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

  107 Braden Keith | October 25th, 2012 | High School, News

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

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I’m bummed I found this thread so late. Even more bummed that I wrote a comment that was better written by so many later down the thread. I have forwarded a link to this post to my HS admin. and hope it shines a light on how we need to make changes to our governing bodies.

Well said.


The problem in most HS situations is that the fastest kids are club kids. They get placed into the middle of difficult situations almost immediately. Years ago I worked with a swimmer who really didn’t want to swim in HS. She was a 1:06/2:23 200 yd Breaststroker at age 12. She moved out of my 12/u group and into the Senior Group of our team at age 13. All of the HS girls wanted her to swim. She tried it and tried hard to be a good teammate who bought into the practices. When she realized that the training was not what she needed, she wanted to supplement her training on her own time with her club team. She was… Read more »

I like it, it speaks to the focal point: the kid, the individual. Club is good for so, so many reasons (many of which are well before HS!) and HS is good for so many reasons – no matter the level (except maybe in the rare case of young OT talent).

The thing is, club coaches are lucky if they are able to parellel understanding, experienced, and knowledgeable HS coaches (and this doesn’t necessarily mean great former swimmers!) and HS coaches are lucky if they can parallel club coaches that want the best for their athletes (and this doesn’t mean just physically and is heavily weighted on the individual!).

This is exactly the problem on the coaching side of it. The trouble is that many of us coaches fail to see it, or our ego gets in the way of doing what is right for the kid. These athletes can’t serve two masters. Additionally, parents and peers often do not understand the BIG PICTURE and pressure the athlete into making decisions that are not in their best interest. Understand that the high school programs that succeed are attached to a club team! or have strong relationships with several, and the HS Coach allows the better athletes to be trained by their year-round coach. Look at how the greatest HS teams in the country are constructed and you will see… Read more »

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

The most common question asked about Braden Keith is "when does he sleep?" That's because Braden has, in two years in the game, become one of the most prolific writers in swimming at a level that has earned him the nickname "the machine" in some circles. He first got his feet …

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