Rule Clarity and Flexibility for launching the I-League



Photo of kids at a scrimmage with Ellis and Plum

Post scrimmage photo taken at Plum High School. Swimmer from Plum and The Ellis School held a scrimmage in early season. Teams played SKWIM together, swam in fins, wore headbands, and had some pre-game warm-up and instructional races.

Background on Scrimmages

Existing rules for PA Swimming and Diving teams permit only two scrimmages per season.

  • Max Number of Regular Season Inter-School Practices or Scrimmages 2.
  • For context, FYI: Maximum Number of Regular Season Contests 18.

Scrimmages can be held at any time throughout the season, as confirmed with Melissa Mertz at the 2023 PIAA Swimming & Diving Championships. 

  • It is NOT a rule that the scrimmages need to occur in the early season and be held before the first meet is conducted. Rather, scrimmages can be held at any time of the season. So, varsity swim teams can hold scrimmages in the pre-season after the first scrimmage date, or hold scrimmages in the middle of the dual meet season, or hold scrimmages even after the district meet has been conducted.
  • Most varsity swim teams in PA do not hold any scrimmages. 
  • When conducting a scrimmage, all the teams need to know and agree that the event is a scrimmage and not a meet. No event can not be part scrimmage and part meet. The competition is either a meet or a scrimmage for all involved.

Review: Dates from a recent Swimming & Diving season included.

  1. First practice date: November 18, 2022
  2. First permissible scrimmage date, November 25, 2022
  3. First regular season meet date: early December, 2022
  4. All qualifying meets completed: February 19, 2023

Vision for the I-League concerning scrimmages

Scrimmages play a vital role within I-League operations.  

  • Scrimmages allow for flexible event schedules, such as the 100 yard IM, 50 yard fly.
  • Scrimmages allow for a combination of activities that include unofficial races, instructional periods and clinic settings, and game-play.
  • Scrimmages can accommodate and include a number of student athletes from a number of different schools. 
  • Varsity swim teams are expected to host an I-League scrimmages every 4 years, at least.
  • Varsity teams could benefit if its JV swimmers attend I-League scrimmages.

New Rule for the I-League (about scrimmages):

Teams and individuals in the I-League can attend an unlimited number of scrimmages per year.

Rule reminders (not a rule change):

Varsity swim teams (not in the I-League) are limited to two scrimmages per year. (Not a rule change).

 Varsity swim teams (not in the I-League) can hold or participate in scrimmages at any time of the normal seasonal calendar. (Not a rule change). 

Ideally, Varsity Swim Teams should be permitted to attend more than two scrimmages per season.

Suggestion: Scrimmage that include I-League participants should not count against the team's scrimmage allotment. 

Grades of Participants

Coach Pitch at Frick Middle School

Coach Pitch of Pittsburgh Public Schools' Frick Middle School Team at the first meet of the season, some years ago, at PCA's pool. The Frick swim dynasty ended when the school was closed and turned into Sci-Tech for grades 6 to 12. PCA did not field a swim team in 2023 despite having a wonderful 6-lane, 25-yard, shallow/deep pool.

Background on Grades of Participants

In other states, especially in non-contact sports such as swimming, golf, track, X-Country, students in grades 8 and 7 can be a part of the high school team.

  • The resume of a number of professional golfers includes more than four high school state titles.
    Jordan Spieth (6 high school golf championships),
    Phil Mickelson (5 high school golf championships),
    Justin Thomas (5 high school golf championships),
    Rory McIlroy (5 high school golf championships),
    Bubba Watson (5 high school golf championships),
    Tiger Woods (5 high school golf championships).

In Pittsburgh, students in middle school can participate as members of the varsity marching band.

At The Ellis School, the middle-school swim team (grades 5, 6, 7 and 8) shares practice times and spaces with the varsity swim team (grades 9, 10, 11 and 12). Ellis and Shady Side Academy might be the only two middle-school teams in the WPIAL that offer winter season swimming. Winter season swimming for middle-school happens in prep schools in Ohio and West Virginia.

Many high schools buildings now include students that span in grades beyond 9 to 12.  

  • At Cornell, the school campus spans from K to 12. 
  • Five public schools in Pittsburgh span from grades 6-to-12: Sci-Tech, U-Prep, Westinghouse, Obama and CAPA.
  • Pittsburgh has other private and charter schools that accommodate kids less than grade 12.

Vision for the I-League concerning grades of participation

To get more kids involved, especially where none are now swimming, change the participation restrictions to allow for those in middle school to be included in activities among the high school students.

Some new programs might more easily grow with students in grades 5, 6, 7 and 8. Then as the year pass, they could continue swimming while in high school. 

Possible I-League events could include:

  • a meet and seminar limited to only the 9th grade girls;
  • a middle-school meet the day after the WPIAL Championships;
  • a fun pyramid relay event in a scrimmage that has different swimmers from different grades doing different distances and/or strokes.
  • Since SKWIM is a non-contact game, kids from various grades can participate together.

