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O’Connor: Virtual meets are better than no meets

The word ‘virtual’ surrounds us. We have virtual meetings, virtual get-togethers with friends and there’s even such a thing as going on a virtual date. When you think about it, there are a lot of things that can be done virtually and many of us have adapted to them.

In general, sports don’t translate well to the virtual world. Having a lineman tackle a running back virtually just doesn’t work. Having a pitcher face a batter in baseball or softball is a no-go. And how do you virtually guard an opponent in basketball?

But what about swimming? It’s not a contact sport, so you don’t have to worry about that. You don’t have to necessarily react to what an opponent does or worry about them trying to stop you from doing what you’ve set out to do.

In fact, getting in the way of your opponent in the next lane is highly frowned upon. Could two teams – and possibly more – hold a virtual swimming meet? The answer is yes and it’s been done before.

Actually, a virtual swim meet, where one team swims in one pool and its opponent swims in a different pool isn’t a new idea. It’s been done and could play a part in the high school sports season this winter if, and when, schools can resume practices.

“It’s been used in college and it was suggested by the national federation [National Federation of State High School Associations – NFHS] and the PIAA okayed it back in the fall,” said Emmaus swimming head coach Tim O’Connor. “Some schools jumped on it and that’s likely where we’re headed.”

With electronic scoring in all the local high school pools, it just comes down to timing each swimmer, but there are some considerations that need to be ironed out before conducting the meets.

Would the virtual times count toward qualifying for districts and/or for school, league or district records? Would swimmers have the advantage of empty lanes next to them or would the swimmers from one school swim in consecutive lanes to simulate having an opponent in the next lane.

“You do lose having an opponent in the next lane, which can be intimidating to some swimmers and for others, it’s sort of a catalyst to spur them on,” said O’Connor. “That’s one reason why I would be OK with virtual meets against some schools, but I think that if possible, rivalry meets, like ours against Parkland, should be done live even if we can’t allow spectators.

“We can always have some sort of streaming for the fans, but the kids should get to swim against the other team in person, if possible.”

Possibly the toughest part of the plan is for diving. Guidance from the NFHS states that a different set of officials would judge the divers at the two locations, instead of having one crew to possibly watch the event remotely to judge both teams.

“I think that for swimming, the officials are primarily there to be sure the turns are done legally, but they’re not involved in scoring anything,” said O’Connor. “For diving, different judges are emphasizing different things about a dive, which is fine, but you could wind up with judges at one pool judging much harsher – or easier – than the ones at the other school.

“I think it would be better for diving to have one meet with the same judges, if possible.”

O’Connor has never participated in a virtual meet but has been involved with virtual practices in the past.

In general, O’Connor could be on board with the concept, but does have some concerns about the judging in the diving event. In the end though, the issue comes down to one firm bottom line for O’Connor. “It’s better to go virtual than not at all.”

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Emmaus swimming and diving head coach Tim O'Connor (left) would rather see his swimmers compete virtually than not at all. But he's holding out hope his team can take on rival Parkland in person this winter.