Muskies will take to the pool next season

Calling it “a window of opportunity,” Fort High has elected to allow high-school aged swimmers the chance to compete at the all-Ontario championships next season.
For many, the decision was a long time coming.
“What we wanted to do was, in some way, get high school swimmers the chance to go down to an OFSAA event,” said Fort High teacher John Dutton, who spearheaded the move to get a Muskie swim team.
“We would like our swimmers to be recognized as high school athletes,” he noted.
“We want them to be recognized for their efforts and by the town,” echoed long-time Aquanaut head coach Debbie Murray, adding several of her swimmers already have competitive times against current OFSAA swimmers.
Fort High principal Terry Ellwood, who granted the request, admitted the decision to allow swimmers to compete at OFSAA, while the school does not have an official swim program, might open the door for other sports such as track and field and gymnastics.
Dutton also said part of that recognition would allow swimmers to be exempt from missing classes due to meets during the school year.
Currently, athletes playing high school sports are given “excused” absences for missed classes due to athletics while those not directly associated with the school do not.
Dutton, who will act as a coach along with Mary Jane Gushulak, said he already has received the needed approval from both NWOSSAA and OFSAA, and a package was sent out this week informing parents and swimmers of the program.
Swimmers will have to register with Swim Ontario to be accredited for the high school program. The cost would be $70 but Dutton added the usual high school sports user fee would not have to be paid.
Each time recorded by a swimmer in a sanctioned meet would become an official mark and compared to other high school swimmers in the province, possibly enabling them to compete at the all-Ontarios later in the year.
Swimmers can compete in either a “high school” or “open division” at OFSAA, depending on their status. Any students who have not registered with a club in the past year would be placed in the “high school” division while all current Aquanauts would compete in the “open” one.
There are about 8,000 high school swimmers in the province but none have come from NWOSSAA, prompting past-president Ian Simpson, who is being transferred to Fort High next year, to endorse the move here.
OFSAA also has accepted swimmers from NWOSSAA for next season but Simpson admitted there are still a few “grey areas.”
Ian McCollom, the sports advisory committee chairperson for swimming for OFSAA, said each school must have a minimum of six swimmers affiliated with them and they must train at least twice a week.
“It’s fairly common,” McCollom said of the Muskies’ scenario. “What we want to do is keep OFSAA open to any student and allow them to excel at something they put a lot of time in.”
Financially, Dutton said the swimmers will raise funds through bingos but Simpson made it clear in no way would the high school put its name on any fundraising by the swimmers.
“We just can’t take any more funds from the community,” he noted. “There will be no funding at all for swimming–not one penny.
“We don’t want it to look like we’re shutting any doors, when we’re actually giving them the opportunity to open doors, but [fundraising] has reached a saturation point in this community,” Simpson stressed.