The Oakdale High School swimming and diving team's roster reached nearly 50 athletes in the program's third season of existence last winter.
After winning the boys county championship and finishing a close second to the five-time defending champion Urbana girls, second-year coach Jared Minetola expected an increase in participation.
Instead, the Bears squad dropped to 38 members for the 2012-13 season.
The decrease in participation, however, is not limited to Oakdale.
Coaches agreed the Frederick County high school swim season likely will be missing some of its top-level talent.
At the season-ending coaches meeting last spring, the county's supervisor of athletics, Perry Baker, reinforced to coaches a six-year state eligibility rule that makes it difficult for swimmers to balance both high school and year-round swimming during the winter season.
When the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association instituted a state championship swim meet in 2007, participating teams became obligated to abide by MPSSAA regulations.
A rule in the organization's handbook states that although students are permitted to participate in the same sport outside of school during the sport's season, those outside commitments cannot conflict with high school practice and competitions.
“The rule has been in effect for many years, but [Baker] provided some further explantation and gave a clearer description so coaches would have a better understanding for any coaches who might not have been as clear,” Middletown girls coach Stacey MacMillian said.
The ruling applies to all MPSSAA-sanctioned sports, but is particularly difficult in swimming and diving, mostly because of scheduling conflicts due to limited facilities, MacMillian added.
MPSSAA Executive Director Ned Sparks said the issue hadn't showed up on his radar yet, but school systems are eligible to make proposals.
The MPSSAA is unlikely, however, to change the ruling, he added, because it's important for high school coaches to be in tune with their athletes.
“It's not too unlike what's going on now with concussions. Maybe a kid was playing with their club team over the weekend and suffered a concussion, but the high school coach doesn't know that,” Sparks said.
Progression in the sport of swimming is heavily reliant on repetition. Most high level club swimmers attend up to nine training sessions per week.
Fitting in an extra two or three practices in addition to competitions, can be quite strenuous.
“They are more tired. When you're swimming tired you have to make sure you're careful so there aren't an injuries because of that,” Tuscarora girls coach Laurie Szukalski said. “It's tough and it's not without complaints, but in order to swim [for high school] you have to comply with the rule.”
For many athletes, however, the couple months of extra fatigue is worth the opportunity to represent their school in the water.
Although swimming is primarily an individual sport, the high school season provides a team-oriented atmosphere many club athletes relish, Tuscarora boys coach Matt Ginalick added.
And though the absence of swimmers the caliber of Oakdale's Evan Kolovich, who was the third-highest scorer at last year's Class 3A/2A/1A state championship, will hurt Frederick County in its competition with dominant neighboring Montgomery County at the state level, there are many talented swimmers who still will get the chance to shine this winter.
And really, MacMillian said, that is what high school swimming is about, fostering a love for the sport and competition.
“It's too bad the high school season and year-round can't co-exist. In other sports it's year-round except for the high school season. Where I grew up high school was the big-time. I wish it could be like that,” Minetola said.