Mark Meyer would be a favorite to win the Maryland 4A/3A state 100-yard butterfly title at today's inaugural state-sanctioned swimming championships if the Whitman swim team was participating in the meet. The Vikings' junior, however, is perfectly content to pass on that opportunity.
Instead, he is eager to test his talent against faster competition from the area's private schools at today's 43rd Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships, or Metros, even if it means settling for less than a championship.
"The competition at Metros really helps to bring the best swims out so that I can perform my absolute best instead of just swimming by myself against time," Meyer said.
He is not alone. The first state swimming championships will take place today without the support of Montgomery County teams, who voted unanimously to skip the meet in favor of swimming at the highly competitive Metros. As high school swimming in Maryland takes an important step by crowning its first state-sanctioned champions, the absence of Montgomery County teams is a significant growing pain.
"I know [state meet winners] can't be crowned Maryland state champions, and that will be something that's a disappointment," said Megan Shelton, coach of Leonardtown in St. Mary's County.
"I'm disappointed that not everyone is participating in the state sport now that it is state sanctioned, but I can't make that decision for their county. We just have to swim against who is swimming."
Faster swims, diving competition and loyalty to Metros made it a more attractive option to Montgomery County coaches, many of whom swam at Metros themselves. The Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association lacks authority to require schools to compete in its championships, and several Montgomery County coaches said staying with Metros was an easy decision.
Montgomery County swimmers have historically been faster than most public school competition in the state, and the idea of dominating the state meet was not appealing. Coaches agreed they wanted their swimmers to face tougher competition, even if it meant sacrificing individual state championships.
"We don't want to be [at states] hanging out with a bunch of public schools and whupping up on them," Whitman Coach Geoff Schaefer said. "Last year, if MCPS went to the [provisional] state meet, MCPS would have cleaned house, and it would be like that for years to come because we have really strong swimmers from this area."
Montgomery County has fallen back on the stance that Metros has a diving competition, while the diving is only an exhibition at states. Limiting divers to an exhibition at states "didn't seem very fair," according to Richard Montgomery Coach Christa Krukiel.
Doug Sutherland, Prince George's County swimming coordinator and the 4A/3A state meet manager, said that diving is only an exhibition at the state meet because the pool of competitors is small -- not every county has diving. But if the number increased with the addition of Montgomery County schools, a competition format is more likely.
Montgomery County teams would also be more compelled to swim at states if the meets didn't occur on the same day, but organizers for each meet don't agree on which could be moved. An MPSSAA rule prohibits teams from competing after their sport's state championships have been held, and scheduling options are limited because of regional, county and league championships and upcoming spring sports.
Several private school and Montgomery County coaches, however, said they would like to have a state meet that includes private schools. In that scenario, they said, public and private school team scores could be kept separately and everyone could benefit from swimming against the best competition.
"I think good competition does not come from exclusion," Georgetown Prep Coach Kirby Weldon said. "Metros is an all-inclusive meet. The right concept is all comers, and may the best team win. That's the true essence of competition."