Golden Valley High School senior Connor Hoppe was hoping to break a national record at next week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Swimming Championships.
That opportunity might have disappeared after Sac-Joaquin Section Commissioner Pete Saco ruled Hoppe ineligible because he was also competing with the Clovis Swim Club team during the high school swimming season.
According to bylaw 2600.10 b, as it reads in the section constitution: “Once the official start date for the Section is determined (February 10), individuals FROM THAT POINT, must compete unattached in outside competitions.”
Connor and his brother Cameron, who also competed with the same club team, are ineligible to compete at the section meet at Tokay High School in Lodi from May 15-17.
“I don’t think I have an option; it’s a clear violation,” Saco said. “That rule has been around since 1981. It’s a violation.”
Connor Hoppe said he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong. In fact, he had the same schedule last year, swimming with his Clovis Swim Club during the season before joining the Golden Valley team. He knows other swimmers in the area who have done the same thing in recent years, including his sister, Charis, while she swam at Merced High School.
“It’s disappointing, but at the same time it’s good motivation to get better,” Connor Hoppe said. “We still have an appeal on Monday and hopefully the decision will be overturned. All my coaches were unaware of the rule. The Sac-Joaquin Section is the only one that has this rule. It’s not like I was trying to break it. I had no idea.”
Hoppe said he was under the impression that if he finished swimming with his club team before he joined the high school team, he was following the rules. He said that’s why he didn’t swim for Golden Valley until after competing at Junior Nationals in Orlando, Fla., on March 18. He missed Golden Valley dual meets against Pitman and Buhach Colony.
According to the section bylaws, if Hoppe had swam in these events unattached to the Clovis Swim Club, he would have been within the rules. However, because he swam them as a member of the club, he is now ineligible.
“A kid can’t just jump in a pool one time on April 15 and win a section championship,” Saco said. “Ultimately, it’s up to the school, the athletic director and the coaches to know the rule. You’ve got to know the rule. One of the big issues that I’ve been dealing with for the 21 years I’ve been doing this and will continue to be a big issue is that we have to penalize kids for adult mistakes.”
Golden Valley Principal Constantino Aguilar agreed Hoppe is being penalized for adult mistakes.
“This is a unique rule that is only in our section, after thorough research,” Aguilar said. “We relied on past practices. There was no maliciousness or ill intent to break a rule. It’s a rule that many coaches in our area did not know existed. It’s our understanding that many swimmers would have been affected by this rule. It is up to our coaches, athletic director and administrators to all know the rules. At the end of the day, we’re responsible. We need to know the rules.”
According to Saco, the Central Coast Section has a similar rule.
Longtime Atwater swim coach Roddy Svendsen said he was aware of the rule, but hopes Hoppe is allowed to swim.
“The way I see it, Pete had to rule the way he did according to the rule,” Svendsen said. “Now on appeal they can do anything they want. Hopefully, they’ll look at it and say he didn’t do anything different than what he did last year and he was able to compete last year.”
“We all want to see kids compete,” Svendsen added. “That’s why we’re in this. You couldn’t ask for a better kid. Connor is the nicest, most polite kid in the world. Our interactions with him in swimming and water polo have been nothing but positive.”
Hoppe, who is headed to UC Berkeley on a swimming scholarship, set a section record in the 100-yard breaststroke (54.81 seconds) at last year’s section championship. The national high school breaststroke record of 52.92 was set by Creighton Prep’s Jacob Molacek in Nebraska in February.
Hoppe’s personal best time is 53.12. Until he runs out of appeals, he’ll continue to train as if he’s going to swim at the section championship.
“I want to go after the record,” Connor said. “That’s why I didn’t do basketball this year. It’s definitely disappointing. I’m just trying to stay focused and hopefully we’ll get good news on Monday.”