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The following piece comes to us from Dylan Warren, a high school senior swimmer for Gahanna Columbus Academy, and touches on the issue of incorporating video replay into swimming, starting at the sport’s highest levels and then trickling down from there, similar to what volleyball has done recently with the inclusion of video replay for Olympic and NCAA competition.
The air in C.T. Branin Natatorium at Canton McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio was alive. As the swimmers stepped up to the blocks, the noise of the crowd died down from loud conversation, to a soft murmur, and then to total silence. Teammates gathered behind the lanes of their respective team, preparing to cheer their hearts out for what was sure to start the night with insane suspense. The top eight teams of the 200 Medley Relay walked out of the ready room and lined up behind their lanes. Top seed in the event, Columbus Academy, stood behind the blocks of lane four. “Take your mark…” the starter said into the microphone. The crowd and the teammates collectively held their breath, ready to scream in an instant, on the verge of their seats: tense.
The buzzer sounded and the swimmers flew off the starting blocks. The crowd erupted into a deafening roar. Teammates stood at the end of the lanes screaming and jumping up and down. Columbus Academy finished first with a 1:33, dropping over an entire second from prelims the day before. Hawkens finished second.
What’s it like having a state champion title ripped from you? Why don’t you ask Junior Backstroker Max Driesbach, Senior Breaststroker Nate Goldfarb, Sophomore Butterflier Jack Campbell, and Sophomore Freestyler Jacob Eismann. They know all too well…
The order of the 200 Medley Relay goes: Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly, Freestyle. Jack Campbell, swimming butterfly, came charging into the wall as Jacob timed the exchange and flew off the blocks with a purpose. When Jacob finished, we stood behind lane four going absolutely nuts. As a senior and captain on the team, I was so proud of my boys and what they had just accomplished. Not only had they just won Columbus Academy’s first ever state title in that event, they had also broken the school record by over a second.
And then it all changed. A collective gasp went up from the crowd, and as my teammates and I looked up to the scoreboard we saw the infamous “D” next to Columbus Academy’s time, in place of where there should have been a “1” for finishing first. It meant the most damning thing possible at the state competition level: we had been disqualified.
As the realization set in, fans yelled in anger and outrage, others cheered with joy. As for my teammates and myself, we stood in shock. Of course, the Hawkens fans were ecstatic. We walked away in silence, heads hung low.
My fellow Vikings and I quietly returned to our team area in the gym, meeting our assistant coach along the way. Usually an extremely positive guy, even he held his head low, the usual smile that filled his eyes noticeably absent.
One by one, members of the Columbus Academy relay team entered the gym. We silently hugged them all. Their moods varied considerably. Jack entered first in total silence, scowling, and with a far away look in his eyes. Nate stomped in, threw his clothes at his bag, and stormed out, heading for the warm down pool. Jacob, charged with the disqualification for false starting, entered the gym sobbing. He crashed down into his seat and buried his face into his hands, body shaking as he heaved. Finally, Max walked in fast, pointing at Jacob from across the gym. “Don’t you do this Jacob,” Max yelled, “Don’t you dare do this.” We all looked up. “That wasn’t on you,” Max said angrily, now right next to Jacob. “That wasn’t on you. That was on all of us, all four of us. We are a team, we did that together. Understand?” Max now held Jacob’s head to his chest. Jacob nodded. Max crouched so that he was eye level with Jacob. “Now, lets go warm down, okay? We’ve got more racing to do.” Slowly, they got up and walked toward the warm down pool.
And so the Columbus Academy Vikings rallied. Max went on to finish 5th in the 200 IM and 4th in the 100 fly. Nate went on to finish 7th in the 200 IM and 2nd in the 100 breast. Jacob finished 6th in the 50 free and 4th in the 100 back.
Watching the scene quietly from the center of the gym stood the the head coach of another team. Upon the exit of Max and Jacob, he walked over and expressed his condolences. “What happened?” he asked us. ‘We don’t know,’ we answered. We explained that we guessed it was a false start on our freestyler during the final relay exchange. “Really?” the coach asked, irritated. “That’s total bullshit: there was nothing wrong with that start.” He shook each of our hands and wished us luck for the rest of the meet, urging us to keep our heads held high.
30 minutes later, we had video and photographic proof that there was nothing even slightly illegal about the relay. As the picture in this article shows, Jacob’s feet had not yet left the blocks before Jack’s hands had touched the wall. As a matter of fact, it was a perfect start: as a team we could not have asked Jacob to do more. And we told him so, showing him the picture to help ease his guilt.
The night ended with the announcement of the final scores. The Columbus Academy Boys finished third with 146 points. Cincinnati Seven Hills finished second with 171 points. Hawken finished first with 230 points. Third place is the highest the boys team has ever finished at the state meet. The disqualification cost the Columbus Academy Boys their first ever State Runner-Up finish in the history of the school. However, they rallied valiantly. They swam best times throughout the night, refusing to be deterred from standing on the podium. They finished with a 2nd place finished in the 400 free relay.
OHSAA rules dictate that all decisions regarding disqualifications are final, and are not subject to further review, even when considering photographic proof as evidence contradicting the call. This article has been a recounting of the event from the observer’s perspective, and a retelling of the emotions and brutal reality of the situation, in an effort to help others realize the flaw in the OHSAA officiating system. Disqualifying a state champion on simple human error is the most controversial call one could make as an official. To not even reconsider the call after there is proof the call should be reversed, is the true injustice of the system. On top of it all, the official standing over Columbus Academy’s lane dropped the disqualification paper into the water. OHSAA is behind on the technological curve, and it’s about time they modernized.
Editors Note: While the video and photo do shed light on the exchange in question, it’s also worth noting that officials are not allowed by OHSAA rules to overturn a decision after reviewing photographic or video evidence.
The video in question:
The still photograph, courtesy of Ron Eismann: