Shouts From The Stands: Bolles – A League Of Their Own

by SwimSwam Contributors 42

November 12th, 2021 High School, Opinion

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected]

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, FloridaWhile 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.

Photo: Ella Martinez.

ABOUT RAY MARTINEZ

Ray is a proud swim dad and Masters swimmer in Boca Raton, Florida. “Go Scots! Go Big Red!”

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Swimm
2 months ago

Same thing happening with Carmel girls in Indiana I’m pretty sure. 35 straight women’s state titles as of Feb. I think the boys have a streak going on as well, but not nearly as impressive as their girls or Bolles

Ol' Longhorn
2 months ago

Just put them in NCAA D1.

I was there
2 months ago

I am sure there are plenty of teams wanting to one day beat them. It is possible. Who remembers 2016 or 15 (not sure) when Pine Crest girls was in front until the 100 breast? Just do nothing and let people chase them.

Swim Mom
Reply to  I was there
2 months ago

You are right, it is possible. I was there when the Pine Crest girls were ahead. That meet came down to the final relay. St. Andrews was also in the mix.

so was I
Reply to  I was there
2 months ago

And that team that year was almost entirely homegrown. Bolles was behind by something like 45 points with three events to go. It came down to needing to place at least 3rd on the 400Free Relay, which was swum by a local girl who had just swum the breaststroke final, another local who had just swum the backstroke final, a local who had been back in the water for a month after major ankle surgery, and another local who was a distance swimmer not a sprinter. Honestly, the swimming in those last three events and the kids involved and Bolles comeback to win it with their relay swim to keep the streak alive is probably one of most improbable stories… Read more »

swimming fan
2 months ago

The seasons don’t all line up, but I’d love to see more high school travel meets. I know Cincinnati St. X and Louisville St. X swim every year. Occasionally, I think Carmel and Cincinnati St. Xavier have swum. How about adding Baylor and Bolles to that rotation? We are seeing it more in high school football and swimming. Maybe swimming will be next.

Braden Keith(@braden)
Admin
Reply to  swimming fan
2 months ago

Kevin Mann, the head coach at Loyola in Los Angeles (Rex Maurer, among others) is trying to get someone to race them. California is a challenging season to overlap with, but he’s reached out to several teams and isn’t getting a response.

I don’t think that this sort of ‘creative energy’ is something that swim coaches often have. That’s part of why swimming has been so dull for so long from a spectator perspective – because coaches make most of the decisions.

Preppy McPrepface
Reply to  swimming fan
2 months ago

Bolles used to swim at Easterns in Philly back in the day, when them, Peddie, and Mercersburg were powerhouses. Some impressive coaching names involved with those schools too (Gregg Troy at the helm at Bolles and a young Ray Looze as an assistant at Peddie, among others). Bolles got into some controversy when they went 2:59 in the 4 free relay at Easterns in February of 91 (?) but it didn’t count for any records because it was outside of Florida’s high school season. Which leads me to my point: unlike football, which is always in the fall, or even college swimming, which is always in the fall/winter, the variety of state’s high school swimming seasons causes some difficult scheduling… Read more »

Anonymous
2 months ago

I think that bolles and carmel both just work very hard and are reaping the rewards, both programs started from somewhere and I dont think its fair to amend the rules just because they have had great successes. I feel that anyone can put work in in the pool and better their personal bests. I dont think that this should be seen as a david and goliath battle, but rather an opportunity for you to get better and swim fast with friends. One thing that I know is that at both programs, the aspect of team is heavily emphasized, for them, although it is nice to win, the aspect of supporting your teammates, being sportsman like, and behaving like champions… Read more »

coachymccoachface
Reply to  Anonymous
2 months ago

Not arguing that Bolles doesn’t work hard but that’s definitely not the number one reason they win. I think they have like 70ish graduating seniors. That’s double the size of most teams

Sko Dawgs
Reply to  coachymccoachface
2 months ago

19 graduating seniors but I mean pretty close

coachymccoachface
Reply to  coachymccoachface
2 months ago

Bolles swimmers big mad when you say they aren’t all from Jacksonville and that their team is big lol

