Star swimmer Connor Hoppe, a commit to the defending NCAA Champions from Cal, has been ruled ineligible for the Sac Joaquin Section Championship meet, which is the highest championship meet for high school swimmers in his area, according to the Modesto Bee. Hoppe is the defending section champion in the 100 breaststroke, and had a chance at getting the National high School Record.
The rule that got Hoppe is a notorious one in California. He raced at the 2014 NCSA Junior Nationals representing the Clovis Swim Club, which coming in mid-March was after the start of the CIF swimming season.
The Sac Joaquin Section has a rule that during the high school season, swimmers can not compete for their club teams. They can still race at USA Swimming meets, but must do so unattached.
According to the Bee, Hoppe thought he would be okay given that he hadn’t started racing for Golden Valley High School yet. His understanding was that he just couldn’t compete for both teams at the same time, and that since he skipped his high school team’s first two dual meets, he was still in the clear to represent the Clovis Swim Club.
According to bylaw 2600.10 b in the section constitution “Once the official start date for the Section is determined (February 10), individuals FROM THAT POINT, must compete unattached in outside competitions.”
“I don’t think I have an option; it’s a clear violation,” Sac-Joaquin commissioner Pete Saco said to the Bee. “That rule has been around since 1981. It’s a violation.”
Hoppe and his brother Cameron have both been ruled ineligible to compete at the Sac Joaquin Section meet. What really makes this situation unique is that in other sections, the rule has remained the same: namely, if a swimmer has not yet competed for their high school team, they can still swim for their club team, regardless of the official start of the season. The majority of the swimmers who train with Clovis swim in a different section, meaning that they were unaffected by this new rule that is specific to Sac-Joaquin, which could have led to the confusion about what is, and isn’t, allowed.
This rule, and others in other sections, are in place in an effort by CIF federations to maintain some sanctity of high school athletics. The goal is to force swimmers to put at least some focus on their high school teams during the high school season.
Hoppe, while he says he did the same thing last year and knows many others who have done the same without any issue, is taking the high road.
“It’s disappointing, but at the same time it’s good motivation to get better,” Connor Hoppe said. “We still have an appeal on Monday and hopefully the decision will be overturned. All my coaches were unaware of the rule. The Sac-Joaquin Section is the only one that has this rule. It’s not like I was trying to break it. I had no idea.”
Were Hoppe’s appeal to be unsuccessful, it could be a missed shot at a potential High School National Record. He swam a 53.12 at NCSA’s, which is faster than the currently-recognized record of 53.24 done by Andrew Seliskar of Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia in February. The overall National High School Record is 52.92, belonging to Jacob Molacek.
Hoppe would have simply had to come close to his best time at the Section meet to break the National Record.
Hoppe was a late-comer to swimming, switching over from basketball. He was a 1:02 as a freshman, a :57 as a sophomore, and a :54 as a junior to break the section record.
“In previous years, kids were allowed to swim attached up until the start of their high school meets, but in 2014, they quietly changed it to Feb 10th, regardless of HS schedule,” a local swim parent said of the new rule. “You would not have known it unless you read the CIF rules carefully. My son’s club almost made the same mistake. Most club coaches do not keep updated with CIF rule changes year to year. High school coaches may know the rule change but don’t have any control over how kids sign up for their club meets. Most of the time the parents or swimmers have to be on their toes. Makes no sense to make it so difficult. Time to change the rule or abolish it all together.”