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Use of non-certified referee could cause Charlotte-area high school swimmers chance at regional meet

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

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Dozens of high school swimmers who thought they had qualified for the regional meet will instead have to swim again to qualify because a non-certified referee was used in several meets this season, the N.C. High School Athletic Association ruled this week.

But the swimmers will have one last chance to qualify for the Feb. 1 N.C. 4A Western Regionals at the Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatic Center because Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools has added two meets next week.

Swimmers must qualify for the regionals to have a chance at making the state meet.

The ruling affects most swimmers from the SoMeck 8 and Southwestern 4A conferences. The Southwestern 4A includes Butler, East Mecklenburg, Garinger, Independence, Myers Park, Porter Ridge and Rocky River. The SoMeck 8 4A includes Ardrey Kell, Berry, Harding, Olympic, Providence, South Mecklenburg and West Mecklenburg. Charlotte Catholic is also in the SoMeck 8, but its swimmers are not affected. Catholic athletics director Kevin Christmas said his school used a different referee for its meets. That referee was certified.

A third Mecklenburg County conference, the MECKA 8 – which mostly includes schools in the northern end of the county – was not affected.

Swimmers who had previously achieved qualifying times or were close will be invited by CMS to compete again. The SoMeck 8 swimmers will swim Friday at Providence. Southwestern swimmers will swim Tuesday at Providence.

Additionally, the SoMeck 8 conference meet is scheduled for Jan.  24 at the uptown Mecklenburg Aquatic Club. System athletics director Sue Doran said CMS was making sure the meet referee was certified.

Schools have until Jan. 25 to report regional qualifying times to the state association.

“I’m disappointed, first and foremost, for our student-athletes,” Doran said. “But the good news is if we want to try to find any good news in this, is that it was discovered in time for our student-athletes to be able to swim and make times and go to regionals.

“Everybody would feel 100 percent worse if this was discovered the day before, that times due to the association for regional qualifying were not good. That’s one bit of good news in this situation, but I’m disappointed for our student-athletes, no question.”

Since 1998, the NCHSAA has required swimming referees to be certified. The association also requires that one referee and three other officials be at any meet that includes two or more teams. The NCHSAA handbook states that “meets must have the proper number of officials in order for times to be used for regional entry.”

At multi-team swim meets, one school is selected as the host and is responsible to hire referees and officials. Some of the schools hired a referee they had used for years. This referee, a source told the Observer, had conducted clinics to train other referees. The state association website lists certified referees and officials. The source said the local referee was listed this year as an official, not a referee, because he did not renew his certification. While the schools who hired him missed the change, the official still presented himself as qualified to run the meet.

This all came to light this week when the NCHSAA received a tip about some of the qualifying times from Mecklenburg County potentially being invalid. NCHSAA spokesperson Rick Strunk said the association investigated and turned up the name of the ineligible referee.

That left local schools scrambling.

“He was not a certified official,” Strunk said. “You’re certified annually and I’m not sure he’d taken a test to be certified (this year). The schools weren’t aware of it at the time. He had been certified before.”

The Observer contacted several CMS athletics directors and coaches, most of whom did not return calls. Others referred calls to Doran’s office.

At Charlotte Catholic, where swimmers were not affected, Cougars coach Brian Gross said he uses a referee he has known for years and once coached the referee’s daughter. That referee is listed as certified on the state website.

“I think the focus is the kids and that’s where it’s an awful situation,” Gross said. “The kids had nothing to do with it. They swam their hearts out and worked hard achieving those goals. Achieving those 4A regional times is a tough gig.”

Scott Shipp has a daughter, Olivia, who is a senior on Myers Park’s swim team. Olivia Shipp has a time that’s close to a qualifying mark for regionals, her father said. She’ll be invited to next week’s re-qualifying meet at Providence and will have a chance to swim the 500-freestyle and earn a qualifying time.

Shipp said his daughter is disappointed with the entire process.

“The kids try to get as fast as they possibly can for conference meets and it’s like the wind gets let out of your sails,” Scott Shipp said, “and you’ve got to do it all over again. From my point of view, I think it’s absurd they’re going to make kids swim again when the ref doesn’t have a big impact on how fast a kid is going to swim. Everybody’s got rules and in some cases, reason doesn’t apply....The kids will all go swim again and we’ll see what happens.”

Staff writer Corey Inscoe contributed; Wertz: @langstonwertzjr

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