Prep Wednesday : The Rules of This Game Leave Some Nonplussed, Others Angry

Times Staff Writer

The rules of the game have always been different for high school swimming.

It’s the only Southern Section sport in which an athlete can practice, even compete, for an outside team during the high school season and still remain eligible to compete for the school’s team.

In short, swimmers can train with a club team while the high school season is in progress. They can even compete in an international meet, providing they petition the Southern Section in advance.

“Swimming has special rulings regarding international competition and special rules regarding whom they can work out with,” Southern Section Commissioner Stan Thomas said. “They can drill with a club team and swim for their high school. It’s traditionally been that way. I’m not thrilled about it, but it’s there.”


Some Orange County high school swim coaches say the time has come to put more restrictions on outside involvement. They say they will ask their principals to propose rule changes that will not allow club contact during the high school swim season.

“It’s time that the high schools say enough is enough,” Villa Park Coach Jeff Ehrlich said. “I’m not saying anyone has broken any rules. What we’re looking at is the spirit of fair play. That hasn’t been used for a long time.”

Ehrlich and other coaches were upset this week to learn that a Mission Viejo swimmer, who had not competed for the high school during the season or in the South Coast League meet, had qualified for Thursday’s Southern Section 4-A preliminaries in a dual meet after the league finals.

Tsukasa Kawabuchi, an exchange student from Japan, swims for the Mission Viejo Nadadores, one of the premier club teams in the nation. Last season, he also swam for the Diablos through the league finals. However, school officials learned that he was not a part of a foreign-exchange student program as they had thought and reported it to the Southern Section.

Kawabuchi was consequently ruled ineligible for a year, according to Mission Viejo Coach Mike Pelton, who also said that Kawabuchi’s eligibility was restored on Saturday, the day after the league finals.

Saturday morning, the Diablos faced Santa Margarita in a dual meet, and Kawabuchi swam Southern Section qualifying times in the 50- and 100-meter freestyles. His times, along with the other Diablo qualifiers, were turned into the Southern Section office before the 2 p.m. deadline on Saturday.


The school was within Southern Section rules to hold a dual meet on the Saturday that qualifying times were due. However, some coaches questioned why Mission Viejo would hold a dual meet after league finals.

“I think this in a gray area,” Foothill Coach Tom DeLong said. “The rules give a date for the end of the season and they don’t say you can’t hold a meet on the last day. But I don’t know if it’s ever been done in the history of Southern Section swimming.”

Said Pelton: “Santa Margarita contacted us a few weeks ago about having the dual meet. They don’t have swimming in their league (Olympic League) and wanted a chance to qualify some swimmers. I said, ‘Why not?’ ”

Kawabuchi came to Mission Viejo to swim with the Nadadores and has ended up swimming for the high school as well.

It’s not a situation unique to Mission Viejo. Other clubs have swimmers from out of the area, but few attract the numbers that the Nadadores do. The Nadadores set up legal guardians within the Mission Viejo area, according to Ehrlich.

“We’re the ones put under the looking glass,” Pelton said. “Other (high school) teams do the same thing we do, but they don’t have the volume we do. We have so many kids coming in and out that we have to know the rule book. I know it better than any other high school coach. I have to.”


Ehrlich, DeLong and Capistrano Valley Coach Don Cholodenko haven’t questioned whethered the Diablos have followed Southern Section rules. It’s the rules they want changed.

“We’re looking into different proposals,” Ehrlich said. “One would be that during the high school season, a swimmer would have to train with his high school team. The other would be that a swimmer from out of state or out of the country would be ineligible unless he moved with his parents or legal guardian.”

Thomas said that any proposal would have to come from a league representative. It would first be submitted as a non-action proposal for discussion. Then it would be voted on.

According to Cholodenko, a rule restricting club participation could bring parity to high school swimming. Mission Viejo has won 14 consecutive 4-A boys’ titles.

“The kids from out of state and out of the country are not going to give up 12 weeks of valuable training with the club coach they came here to train with,” he said. “Not to swim for a high school anyway.”

Pelton said he would welcome a rule change that would prevent swimmers from training with the club during the high school season.


“I wish they would put it in, it would be less administrative headaches for me,” he said. “Right now, as a coach, I owe it to any kid who comes here to look into whether he is eligible. If I don’t, I would not be doing my job.”