Golden Valley swimmer OK'd for Sac-Joaquin Section meet

Golden Valley’s Connor Hoppe has been ruled ineligible to compete in next week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Swimming Championships.
Golden Valley’s Connor Hoppe has been ruled ineligible to compete in next week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Swimming Championships. Modesto Bee file

Golden Valley High School senior Connor Hoppe will get his chance to break a national record at this weekend’s Sac-Joaquin Section Swimming Championships after all.

The Sac-Joaquin Section announced that a three-member executive committee voted on Monday to allow Hoppe to swim at the section meet at Tokay High School in Lodi.

Connor’s brother, Cameron, also will be allowed to swim.

Both were ruled ineligible by section commissioner Pete Saco for competing with the Clovis Swim Club during the high school season.

Rather than punish the athletes, the executive committee fined the school $1,000 for an administrative oversight, and Golden Valley principal Costantino Aguilar and athletic director Bill Hurst will have to attend a section administrative workshop and a workshop for new athletic directors, according to section spokesman Will DeBoard.

“It’s an answer to an issue,” Saco said. “There was an administrative oversight by the school. For many years the toughest part of my job is do I penalize kids for adult mistakes? This was an adult mistake and we fined the school $1,000 for the administrative oversight. Do I think Connor was trying to skirt around the rule? No. It’s a unique rule in our section and I support the ruling of our executive committee.”

Connor 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. Monday’s decision gives him the opportunity to break the national high school breaststroke record of 52.92 seconds, which was set by Creighton Prep’s Jacob Molacek in Nebraska in February.

Hoppe’s personal best time is 53.12 seconds.

“I’m really, really stoked,” Hoppe said. “I don’t know how to describe it. I really didn’t expect to swim. I didn’t want to get my hopes up and be crushed if I didn’t win the appeal. Now that I’m able to swim, I’m ready to go. Friday can’t get here soon enough.”

Connor and Cameron were initially ruled ineligible for breaking bylaw 2600.10 b in the section constitution, which reads, “Once the official start date for the Section is determined (February 10), individuals FROM THAT POINT (sic), must compete unattached in outside competitions.”

Hoppe swam three meets with his club team during the high school season. 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.

Hoppe and the school provided as much evidence as it could to the executive committee, including emails between Hoppe’s club coach and swim coaches, to show they weren’t trying to hide anything.

“We’re very satisfied with the decision,” Aguilar said. “Paying a fine and taking CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) training is all worth it if Connor and Cameron get to swim. I told Pete I was happy that they looked at everything we provided them and really listened to us. It was an adult error and not a student error. Connor didn’t fail, we did. We didn’t intentionally break the rule.”

Hoppe had just finished taking an AP physics exam when he turned on his phone and received a text from a friend about the news. Hurst was also there to inform him.

“Oh, yeah, now that I can swim, wow, I’m just so stoked,” Hoppe said. “This is definitely going to help motivate me to break the high school national record.”

Hoppe knows there will be a lot more attention on him at sections.

“I can only assume so,” he said. “A little bit more pressure now. I’ve gotten quite a bit of publicity lately.”

Aguilar is happy the spotlight can go back on Hoppe in the pool and not on the school.

“I had sleepless nights and I know Bill felt the same way if this had fallen on us,” Aguilar said. “I don’t know what I would have said to Connor if he wasn’t able to swim. Connor was our winner of our principal’s award, called the Cougar Pride Award, and he was picked as our Male Athlete of the Year. For us to have failed him by not knowing the rule, it would have been devastating. Fortunately, wiser minds prevailed.”