According to the website Boston.com, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association (MIAA) has taken away a Sectional Title from one of the state’s top high school program after they deemed that the Gardner High School girls’ swim team was more of a “club team” than a true high school team.
Several local news outlets are reporting that it was a State Championship stripped, however that would seem inaccurate. After news of the investigation was leaked to Gardner officials, they pulled head coach Don Lemieux from the State Championship meet, causing him to resign his position. In response, many of Gardner’s swimmers chose to skip the meet altogether, and the program that won 16 titles under Lemeiux finished only 24th last year.
The program has been the breeding ground for many of Massachusetts’ best swimmers, including 2000 Olympic gold medalist Samantha (Arsenault) Livingstone.
According to the article, the organization sent a letter to the Gardner High School team that read “The conduct of your swim program has been of concern to the Board for many months . . . it appears that MIAA championships earned by your teams over the years, if this past year is any indication, were achieved by a non-school “club team” rather than an education based high school team.”
The debate over club-versus-high school rages in almost every corner of the country, but is an even hotter topic in the Northeast. There, many states have very careful rules to protect the separation of club and high school sports.
In Massachusetts, for example, there is even a section of the handbook titled “Loyalty to the High School Team: Bona Fide Team Members.” That section reads:
A bona fide member of the school team is a student who is consistently present for, and actively participates in, all high school team sessions (e.g. practices, tryouts, competitions). Bona fide members of a school team are precluded from missing a high school practice or competition in order to participate in a non-school athletic activity/event in any sport recognized by the MIAA. First Offense: Student athlete is suspended for 25% of the season (see chart on Rule 62). Second Offense: Student athlete is suspended for an additional 25% of the season, and is ineligible for tournament play immediately upon confirmation of the violation.
The MIAA Board of Directors cited multiple instances where swimmers skipped high school practice to participate in club activities.
Where the case becomes really peculiar is the claim by the investigators that a roster submitted in August of 2012 “includes only one Gardner High School student who was not connected to the team through school choice, home schooling, or through a cooperating school. This is unusual.”
This statement implies that only a single member of the team would be enrolled in a “traditional” manner at the school. Livingstone, then Samantha Arsenault, wasone of these “school choice” swimmers in her time with the program.
The letter continued that the roster “also reflects that every member of your swim team (with one possible exception) was a member of the Greenwood Swim Club, another suggestion that your team was more reflective of a non-school club team than a school team.”
The team is now on two years’ probation, where further violations could lead to further sanctions.