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.


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.


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

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1 year ago

Fair and unfair are relative terms. Due to the cap on the number of high school swimmers not all the Bolles swimmers even get to go to the state meet. In fact, they could have had an entire “B” lineup on the boys side who also would have won the state meet if the team that did go couldn’t make it. Is the number cap fair to those kids?

That being said, I do like the idea of one high school state swim meet. School size and swim team size don’t often correlate, and it would be fun to have just one state champ.

Reply to  Matt
1 year ago

I wish the Arizona model worked better. Have divisions, then everyone comes together for a big hurrah at the end. The big hurrah is often overlooked though.

1 year ago

I would understand if this article was written by the parent of a swimmer at a small school with no swimming tradition that doesn’t offer boarding or doesn’t run a USA swim club from within their campus. However, my understanding is that Saint Andrews, just like Bolles, is a boarding school who recruits not only locally, but also internationally and runs one of largest swim clubs in South Florida. Many of the swimmers who join the swim club end up transferring from other high schools chasing a state title just like the kids going to Bolles do. It seems to me that Bolles is just doing a better job at recruiting kids than any of the other boarding schools in… Read more »

Kara Dawson
1 year ago

I always enjoy watching teams like Bolles and St Andrews swim in the Class 1A championship but I wonder about the competitive fairness of boarding schools with kids who come to a school to do a sport like swimming versus public schools where kids swim with local clubs, go to a school in their hometown and live with their families. Sure, there are exemplary swimmers everywhere but the sheer number of them at a boarding school is improbable for any school whose athletes are local. I also wonder about individuals who are not from Florida being eligible to win state championships –is it really a Florida high school competition or is it a national (or in many cases, international) competition?… Read more »

Just a coach
1 year ago

St. Xavier in Ohio has won the state tournament like 72 times of the 74 times they’ve contested it. They’re the most dominant team in the country of any sport.

Mark Usher
1 year ago

The strength of Florida high school swimming actually comes from the club system, not the high school programs per se. Bolles is a unique case in that regard.
The 4A champions Sarasota (boys) & Riverview (girls) rosters are primarily made up of swimmers from the Sarasota Sharks (Coach Brent Arckey) & Sarasota Tsunami (Coach Ira Klein) club teams.
The Sharks & Tsunamis also have state qualifiers at other area high schools such as Cardinal Mooney, Venice, Lakewood Ranch, Bay Shore, Braden River & others. With the FHSAA limit of two individual events & two relays per swimmer, ‘spreading the talent’ actually provides more opportunities to compete.

Move along
1 year ago

If the seasons lined up, it would be cool to have a high school national championship meet.

USA Swimming is about the selfish individual. High School swimming is about the team.

Reply to  Move along
1 year ago

They do, its virtual though

1 year ago

Good lord, stop

1 year ago

Private schools should have their own division. Public schools are often restricted by enrollment boundaries. Private schools aren’t. Separate them into different divisions.

Reply to  Sean
1 year ago

St Andrews and Pine Crest are private schools too, so that would still make the author of this article unhappy. St Andrews even has boarding- just like Bolles…