After some inattention to Illinois High School Association (IHSA) eligibility by-laws, it was discovered that two members of the Rock Island High School boys swim team had been ineligible during their high school season to participate in IHSA events.
The IHSA states that students must be in “good standing in at least five classes [in a traditional seven-period day] to be eligible for for athletic activities” (qctimes.com). Rock Island administrators found out on Friday that there were two swimmers who did not meet this criteria for the 2nd semester of the school year.
After multiple appeals by principal Tim Wernentin, the current consequences (among possible others) are as follows: Rock Island’s dual meets will be re-scored after taking out finishes by the ineligible swimmers, their Western Big 6 conference championship title could be taken away, and conference (as well as sectional) medals won by these athletes will be revoked.
The 2012 revision of academic eligibility rules by the IHSA was fairly new. “It was a systems error that was an immediate fix once we realized it happened. As the principal, I feel absolutely distraught for our swim team and swimmers and the coach,” said Wernentin. “It was just a terribly unfortunate set of circumstances that led to this, through no fault of the coach or the athletes.”
Because the names of the swimmers deemed ineligible have not been released, some conference records might be revoked. In a huge year for Rock Island, located in northwestern Illinois near Iowa’s border, members of their 200 medley, 200 free, and 400 free relays took down conference records. The old 400 free relay stood since 1989 until the quartet of Josh Fleming, Adam Cady, John Ponsetto, and Alex Jackson swam a 3:17.66 to take the conference title as well as scorch the old record of 3:20.71. Cady, a junior, slipped past the 100 backstroke record with a 54.09, taking down the old record of 54.10 set by now-graduated West Virginia standout Bryce Bohman in 2008.
Fleming, conference champion in the 200 and 500 freestyles, went on take sectional titles in both of those events, bettering the state meet qualification cuts in both events. The senior was also on the title-winning 200 free relay at sectionals, while Cady led off the 200 medley relay at the meet, and both relays qualified for state. However, in February, senior captain Fleming was accused of hazing for the second time this season.
As reported by local ABC affiliate WQAD, a parent of a swimmer on the team spoke out, claiming that Fleming and three other swimmers hazed a teammate prior to the IHSA state meet.
While the students were barred from speaking about the accusations, the alleged hazed student’s mother says that her son was “held against his will” and given hickeys by the other boys on his team.
This was not his first time, as there were reports in November of him hazing teammates that he dismissed as “horseplay.” Fleming, who claimed that “the punishment is very extreme,” was barred from competing at the state championship meet, the biggest competition of the year in Illinois high school swimming.
Alex Jackson and John Mager, both members of the 2015 Rock Island state team, opted out of the state meet in support of Fleming. Mager said that “it was blown out of context.”