Mass. HS Stripped of Sectional Title After “Club/High School” Overlap Accusations

According to the website, 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.

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8 years ago

What a wild scenario. I am a strong believer in competing for your high school but there is no substitute for year round club training. Is there some sort of minimum requirement for the number of high school workouts a swimmer must attend or is the definition of “consistently present” arbitrary? Club and school programs should be mutually beneficial systems not stuck in a perpetual battle. Both sides need to step back and do right by the athletes and not the systems.

From Mass
Reply to  NDB
8 years ago

In MA, “Consistently Present” means you can miss HS practice for homework or illness, but not for Club Practice or Junior Nationals.
Additionally, it is up to the HS AD and coaches to enforce, so it’s not consistent from school to school.

Reply to  NDB
8 years ago

This is a huge issue where I coach. Club swimmers are forced to choose between HS and Club. The HS coaches/association won’t let club swimmers compete for the HS unless they exclusively train with said HS. This not only is a detriment to the long term development of the athlete, but hinders the overall level of HS swimming in general. It seems like California has it right.

Reply to  ChestRockwell
8 years ago

California is no better – it depends on what school the athlete attends. Coaches have the final say. High schools in the same school district can have different requirements and some will not allow their athletes to swim Club during HS season.

8 years ago

Soooo were there any punishments/follow ups for first and second offences? Just a point of order. Further, I feel that this is just a blanket athletic rule which fits well in football/basketball/baseball programs that just doesn’t mesh with the unique type of training required for the sport of swimming and organization/focus of swimming in the United States. I think the place of highschool swimming is to act as a stage for high-level swimmers to compete at the statewide level and for student-athletes who don’t have the ability and/or time to commit to a club team but they genuinely enjoy swimming so they go out for their less demanding HS team. So highschool swimming is caught between elite swimmers for whom… Read more »

Diana Rugg
8 years ago

Why are we still getting caught up in this nonsense? This was an issue back in the 1970’s with my club team and high school, and my family was caught up in the drama and tug-of-war for good swimmers that went with it. Club teams were broken up and high school teams wrecked because of it. Kids can’t choose where they go to public school, but they can choose a club team that best fits their needs. We should allow kids to go where they can develop best physically, mentally, and emotionally. If they want to also compete for their schools — often against their club teammates and best friends — more luck to them! Sounds like someone was upset… Read more »

Reply to  Diana Rugg
8 years ago

While this comment might be valid in some cases, I don’t think it fits given the particulars of this case. From what I can tell, this is basically a club team masquerading as a HS team.

And I never want to pull out the “Did you even read the article!?” card, but you used the phrase “son or daughter” in reference to an article about a girls team.

Reply to  Steve Nolan
8 years ago

I read in to this a little more on the net. This whole thing was started by one bitter parent with an axe to grind against the coach. Typical overreaction by the school board/school. Unfortunately, the times are a changin and not always for the better.

Here is the article:

Reply to  Coach
8 years ago

Ah, woof. That mom does seem a taaad bit crazy and with a definite vendetta against the coach. (Getting on-deck at that state meet and pushing for her daughter to be captain…that’s just gross.) But I mean, the coach still seems like he was breaking these rules, right? Because if not actually illegal, using that “school choice” loophole to fill Gardner’s HS team with club kids is definitely against the spirit of the bona fide rules.

Diana Rugg
Reply to  Steve Nolan
8 years ago

Yes I read the article, Steve. It is a widespread problem. It crashed my club team back in the 1970s, which had repercussions for my high school team years later because it had been starved of its best swimmers after the club team pulled out. I swam for both. Now I coach, and my kids swim. I would never tell a swimmer he had to swim for me if he (or she) felt there were better options that fit him (or her) personally somewhere else. And I’d expect the same for my children. Most states have some form of this rule (in Florida it was the Chrissy rule while I was growing up) but it is lenient enough to allow… Read more »

Reply to  Diana Rugg
8 years ago

I tried not to be too condescending, but I just wanted to keep stuff on-point to this situation. I apologize.

Reply to  Steve Nolan
8 years ago

I hate to bring her up in every conversation..but the first person I thought about after reading this was Missy Franklin. Didn’t we spend all summer applauding her about how great it was that she was still willing to swim for her high school team while training for the OLYMPICS? She said herself that she practiced mostly with Todd/STARS, which makes complete sense. So now instead of applauding her, we are accusing her? I know this is about Massachusetts not Colorado, and Missy goes to private not public school. Nevertheless, the concept should be the same. And when taken from the perspective of an Olympian, it shows how ridiculous this rule is.

Corey Coon-Cassily
Reply to  anonymous
8 years ago

I guess this is something I do not understand. I applaud Missy for wanting to and swimming with her high school team. I think she is a great example of an elite swimmer who greatly wants to represent her school and be on a school team and be a great teammate. What if she was in a place that did not allow her to swim for her club team at the same time? What if her high school coach wanted her to do 25’s easy. What if her high school was in a different district than her club team? What if her high school told her she could not compete at the state championship because she competed in an “out… Read more »

Reply to  Corey Coon-Cassily
8 years ago

this happened – ian crocker in maine with cheverus hs. he didn’t swm hs 10-12 grade….

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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