New Rule for the I-League about grades of participation:

The teams and individuals in the I-League can include students in grades 6, 7 and 8. Local schools and local event hosts can limit participation to specific grades as necessary.

Extended Calendar

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Background on Extended Calendar

The reality is, to be successful as an athlete in swimming and diving, many athletes remain devoted to their sport for weeks beyond the scholastic seasons. 

Most varsity swim teams hold optional pre-season and post-season training sessions. 

These I-League participants are most often in places where club sports options are not available.

Vision for the I-League concerning extended calendar

The athletes that sustain an injury in football, soccer or some other fall sport should be able to turn to the pool for rehab and become part of the I-League team. But, those teams need to be holding practices in the fall.

The ISCA's East Coast Open Water Festival happens in September.

Participants might be able to compete in a spring triathlon, biathlon or open water event if they are staying engaged with the I-Team activities.

I-League participants should have Lifeguard (Re-) Certification opportunities as part of their team dynamics. Those training sessions should be offered in various months throughout the year.

I-League participants could become swim officials in the fall so as to work as timers and officials at the Varsity Swimming & Diving Meets. But the extra weeks of the season are needed to get in the training.

I-League participants could play in water polo events, such as the Ohio Cup, in September. But practices would have to resume in August to make that happen. 

Part of the I-League mission is to develop lifestyle changes so can be sustained beyond arbitrary calendar dates established by sports administrators. The I-League activities are sure to occur with ebbs and flows, but they should not terminate.

New Rule for the I-League about extended calendar:

The teams and individuals in the I-League can hold practices, scrimmages, events and clinics, as necessary, any time of the year. 

Independent Athletes

Henry from Southmoreland set 2 new WPIAL records and was the Class AA PIAA Champion in the 50 free and 100 fly.

Henry from Southmoreland set 2 new WPIAL records and was the Class AA PIAA Champion in the 50 free and 100 fly. He expects to be a college freshman swimmer at Clarion University.

Background on Independent Athletes

Many great athletes participate in the District and State Championships meets. In the WPIAL, swimmers from Mapletown, St. Joseph, Southmoreland, Winchester Thurston, and others have made waves in the meets.

Independent Athletes are at schools that do not sponsor Swimming & Diving Teams. Generally, there are about 10 such schools that are represented at the AA District 7 Meet.

The independent athletes need to qualify for the district meets by swimming or diving within regular varsity competitions. Independent athletes must be a guest participant at a meet hosted by a school sponsored team. Independent athletes could swim one time and qualify for the district meet. 

Independent athletes can NOT be in relays, score points, and only one entry is per event is permitted per school. For example, two girl students from Winchester Thurston could not both enter the 500-free event at the WPIAL meet so one had to switch to another event.

Vision for the I-League about Independent Athletes

An athlete in the I-League at a school that is sponsoring an I-League team should still be eligible to participate as an Independent within the District and State Championship Swimming and Diving Meets.

All the other limits and restrictions stay in effect. (No relays. No points. No two students in the same event. Swimmers and divers must qualify at a meet hosted by a varsity team.

A hope for the I-League is to create robust swim programs at schools that do not have varsity programs and these schools would certainly include Independent Athletes seeking to participate in districts.

After an I-League school program gets enough students to a competitive level, that school should migrate its program out of the I-League and become a regular varsity program. Those decisions become local ones for the school boards and school administrators. 

Some schools might abandon their varsity swim programs and decide to join the I-League. That is permissible, but not expected. 

New Rule for the I-League about Independent Athletes:

No changes.

Common Ground Interactions among Teams and Individuals of the I-League and Varsity Swimming & Diving Squads

top guy jets

Background on Common Ground Interactions

Rules for scholastic sports programs prohibit joint practices and competitions with all others, except other sanctioned, scholastic sports teams. So, scholastic sports teams are not permitted to hold alumni, masters, age-group, nor club meets.

Vision for the I-League concerning common ground interactions


New Rule for the I-League about common ground interactions:

Multiple Sports in the same season

Permission to compete in more than one sports team per season is best made by the student. The I-League rules are not intended to limit participation.

School policy could dictate only one-sport per season rules.

  • In the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL), an athlete may only participate on one team per sports’ season (Fall, Winter and Spring).

Meta Meet Rules

Swimmers who compete in the Meta Meet must count it as a completion date. Teams must abide by the maximum number of competitions per year limits. Swimmers on teams that have equaled the maximum number of competitions before the Meta Meet can not participate in the Meta Meet.

Other rule implications regarding the Meta Meet are in the Meta Meet sections.

About the author 

Mark Rauterkus

Insert YOUR comments in the box at the bottom of this -- and all the other pages. Questions. Insights. re-writes, whatever.

Swim, water polo and SKWIM coach in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Also the webmaster for the International Swim Coaches Association.

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