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Navigating new waters: Looking back on Idaho’s first year of sanctioned swimming

Swimmers from various Idaho Falls city schools warm up at the Wes Deist Aquatic Center on August 9. Photo by Sarah Perttula

By MARLOWE HEREFORD
mhereford@postregister.com

Idaho’s newest fall sport was several years in the works.

A longtime presence in Idaho at the club level, swimming became a sanctioned sport in December 2016 by an 8-6 vote by the Idaho High School Activities Association Board of Directors. The inaugural sanctioned season began August 11 and concluded Saturday at the state meet in Boise, where Idaho Falls placed second in both the boys and girls team standings in 4A and several swimmers from Idaho Falls, Skyline, Hillcrest, Bonneville, Madison and Rigby claimed medals and personal bests.

According to the IHSAA, 1,156 students participated in swimming this season. The push for sanctioning dates back to the first official Idaho state meet in 1989, and Bonneville head swim coach and USA Swimming certified official Glenn Roth said this season was long awaited for eastern Idaho.

“We have people who are and have been very enthusiastic to get to this point,” Roth said. “The sport is growing in Idaho and I think we are on an upward trend. I think next year will be even better.”

Roth said in the years leading up the IHSAA’s sanctioning decision, Idaho club programs followed the IHSAA rulebook. That eased the transition for 2017, and coaches met and communicated frequently this fall to further discuss rule changes.

Perhaps the rule that required the most adjustment is the Rule of Two, defined by the IHSAA rule book as “no more than two students may be coached at one time by a member of their high school (grades 9-12) staff of that sport during the school year.” IHSAA executive director Ty Jones further explained the rule to the Post Register via email: “The rule of two is designed to not have coaches work with their kids on a year-round basis. We allow coaches to work outside of their sport season with two athletes from their school at one time.” Because they coach multiple swimmers at a time year-round, club swimming coaches are not allowed to be high school head coaches. The Rule of Two was not enforced this season for swimming, but will be next year.

Idaho Falls High School head swim coach Jacob Goodfellow and assistant coach Liz Grimes had help this season from Voltage Aquatics club coaches (and sisters) Casi and Phoebe Pahis. A former BYU swimmer originally from northern Virginia, Goodfellow was an eastern Idaho junior high volunteer coach for two years prior to his hire at I.F.

Goodfellow said the eastern Idaho swimming community is to credit for helping things go smoothly this fall.

Idaho Falls High School coaches Jacob Goodfellow and Liz Grimes observe practice at the Wes Deist Aquatic Center earlier this season. Photo by Sarah Perttula

“The clubs, the high school coaches and everyone who is involved know each other really well,” Goodfellow said. “At the end of the day, we just want the kids to succeed whether it’s to get a D-I scholarship or just to stay healthy.”

Goodfellow said finding enough officials and volunteers was an initial concern, but that was quickly resolved. He had anticipated scheduling issues considering how many high school teams share the Wes Deist Aquatic Center, but Aquatic Center employees ensured no overlaps. Goodfellow said swimmers were encouraged to continue attending their club practices, and several did just that. However, they are not allowed to compete for their club during the high school season.

I.F. had four practices per week—one hour per day for three days and an hour and a half for one day—which Goodfellow described as “extremely limited.” Club swimmers were asked to attend at least one high school practice per week, and there were days they had practices before and after school.

“On days that I would double, I’d go to club practice in the morning then do high school practice in the afternoon or club in the morning and at night,” said Idaho Falls senior and Voltage Aquatics swimmer Andrea Perttula. “It was tiring just being at the pool so long, but luckily the practices were different enough to keep it interesting.”

Roth said District 93 fully supported swimming this season while District 91 will begin fully supporting swimming next year. As such, Bonneville’s transportation, lodging and one meal over state meet weekend was covered while Idaho Falls was responsible for its own transportation, lodging and meals. Another change next year that will affect all of Idaho is state meet qualification. This year, it was time-based. Roth and Goodfellow said next year, a certain number of top finishers at the district meet will likely qualify for state, similar to cross-country and track.

Upon sharing their takeaways from year one, Roth and Goodfellow commended coaches, swimmers, parents and Aquatic Center employees for working together. While they added that eastern Idaho could benefit from additional pools, they said local swimmers are making the most of their resources and are supportive of each other.

“I was really impressed with the sportsmanship and quality of athletes, how much fun they were having,” Goodfellow said. “It’s always been my opinion that as long as you have the pool space, you can always produce good swimmers.”

Perttula, who has qualified for Speedo Winter Junior National Championships West in December and will continue her career at Kenyon College (Ohio), said her biggest hope for Idaho swimming is additional support from high schools. All things considered, the senior said her final high school season was fun.

“Regardless of the rule changes, they were very slight bumps in the road,” Perttula said. “We handled them quite well. We had an amazing season. I’m definitely optimistic for the future.”

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