It appears that a campaign started on Twitter has #BroughtBackWesternMass -- in an unofficial capacity, anyhow.
Just a day after the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association announced the cancellation of the entire sectional swimming round due to the snowstorm hitting the Northeast, Western Mass. administrators have gotten permission to hold unofficial sectional meets.
Minnechaug Regional High School Athletic Director Mike Roy confirmed to The Eagle on Friday evening that the MIAA has allowed Western Mass. meets to take place. The girls meet will be held Monday at 4:30 p.m. at Westfield High School, with the boys meet Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at Chicopee High School. Since the MIAA isn't sanctioning the meets, no times will count toward the state meet, which will be held next weekend.
Right now, spectators are not allowed at the meet, due to space concerns. Organizers are looking into the possibility of opening an area at the schools for streaming closed-circuit video of the meets, but they're not sure if that's feasible.
"I've been at this since yesterday, since the decision to not allow any sectionals," Roy said. "I have my superintendent and principal on this with us, contacting the MIAA. We understand fully that any time will not qualify a kid for the state tournament. ... So that's the unfortunate part. But those seniors who have been working so hard for four years just to qualify for Western Mass. will at least have the opportunity there."
The MIAA publicly explained its decision to cancel the sectional round on its website Friday. From a message sent to school principals and athletic directors, the MIAA said "many elements" were considered, including postponing the postseason by a week due to the weather. However, many sites were not available for the second weekend, which would have been the state competition.
"The bottom line to this decision is the safety of students, and there is no way we could ensure their safety on Thursday when this decision had to be made," the explanation read.
Swimmers across the region -- including many Berkshire County high schoolers in a number of different sports -- pleaded their case on Twitter from Thursday evening into Friday, using the hashtag #BringBackWesternMass. They were able to get retweets and use of the hashtag from, among others, U.S. Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte, Natalie Coughlin and Missy Franklin. The cause also got support from USA Swimming's official page.
Pittsfield High School swimmer Aaron Coty was one of the most persistent tweeters Thursday and Friday, getting mentions from 2012 Olympian Chloe Sutton and 2008 Olympian Garrett Weber-Gale. Coty had qualified for the Western Mass. meet in the 100 freestyle and 200 individual medley events.
"I think it shows that anything is really possible," Coty said Friday. "We reached to everybody around the country, pretty much. ... It shows how powerful we really can be if we put our minds to something."
St. Joseph senior Maddie Roulier, who was injured in the Berkshire County Individuals meet and has stitches on the back of her right foot, will still wrap the foot and swim Monday with the Crusaders' 200 freestyle and medley relay teams.
"I know it's not my number-one sport, but it made me happy," Roulier said. "Even though it's not sanctioned, I at least get one more chance in the water before my [swimming] career's over."
Roy said that, after informing the Minnechaug swimmers of the MIAA's decision Thursday, he felt compelled to make some kind of meet happen. He knew of the Twitter campaign, but says that he only runs the feed for Minnechaug's athletic program, and didn't follow it online.
"The looks on their faces [Thursday] ... it was just devastating," Roy said. "I went home and told my wife, ‘This has got to happen.' "
The challenge now for county athletic directors is arranging transportation for the teams Monday and Tuesday. Monument Mountain AD Paul Gibbons, for one, is exploring "a couple of options" for transportation.
"We're working on how we're going to get them there," he said.
Coty, who plans to swim in Tuesday's meet, said that frustration Thursday night was slowly replaced by inspiration into Friday, as word spread across social media.
"Once we started getting this going, I said, ‘We actually can do this,' " he said. "I started to cheer up. People [at school] were saying, ‘You were going hard last night.' "
He wasn't alone -- which may have been the difference for Western Mass. swimmers.
"I couldn't believe how many people helped us out here," Roulier said. "Swimming isn't a big sport that a lot of people go and watch after school, but just having the support we had from everybody -- not only in Berkshire County, but Western Mass. -- it played a huge role."
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