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This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Ray Martinez, a proud swim dad from Boca Raton, Florida.
THE UNFORTUNATE INEVITABILITY OF WINNING
Every year, the on-deck and live-stream meet announcers at the Florida High School Class 1A Swimming and Diving Championships ask the same teasing question just before finals gets underway: Will this be the night …?
Will this be the night that Bolles’ streak of championship wins — which goes back more than 30 years for both the boys and girls — ends?
It may just be the company I keep, but the reply I hear to this question is a collective groan because the answer no one says aloud is: Not a chance. Never gonna happen.
Bolles is a juggernaut in Florida, a Goliath of swimming in the entire nation, and perhaps the most dominating team — at any level, from pee-wee to professional — in the history of sports. Based on a tradition of winning, they are unmatched in attracting swimmers from around the country and the world to their boarding school. Seems like every year or so there’s a new crop of swimmers no one in Florida had ever heard of before. That is, swimmers who had not grown up competing in Florida with the rest of the pool of high school students. With this extra field of talent to draw from, Bolles is able to qualify many more swimmers to compete and score at States. (Good for them!)
This year, Bolles came into the state championship with roughly twice the number of swimmers on the girls’ side as Saint Andrew’s, last year’s state runner-up. Bolles had 17 girls swim in the state championship preliminaries, advancing 15 to finals, while Saint Andrew’s had nine in prelims, advancing eight girls to finals.
A closer comparison of finals shows that of Saint Andrew’s eight swimmers, six swam the full complement of events (two individual and two relay) while two swam in just one event each. Bolles, on the other hand, had the breadth to have four girls swim in just one event at finals, including one swimmer whose only race was swimming the third leg of the 400-free relay — the last race of the meet. The capacity Bolles has to bring “fresh legs” into events is a key strategic advantage.
To no one’s surprise last Saturday, the Bolles’ girls won the state team title with 370 points to runner-up Saint Andrew’s 238 points, while the Bolles’ boys won by nearly 400 points ahead of second place The King’s Academy. (With three state records and dozens of All-American times, the meet was perhaps the fastest in Florida history.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being a hater here. From what I’ve seen over the last few years, Bolles is a shining example of excellence and sportsmanship. A great-coached team that is impressively formidable from the moment they stream off their charter bus in uniform, to their performance in the pool, to their conduct on deck. I know my daughter, who swims for Saint Andrew’s (another class act), is always excited to swim against Bolles.
But isn’t there something fundamentally wrong with a competitive system where no school but one — Bolles — has any chance of winning a state championship? Where the notion is so improbable that it is not even talked about as a far-reaching goal? That doesn’t sound like a competitive environment to me. And, yes, besides that, I am lamenting for all those teams, like my daughter’s, who never had, or will have, the opportunity to enjoy the pride of winning a state team title.
So, what to do about Bolles? I have no idea if the powers that be (coaches, school athletic directors, the Florida high school athletic governing body) see this as a problem worth trying to solve or not, but it seems to me (just a dad in the stands) that the problem/solution lies with the high school classification system. In Florida, the smallest schools are placed in Class 1A and the largest in 4A. The problem with Bolles is that it’s grouped with the smallest schools, even though it is one of the largest swim teams in the whole state. I don’t have the answer, but if the goal is to organize teams by some principle of team parity, these ideas seem, at least to me, to head in that direction:
- Move Bolles to Class 4A, where at least the team sizes are more alike. It might take many late night zoom meetings and some bureaucratic jujitsu to get this done, but the result should be an improvement over the status quo.
- Assign Bolles a special designation similar to IMG Academy, the private athletic academy-boarding school in Bradenton, Florida. While IMG does not have a swim team (yet), its national powerhouse football team, for example, which plays against high school teams in Ohio, Illinois, and Alabama, has an agreement with the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) that allows it to play other Class 1A teams during the regular season, but forbids it from, a.) recruiting in Florida, and b.) playing in the state championship series.
- Eliminate the school/team classifications system for swimming and diving altogether. And, instead of having four separate state championship meets for each classification, hold just one big meet consisting of the top 24 or 32 fastest swimmers. The downside to this zero-sum game approach is that far fewer teams and swimmers can qualify for states and only one team, instead of the current four, can claim title to state champion. The upside to the one-meet idea is that it would make the state championship more competitive and evenly matched, and Bolles’ power would be diluted by having to compete with everyone, the whole state, not just against one slice of the state.
It may just be that Bolles is in a league of its own and beyond any reasonable high school classification. But that shouldn’t mean a lifetime of denying every other team in Class 1A a shot at being state champions. They deserve a fair shot.
By the way, in that Girls’ 400-free relay showdown at this year’s states, the race came down to Saint Andrew’s and Bolles, and Saint Andrew’s managed spectacularly to prevail by 5/100th’s of a second. They beat Goliath. They showed that, when the deck is not stacked 2 to 1 against them, and they are able to compete one on one or four on four, pound for pound, Bolles can be beat. And that’s the way it ought to be.
ABOUT RAY MARTINEZ
Ray is a proud swim dad and Masters swimmer in Boca Raton, Florida. “Go Scots! Go Big Red!”