For the past five years, Maryland has crowned its state swimming champions at the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association championship meet at the conclusion of each season. But to this point, that field of competitors has never included a large contingent of schools that boast some of the fastest swimmers in the state: Montgomery County Public Schools.
Long before the MPSSAA founded its state meet in 2007, MCPS was concluding its swim season with the Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships, annually one of the top regional high school swim meets in the country. Every year Montgomery’s swim and dive coaches vote to continue their participation in Metros – which also includes many of the areas top private schools – rather than join the rest of Maryland’s public high schools at the state meets, which fall on the same weekend.
But in the wake of yet another slew of record-shattering performances and intense competition at Metros, those coaches are considering a proposal to add the Maryland state meet to their schedule while moving Metros two weeks earlier. The impact of such a shift on both meets could be staggering.
As one Montgomery County coach suggested “the regional times and state meet records will be re-written” if MCPS show up at the Maryland state meet next year. And a comparison of this year’s times at both meets proves that would all but assuredly be the case. With the exception of the girls’ 50 and 100 free – marks held by former Severna Park All-Met Emily Lloyd – the winning times at Metros 2011 would have set Maryland state records in every event. Of those 20 events, MCPS swimmers posted times that would have set records in 15, many by a wide margin.
Walter Johnson junior Garrett Powell and senior Elizabeth Pepper swept the 500 free at Metros in times of 4:29.12 and 4:48.84, respectively, which would have crushed the Maryland state records in those events: 4:43.13 and 5:08.06. In the boys’ 400 free relay at the Maryland 4A/3A meet, Severna Park’s record-setting time of 3:23.23 would have been good for 14th place at Metros.
“If Montgomery County joined the state meet, I think the level of competition would go up tenfold,” Eleanor Roosevelt coach and Kennedy graduate Anne Koroknay said. “Bringing in powerhouses with that level of skill and tradition would force everyone else to really step up.”
But while there’s little dispute that adding Montgomery County’s teams to the mix at the state meets would lead to faster times, moving Metros earlier in the calendar – and thus eliminating swimmers’ taper period before the meet – could dilute the overall speed of the competition. Koroknay also wondered if the shift would enable Prince George’s County teams – who competed at Metros prior to the inaugural state meet in 2007 – to rejoin that meet and continue to compete at states.
“Metros is the meet of the season,” she said. “I’d love to get some of my kids into that meet to be in front of scouts and experience that type of atmosphere. Will that door be re-opened to us?”
With the MPSSAA championships scheduled for Feb. 25 next winter, Metros would need to be moved up two weeks – to Feb. 8-11. This would allow Montgomery County schools to participate in regional meets – a requirement for state meet participants and the lone opportunity for swimmers to qualify for the state meet – the weekend in between, Feb. 18. (Currently MCPS swimmers can qualify for Metros by meeting time standards at any point during the season, not just in championship meets).
The scheduling change would also necessitate the elimination of two meets from the MCPS schedule, which would likely include two of following: the annual relay carnival in January, divisionals and the Montgomery County championships. Should the proposal gain approval, the relay carnival appears most likely to go, but coaches are conflicted over the choice between divisionals and the county meet. The former allows for far more participation from swimmers and more balanced competition based on a team’s level of talent while the later separates the top swimmers in individual events and generally favors swimmers from the top divisions.
“It seems that the MCPS athletic directors are very much into the idea of doing the state meet,” Blake assistant athletic director and head swim and dive coach Jared Fribush said. “Unless the coaches provide some reasons not to do both Metros and states, I could see this happening as soon as next season.”
The greater concern for some is the effect the scheduling change would have on the times at Metros.
“I think it would tarnish it somewhat,” longtime Wootton coach Howard Blume said. “Metros is a different animal. Our thing is so unique where you have kids competing against the best of the best. It’s non-sectarian – you’ve got publics and privates and Catholic schools – and it crosses boundaries that you just don’t see anywhere else.”
“The emphasis has always been on that meet – even from the club teams, which are our lifeline. But if you move the meet, there’s just no way it will be the same.”
Another issue is diving, which is part of the team competition at MCPS divisionals, the county championship and Metros but is not included in the scoring of the Maryland state meets. The MPSSAA is considering changing its diving competition from an exhibition to a scoring event, but that would only be to determine an individual champion and would not factor into a school’s overall point total – thus eliminating the impact of divers on a team’s title contention.
No decision has been made at this point as athletic directors discuss the possibilities with each other and their swim coaches, but a verdict must be in by August when athletic schedules are set for the 2011-12 school year. And Fribush believes change is on the way, possibly within the next few months.
“From an athletic director’s point of view, they’d like to have all the sports aligned in terms of regional and state championships,” Fribush said. “Right now swimming and boys’ volleyball are the only sports that don’t use that structure.”
“Most of the coaches in the county have grown accustomed to Metros – I swam in it, and it’s a great meet. The competition there and the atmosphere that it provides, I don’t think that it will be easy to replace that with states. But over time, just like the Virginia state meet, our state meet will become very important to the teams competing in it.”