Legislators study swim-club restrictions

? State legislators are diving into the murky waters of high school swimming and diving competitions.

Currently, high school swimmers cannot be on both their high school swimming or diving team and a non-school-affiliated swimming or diving club at the same time.

Thus, many club swimmers and divers must take a three-month hiatus from their practice regimens during the high school season.

But proposed legislation heard Wednesday would allow students to compete for their high school team and attend club-level practices.

Senate Bill 217 differs from a similar proposal last year which would have allowed swimmers and divers to compete at both the club and high school level at the same time. This year’s version only allows for the athletes to continue their practice schedule with the club while competing for their high school teams. They still would have to sit out of club competitions during the high school season.

Wednesday, supporters and opponents of the bill voiced their opinions to the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, which decided to hold off on a vote and continue discussions today.

Ron Nugent of Wichita competed on the 1980 U.S. Olympic swim team in the 1,500-meter freestyle event. He said when he was in high school he had to choose between swimming for his high school team and the area club team. The high school competitions did not have the distance events he excelled in, so he opted to swim for the club instead.

“I cannot tell you how much I wanted to compete for my school and be a part of my high school swimming team,” Nugent said.

He urged the committee to change the rules so other swimmers would not have to make the choice he did.

“Don’t make kids choose between a high school letter jacket and an Olympic team jacket. Let them do both,” he said.

Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R- Topeka, also testified in favor of the bill.

Schmidt has two sons who swam for Topeka High as well as the Lawrence Aquahawks club during the high school off-season.

Her older son opted out of the high school team for two years so he could continue to swim for the club year-round.

Schmidt encouraged the committee to recommend approval of the bill, noting it still would restrict the student from competing on both levels.

“I don’t think people should miss that it’s only talking about practices, and it’s only saying after they’ve fulfilled their obligation to their high school team, and their high school coach, in academics, practices, the whole nine yards,” she said.

The necessity of the bill, Schmidt said, was that distance swimmers need to train hard and keep their mileage up year-round. Losing three months of club practice with their coach could mean missing out on a scholarship or even qualifying for Olympic trials, she said.

The same goes for divers, who compete on different board heights at the high school and club levels.

But Jeff Handley, swim coach at Washburn Rural High, disagreed with the bill’s aim. He said if students were doing both, schools would be more likely to drop swimming and diving programs and the costs associated with them.

“This bill addresses the top elite swimmer who has the financial ability to pay for club sports and has the capability of swimming such a speed that allows him to be on a club team, but 80 to 90 percent of my swimmers would be left behind. There would be no program for them to swim in at all,” Handley said.