On Jan.11, East Mecklenburg senior Quinn Steitz jumped into the water and splashed to what he called “the best swim I’ve ever had.”
Competing in the Southwestern 4A meet that day, Steitz swam the 50-yard freestyle in 23.24 seconds. It was the fastest time of his life. Although he finished second in that race, the time qualified him for an individual event in the Western Regionals for the first time.
“I was pretty excited,” Steitz said. “I have to say it felt pretty good.”
A few days later, though, Steitz was told his time no longer would count, and he would have to try to duplicate it at other hastily arranged meets. He was one of dozens of local high school swimmers who would need to try to qualify again by Saturday because a noncertified referee was used in several meets this season, including that conference meet in Charlotte.
The first make-up meet was Tuesday night at Providence High. It featured about 75 swimmers, a few dozen parents and coaches, a fully certified referee – and no official name.
Some swimmers had put up a handmade banner that listed the conference’s name, along with all of its schools and the words “Together We’ll Overcome.”
“We’re going with that as the unofficial name of this meet,” said Ec Little, the East Mecklenburg athletics director and one of the many officials left scrambling in the wake of the controversy. “This is really hard on all the kids, but together we’ll overcome.”
Steitz was one of the swimmers trying to overcome.
At age 18, he will be headed to college at UNC Greensboro in a few months and plans to study kinesiology. He is ranked among the top 10 percent of his high school class and has a twin brother, Cameron, who ranks even higher.
Steitz also plays baseball for East Mecklenburg. Asked his primary sport, he said, “Whatever is in season.” He is not a full-time swimmer, having stopped year-round training at age 11. He is 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds “soaking wet,” as he puts it, and he was soaking wet for much of Tuesday night since he swam four events.
Hardie and Margaret Steitz, who are Quinn’s parents, were in the stands as their son stepped onto the starting blocks for the 50-yard freestyle.
“The whole situation is disappointing for all the kids here,” Hardie Steitz said. “But at this point, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
The buzzer sounded and the swimmers dove into the water.
The Providence pool is widely thought to be slower than the one at Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center, where Steitz had posted his personal-best time. On Tuesday, he was swimming in the lane adjacent to Myers Park’s Carter Miller, who had won the event at the conference meet 10 days before.
At 25 yards, the two were neck and neck. Steitz put on a late burst of speed and out-touched Miller at the wall, winning as his father pumped his fist happily.
Everyone in the stands then looked at the clock.
Steitz needed to swim those 50 yards in 23.49 seconds to be an automatic qualifier for regionals. On Jan. 11, he had done it in 23.24 before all those times got thrown out.
This time, he swam it in 23.97.
He wasn’t an automatic qualifier.
“It stinks,” Steitz said, “knowing that I had the qualifier time last meet and didn’t get it this time. I think last time I had more adrenalin, just knowing it was my last conference meet. And the pool does make a huge difference – at the Aquatic Center, you don’t have to swim back against the wake.”
All was not lost.
Steitz won the race, after all, and Miller is an excellent swimmer who had beaten him several times in a row before that. “That part felt good,” Steitz said.
Steitz would later qualify Tuesday for regionals in two relay races – he had swum relays at Western regionals previously.
Steitz’s individual 50 free time was also still good enough to be in the “under consideration” category, which means if there aren’t enough automatic qualifiers in the event he still could make it at the last minute.
Lastly, Little is still hoping to get some East Mecklenburg swimmers into yet another quickie meet before Saturday’s deadline.
Still, to use Steitz’s word, this all sort of stinks.
The mistakes of some adults – and one adult, that noncertified referee, in particular – has cost some local kids one of their moments in the sun.
As a kid, you only get so many moments like that. It’s a shame whenever one is taken away by the grownups.