After a year’s absence, the Southwesterns Swimming & Diving Championships once more will provide an interesting prelude to the state championship meets.

As a precautionary measure, however, the Southwesterns will be held in a virtual format, with teams setting up dual or tri-meets the week of Feb. 7 and having results compiled and scored as if all the schools were competing in-person at the same venue.

Diving will take place separately at Cape Elizabeth’s Richards Pool on Feb. 12 so that divers all have the same judges and the same board.

Organizers from the Southern Maine Swim Officials Association decided to go virtual in hopes of keeping intact the state meets, scheduled for Feb. 21-22 in Cape Elizabeth.

“They didn’t want to take the chance of any positive COVID cases to come out of the Southwesterns meet that would eliminate individuals from moving on to the state championships,” said Greely Coach Rob Hale.

The format for the popular Southwesterns meets – which are divided into North and South divisions as well as by gender – calls for a maximum of three events (with at least one a relay) per competitor. Schools may also enter both A and B relay teams, so depth is important.

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In dual and state meets, competitors may enter four events total, no more than two as individuals.

Because teams will be competing at their local pool, everyone will have a chance to participate. Had the meets been held in person, each team would have been restricted to three entries per event.

“The larger teams would have had to leave many swimmers home,” Hale said. “The virtual format allows all team members to experience an end-of-season championship-type environment.”

Last March, Hale organized a similar virtual meet among 17 Southern Maine schools and called it the Masked Ball Invitational. Competitors could swim in four events, not three.

“That’s what coaches wanted,” Hale said. “There were no team awards, but it was a chance for kids to have a championship-type event.”

Having two or three teams compete together ensures that swimmers won’t be alone in the pool with only the clock for motivation.

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“Last year, you had to create that atmosphere,” he said, “which is hard to do when your (team is made up of only) four boys and six girls.”

For Southwesterns, Greely will host Cheverus in Cumberland. Scarborough and possibly Falmouth will visit Cape Elizabeth. Spectator restrictions for the latter are one parent per swimmer, and for Greely, only senior parents of the home team will be allowed. Portland, which usually competes in South Southwesterns, has joined with city rival Deering for a combined team that will compete in North Southwesterns.

Throughout this season, swimmers have been masked while on pool decks until they get behind the starting blocks.

“You take your mask off, put it in the chair, dive in and race,” Hale said. “You climb out, catch your breath and find your mask. It has become the norm, so kids are mostly keeping pretty good at it, though you still have to remind some.”

As for the hideous haircuts and adventurous dye jobs that many of the swimmers and divers embrace as part of getting psyched up for Southwesterns, Hale said some traditions are beyond the reach of any virus.

“We’ll be ugly as usual,” he said.


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