Alum
Reply to  Anonymous
2 months ago

Bolles is essentially a zone team every year, outside of the local Jacksonville talent Bolles draws kids from around the country and the world. Olympic committees from the globe send and finance athletes to attend the school for the boarding school and athletic facilities. It’s not apples to apples. Work as hard as you can but don’t be surprised when you see new names on their entry file each year.

coachymccoachface
Reply to  Alum
2 months ago

Exactly, it’s the history and the prestige of the swimming program that is great. They hire great coaches (for the most part) and they win. But they are in a different league per say

Alum
Reply to  Anonymous
2 months ago

Not many teams have the talent “pool”.
In the 90’s Coach Troy and Coach Shofe split the team (Blue & Orange) each had their own duel meet schedule and invites (Woodson / NSPI) both teams would go undefeated and win our invites. The Pine Crest dual was exciting because they also had the benefits of the boarding student athletes back then and some international flair. We also dueled and defeated Indian River CC a couple times.
Maybe they will get caught on a down year for recruiting, anything is possible.

Ferb
2 months ago

I would say Carmel’s streak is a lot more impressive, because they’ve done it in a single-class system, i.e. they perennially beat all the best teams in the state.

I don’t think anyone can force or legislate that an exception to the rules be made for Bolles, and just for swimming. But they could give schools (i.e. Bolles) the option of voluntarily moving up in class. I would think a program like Bolles would rather compete against the best teams, even if they occasionally lose, than continually run up the score against the smallest schools in the state.

Braden Keith(@braden)
Admin
Reply to  Ferb
2 months ago

Some states use that voluntary system, and I think it works well.

Other states use a system that forces promotion if you win X straight state titles.

There are ways to do it that have been used and work (generally speaking). I won’t demand that anybody like them, but it is done.

Big mac #1
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

I think the voluntarily moving up is the way to go, my team won a division one title even though are size would have put us in division 2 but we shifted back down to division 2 after because our team lost a lot of people

coachymccoachface
Reply to  Ferb
2 months ago

Bolles would still destroy 4A its a deeper class but Bolles’ depth would kill everyone.

Ferb
Reply to  coachymccoachface
2 months ago

That sounds like a better scenario than the status quo.

Donald Trump
Reply to  Ferb
2 months ago

The score will still be run up.

Soon Retiring Swim Mom
Reply to  Ferb
2 months ago

If you visit the FHSAA swimming site, you’ll see that many of the “best teams” already swim in 1A (smallest schools), and the times in 1A are as faster, if not faster, than 4A (largest schools). For example, if the 4A boys swam in this year’s 1A championship, they would have only won 3 individual events and 0 relays. Many state records have come out of 1A, including this year’s 200 IM (boys), 100 breast (boys) and 100 backstroke (girls).

What this father wants is to make Bolles someone else’s problem so other teams in 1A can win a few state championships. I can sympathize, and I know lots of people in 1A would cheer that move. But explaining… Read more »

Anonymous
2 months ago

There’s a reason they have won on both sides for 30+ years straight. As someone who sees what they do first hand, they deserve to win. They have great kids who WANT to win. Just put in the work, I didn’t know swimming was a participation sport.

coachymccoachface
Reply to  Anonymous
2 months ago

They SHOULD win every year is more like it. They have swimmers from all over.

Mr. Sir
Reply to  Anonymous
2 months ago

Based on the swimmers they essentially recruit, they should win.

so was I
2 months ago

Just to point out a flaw in your argument here – the “team size” at states is based on the qualifying meets. Districts advances to Regions advances to States. Everyone enters the same number of people in events at Districts – up to four in each individual event and one relay. Yes, Bolles has depth, (it is like the Hunger Games in swimming to snag one of the four spots to even go to Districts sometimes) but every team gets the same number of SWIMS. The number of kids that advance depends on the competition at districts and regions.

Classifications are based on school enrollment. That’s it. Bolles is a small school in terms of enrollment for swimming classification purposes.