Preps

Cortez on Preps: Swimmer Connor Hoppe of Merced’s Golden Valley deserves a second chance

jcortez@modbee.comMay 7, 2014 

Connor Hoppe could be a real jerk if he wanted to be.

He’s 6-foot-5, weighs 210 pounds, and has shoulders wider than a barn door, not to mention the good looks of a Tiger Beat teen heartthrob. He’s the Stanislaus District’s reigning Swimmer of the Year, he’s going to Cal on a scholarship, and he’s probably the best swimmer in the Sac-Joaquin Section.

Indeed, if Hoppe were a little full of himself or expected others to step aside as he strolled down the street, could you really blame him?

But that isn’t the case at all.

Hoppe’s one of the nicest, most humble and accommodating athletes I’ve met.

And that’s why I feel so badly about Hoppe being declared ineligible by the Sac-Joaquin Section because he broke Rule 2600.10 (b), which states, “Once the official start date for the Sections is determined (Feb. 10), individuals FROM THAT POINT (sic), must compete unattached in outside competitions.”

Hoppe didn’t compete as an “unattached” competitor in a trio of outside meets after Feb. 10, including Junior Nationals on March 18. He competed as a member of the Clovis Swim Club for coach John McGough, then joined Golden Valley. The Cougars had three competitions before Hoppe joined them.

Hoppe believed that as long as he finished his club season first, regardless of the date, before he started swimming for the Cougars, he’d be in compliance.

But that’s not the case. And because of the misunderstanding, he’s been declared ineligible, which means he won’t get to swim in next week’s Sac-Joaquin Section meet, which means he won’t get the chance to break the national record in the 100-yard breaststroke.

There will be an appeal on Monday, when the facts of the case will be heard by the section’s three-member executive committee, plus Commissioner Pete Saco.

“I had no intent in breaking the rule,” said Hoppe. “I hope I get to swim. It’s definitely a big bummer.”

The commissioner really has no wiggle room. His job is to interpret the rules, and it’s clear that Hoppe broke them. The executive committee, however, has more leeway and can probe the gray areas that Saco cannot.

I understand completely why the rule is in place. The section doesn’t want a bunch of carpetbaggers swimming with their club teams all season, then showing up for a meet on April 15, hitting their qualifying times and then winning a section championship without so much as introducing themselves to their high school “teammates.”

In sports such as softball, volleyball, tennis, soccer, wrestling, the club culture is becoming much more prevalent. Enochs soccer coach Josh Handley told me a while back that the vast majority of college scholarships are earned by what athletes do for their club team, not their high school team.

The section is just looking to protect the integrity of its sports, and it’s looking out for the little guy – the athlete who isn’t going on to play in college, but still wants to enjoy the high school athletic experience.

In the grand scheme of things – even though he’s 6-5, 210 – Hoppe’s the little guy here. When you get right down to it, he’s just a kid. When I was his age, I couldn’t remember to feed the dog each morning, let alone understand the intricacies of the Sac-Joaquin Section constitution and by-laws.

Brent Bohlender, the legendary aquatics coach in Modesto and the section chairman for swimming, said most coaches know the rule and are constantly reminded.

“It is what it is,” said Bohldener. “It’s in the section’s hands.”

Saco was even more succinct: “I’m not blaming anybody, I’m blaming everybody.”

In other words, there’s a lot of culpability in this mess. And Golden Valley principal Constantino Aguilar readily accepts the blame.

“It really falls on the adults,” said Aguilar. “The coaches are there not just to train, but to abide by the rules.”

For sure, the GV coaches and athletic department should’ve been on top of this. Then again, they’re not traveling with Hoppe to meets in other parts of the country. The club coach should’ve known, but he’s got so many swimmers from so many different parts of the state, about the best he can do is ask swimmers to make sure they’re in compliance.

Anyone smell a communication gap?

The executive committee has to realize that Hoppe simply may have gotten some bad advice, and that the punishment here doesn’t fit the crime. It would be like trying to cure dandruff by decapitation. After all, it’s not as if he gained a competitive advantage. The rule is in place to make sure kids who want to be high school swimmers actually swim for their high school team.

Hoppe’s out because he swam as a member of the Clovis Swim Club. If he’d swam unattached (meaning he can’t take part in relays and can’t earn points for a team) he’d have been just fine. So, if he’d worn his plain white swim cap as opposed to his Clovis cap, he’d have been OK? Semantics.

As you can tell, I hope Hoppe gets the chance to swim and break a national record, and not just because it would be a good story. Want to know the truth? It’s probably a better story if he loses his appeal and misses his chance for the state record.

Turmoil sells, folks.

No, I want to see Hoppe swim for a section title and a national record because the young man has worked incredibly hard for this very moment.

After Hoppe was named The Bee’s Swimmer of the Year last summer, he came into our office for a feature photo shoot. Afterwards, I escorted him out of the building and we talked about his goals for this year. In no uncertain terms he mentioned his desire to break the national record.

After a little research, I learned that Hoppe really had his work cut out for him. Yet here he is, just two-tenths of a second behind the 52.92 mark set by Jacob Molacek of Creighton Prep in Omaha, Neb., back in February.

It would be a shame if his dream dried up even before he got the chance to get wet.

Bee staff writer Joe Cortez can be reached at jcortez@modbee.com or (209) 578-2380. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeePreps.

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