apparently noticing his cap displayed his club team’s monniker.
The senior then raced the 100 backstroke, where he also took first place (51.30), clearing a new meet record. In that race, however, while wearing the exact same cap, Fortels was called out for a disqualification due to the cap not bearing a high school name.
Said James Grimm, an NJSIAA official, “the kid was wearing a club cap at a high school meet and that’s against the rules.” This explains the disqualification in itself, but not the inconsistency of the fact that his 100 freestyle race win still stands.
Obviously confused by the cap drawing a DQ in one race yet not the other, Monroe Athletics Director Greg Beyer said that “Fortels still doesn’t understand and he’s pretty upset about it, and he should be.”
Continued Beyer, “What you are talking about is the spirit of a rule. I understand the rule, but having a (Peddie Aquatics) logo on the cap is not going to affect how you swim.”
Additionally, the Athletics Director for St. Joseph Athletics, the team who would benefit the most should Fortels indeed be deemed disqualified in his 100 free race, believes that both of Fortels’ race wins should stand. “We’re all about competition,” said Smith. “If there’s a kid out there that’s better than us, he deserves (first place and the meet record). I would automatically say that whatever he achieved he deserves.”
Metuchen Head Swim Coach Jim Thomas concurred, saying, “What happened to the kid from Monroe is a shame. He’s a good kid, just trying to swim in the county. I feel bad it even happened to him. I know rules are rules, but in this case it was a mistake. The coach didn’t know because he/she is not a swim coach. I would have no problem if they could reverse the decision and help the kid out.”
Of note, with no official swim team, Fortels was accompanied by Traci Rickert, the boys track and field coach, in the capacity of his school board-approved mentor.
Wardlaw-Hartridge Athletics Director Karl Miran, who served as the acting tournament director for the meet said that Fortels simply needed to have turned his swim cap inside out to conceal the Peddie Aquatics logo to avoid disqualification.
Carl Buffalino, Conference President, indicated that the league’s executive committee will review Monroe’s appeal and could issue a ruling as early as Thursday.
This rule seems more out of date now than years ago. Now swimmers are allowed to wear different suits at the olympics (those getting paid to wear those suits – of course). I’ve never understood the suit/cap rule anyway. Swimmers can’t swim out of their lanes like track athletes and officials call DQs more from a lane standpoint than color anyway. For athletes to get disqualified based on these results is archaic.
An update to this in case anyone was wondering. The swimmer and his school appealed the DQ but it was eventually turned down per the national rule.
However, the swimmer who placed 2nd (who then got 1st) gave his first place medal to the DQ’d swimmer. That’s a class act.
It shouldn’t matter if he knew or not, a rule is a rule… ignorance is not an answer
How can one follow a rule, if it’s an unknown? If you want to put it in swimming terms, how can someone follow stroke rules unless they are known? Someone has to tell you about them, or teach you the rules. Officials in high school meets are inconsistent to say the least, and usually target the fastest swimmers.
In high school meets, during the start of fly we had officials standing at the 15 meter mark just waiting to bust a club swimmer who would be first off the blocks and the walls just waiting to bust them. Meanwhile most of the other lanes had the most blatantly illegal touches and turns, that would have been DQ’d in any… Read more »
Unless one of the officials warned him after his 100 free swim, there’s no way he should get DQ’d for the second swim. (Or at all, really, but whatcha gonna do?)
People should get more blank caps.
Cesar Cielo was DQd for wearing an illegal cap at panam games in guadalajara in 2011. Can’t remember the details but there was something wrong with a sponsor’s logo font size (something trivial). He was warned before walking out but raced anyway. They DQd him but after about a half hour it was reversed.
Did the swimmer compete in any other meets throughout the season? I understand he may not have participated in any dual meets, but possibly a mid-season invite. I imagine the rule should have been enforced at all meets prior to the championship meet, and would have given Mr. Fortels enough warning to find a solid colored cap.
This reminds me of a situation that happened to me in a dual meet against a rival high school. Not sure it’s the same thing but it brings back a memory that was crushing to me at the time. We lost the meet by 2 points because of a disqualification in the 400 free relay at the end of the meet (one in which we set the pool record, at home)…all because of a tiny stud eating , covered by a cap. I did vaguely know of the rule but I truly forgot to take it out before the meet started. It was also a rule I didn’t think was ever enforced because other swimmers occasionally left theirs in or… Read more »
This story sounds familiar! Did you race is a 5 lane pool?
Yes 5 lane, yes MC…!
I’ve officiated quite a few High School meets and I’ll always let the swimmer know to remove/change their cap if I see someone who would be violating this rule. Usually, they’ve grabbed the wrong cap while running up to the blocks and apologize when they realize what they’ve done. Teenagers’ brains often still seem to be developing the capacity for planning and judgement in preparation for a race.