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Proposal threatens existence of fall girls’ swim

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Senior Joumana Samaha, a member of girls’ swimming and diving, dives in a home meet against Dedham Wednesday, Oct. 19. If the recent MIAA proposal passes, girls’ swimming may take place during the winter instead of the fall.

by Jay Feinstein

Four autumns from now, when the football team is trudging on the turf, the cross country team is racing on the outdoor track and the volleyball team is playing in the SOA, the deck of this school’s pool may be dry. There may not be any girls practicing in the pool. There may not be a girls’ swim team.

A Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) subcommittee recently introduced a proposal to phase out the current girls’ fall swimming and diving postseason competition by the 2015-2016 school year. The lack of a postseason means that the girls’ fall swim team will no longer exist, according to coach Kirsten Tuohy. This measure has sparked some opposition in this school’s girls’ swimming community, she said.

With the proposal, the MIAA, which currently offers a boys’ postseason in winter and a girls’ postseason in both winter and fall, would continue to offer the girls’ and boys’ winter postseasons, according to Tuohy.

If the proposal passed, this school would be forced to either combine its boys’ and girls’ swim teams or to have two teams that share pool space, Tuohy said. “It would have a significant impact on us,” Tuohy said.

Currently, there are three swim teams in this school that practice during the winter:  Newton Swim Team, this school’s boys’ swim team and South’s co-ed swim team. With the addition of the girls’ swim team, there would be a fourth.

If boys’ and girls’ teams were to practice together, both teams would have to cut up to half of their team members due to limited pool space, according to Tuohy. There are currently between 45 and 50 members of girls’ swimming, and she said she would have to cut 25 or more to accommodate sharing the pool with boys’ swim.

If there were a separate swim team for girls in the winter, pool time would be more limited than it already is, and practice times for all teams would be significantly reduced, according to Tuohy. “We would lose a lot by losing the fall team,” she said.
A change in team dynamic is one of the main issues that could arise through changing the season of girls’ swim, Tuohy said. “It’s nice right now to have an all-girls team because the team is so close-knit.”

“The girls don’t have to worry about what boys are thinking and saying. Girls go through a lot of changes in high school, and being on a single sex team enables them be comfortable in their own skin.”

An all-female team gives students a place to grow, Tuohy said.

“It’s empowering for girls to compete with and against other girls,” she said. “The all-female experience is important because it gives girls a place and time to work out social and emotional issues that many people inflict upon themselves. People can really be themselves.”

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Freshman Samantha Giang swims during the meet against Mt. Alvernia Tuesday, Oct. 18. The year after she graduates, the proposal would go into effect.

Many other members of the State’s athletic community are outraged by the proposal, Tuohy said. “All coaches in the fall are not for it, even coaches of teams with boys, because they don’t want to lose what they currently have.”

According to senior Hunter Hedenberg, who was a captain with senior Veronica Ingham this fall, the change would negatively affect the team.

“Putting boys and girls together while wearing bathing suits everyday is definitely going to change the group dynamic of both teams,” Hedenberg said. “Because there are both boys and girls on the teams that compete, the teams as a whole are bigger, which can make competition more intimidating and stressful, and it can make the meets longer.”

Many would-be members who enjoy winter sports could also be lost from the team, Hedenberg said. Many divers are also gymnasts, and would have to choose between diving and gymnastics, she said.

Junior Yarden Gavish said she is also concerned that the swim season would change. “I, along with a lot other people, do a winter sport that I care about deeply, probably more than swimming,” she said. “Girls are used to swimming in the fall and have arranged their schedule based on that. This change will only bring along bad things.”
The MIAA introduced the proposal to address gender equality issues, while staying within the parameters of Title IX, a 1972 federal law, which mandates that all students be given equal access to school-sponsored activities.
In the current system, the MIAA does not offer a boys’ swim postseason in the fall, so schools that do not offer boys’ swim during winter are required to admit boys to their girls’ fall teams.
This causes problems because “boys are physiologically stronger in high school, so boys could have an advantage in some events when competing against girls,” Tuohy said.
“Many boys were competing in the fall postseason by qualifying with girls’ qualifying times, and some wouldn’t have qualified if they were in a boys’ league,” she said.
In November, Norwood senior Will Higgins, a boy competing in the girls’ swim league, broke a sectional record in the 50-yard freestyle during the girls’ state championships.

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The Tigers compete against Norwood in the 50 freestyle. Boys have an advantage in this stroke, according to Tuohy, because it requires more strength than technique. Senior Will Higgins broke his controversial record in this stroke.

To limit competition between boys and girls, without spending the extra money needed to hold a boys’ fall postseason, the MIAA will discontinue its girls’ fall postseason, Tuohy said.

“The MIAA would have to rent pool time to run two more tournament meets for boys in fall,” she said. “They would be running eight instead of four.”

According to the proposal, there will be a boys’ fall postseason for the next three years, but after that, there would not be a fall postseason for boys or for girls.

Despite opposition to the proposal, Tuohy understands where it is coming from. She said that she wishes there was a way to limit competition between boys and girls that did not require the elimination of the girls’ fall team.

“I’ve been involved in MIAA swim since ’92, and it has been in the fall for all 20 of those years,” Tuohy said. “A change would be something to get used to.”

Boys’ swim coach Ryan Rich declined to express his opinion on the issue. “I’m confident the MIAA representatives for Newton North will ensure that a decision is made in the best interest of the school and the state association.”

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