As with any new year, 2012 brings with it the promise of changes in a variety of different social arenas, youth sports certainly among them. Still, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association could usher in a truly strange new era, depending on what it's Swim Committee decides on Thursday. After that meeting, the official state south division record for the 50-yard freestyle event in girls swimming may be held by a boy named Will Higgins.
If your initial reaction to that possibility is, "Wait, how is it possible for a boy to hold a girls swimming record?" rest assured, you're not alone. Still, the debate is a very real and lively one in Massachusetts, where boys have been permitted to participate as part of girls swimming teams at schools where boys swimming has been eliminated because of budget cuts or other concerns.
Here's how the Boston Globe spelled out the full depth of the dilemma facing Higgins -- who competes for the Norwood (Mass.) High girls swimming team -- and other boys on girls teams:
High school swimming in Massachusetts takes place in the fall and the winter. In the winter season, there are both boys' teams and coed teams, and separate state tournaments are held for each gender. But in the fall, swimming is strictly a girls' sport. That leaves Higgins and other male fall swimmers no choice but to swim alongside girls, and strive to compete in the girls' state championships.
Of the 48 high schools with girls' swim teams this fall, eight - Billerica, Dracut, Marshfield, Methuen, Norwood, Walpole, Weymouth, and St. Peter-Marian of Worcester - had male swimmers on their rosters, according to the MIAA.
Prep Rally first raised the strange gender dichotomy of boys winning girls swimming events in November, but at the time, the issue of potential record-setting performances was largely being glossed over by MIAA officials, almost as if to hope that the issue would simply disappear. It didn't, and now -- thanks to Higgins' performance in the 50-yard freestyle, officials are having to consider the broader ramifications of having boys compete on a level playing field with the other sex.
"It's a highly charged subject," Norwood athletic director Brian McDonough told the Globe. "We've seen this coming. For the last two or three years, it's been on our radar.
"[Thursday's swim committee gathering will] be an interesting meeting, that's for sure."