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.