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Commentary: Swim judge fiasco exposes worrisome flaws in system

Life has a tendency to offer second chances, and what people choose to learn from those opportunities is another matter. Such was the case Friday at the Class 2A-2 region swim meet at the YMCA in Orlando.

The Florida High School Athletic Association, thanks in large part to due diligence of those at the top, dodged a bullet that would have cast a black mark on the organization.

During the morning preliminary round of the 100-yard breaststroke. Lecanto's Jake Tamposi won his heat and his time had him as the top seed heading into the championship finals.

But hold everything.

The turn judge, Rick Mills, determined Tamposi had performed an illegal stroke and he was disqualified. According to FHSAA rules, however, two judges must see the impropriety, and when the deck judge confirmed the ruling Tamposi was scratched from the championship finals.

There's just one problem. The deck judge for the meet was Brian McCaffrey, father of Mitchell's Devin McCaffrey, last year's region champion in the event and the favorite to repeat as champion again this year.

That is, until Tamposi beat Devin McCaffrey at the district meet last week. Now it appeared Tamposi had the inside track on the region title this year — until he was eliminated Friday.

But the judges revisited the matter, and after discussing it extensively with FHSAA officials, the decision was overturned.

But it never should have come to this. Someone should have caught the obvious conflict of interest.

This is no knock on Brian McCaffrey, who by every account is one of the best judges to work FHSAA meets. And Friday, parents and coaches agreed you'd never find a more honest, hardworking individual.

This is, however, an indictment on the process that would allow a parent of a competitor to be part of the judging process.

Brian McCaffrey should never have been placed in the situation where his integrity could be questioned. He should have been sitting on the sideline with every other parent who had a competitor in that event, allowed to cheer his son to victory.

And even after all of that drama and potential for serious controversy, when they swam the 100 breast finals Friday night, Brian McCaffrey was still the deck judge.

It wasn't fair to any of the parties involved. Not Brian McCaffrey whose reputation came into question. Not Tamposi, who eventually won the event by 0.07 seconds. And not Devin McCaffrey who finished second.

What might be most disturbing about the whole incident, however, was the reaction of the head judge, Chuck Travers, who made it clear he was "very unhappy, hurt and disappointed by FHSAA's decision to overturn the disqualification."

After several hours of discussion and a better understanding of the rules, Mills, the turn judge who made the initial call, began to second-guess his decision. When he was finally questioned directly by the FHSAA, he admitted he wasn't sure about the infraction.

Travers said when Mills softened his stand he was "weak and that it now undermined the entire body of officials. If he had stuck to his guns like he should have then everything would have stayed. It was a judgment call. He made it, and it should have stood."

According to Lecanto coach Matt Bouthillier, Mills told him that he felt like the swimmer should get the benefit of the doubt. Mills sounds exactly like the kind of judge the FHSAA would want officiating postseason meets. There's no room for obstinate judges.

And like one coach said afterward, "Everything happens for a reason."

The events of Friday are a lesson to all involved that there is a major flaw in the system that needs correcting immediately.

John Coscia is the sports editor of the Citrus County Chronicle.

Commentary: Swim judge fiasco exposes worrisome flaws in system 11/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 6, 2010 8:39pm]
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