An area swimming team organized by a former Troup swim coach said Thursday that it is being excluded from participating in a Troup County Parks and Recreation meet without explanation.
The Valley Area Swimming Academy Sharks team, based out of Valley, Ala., was formed under coach Tom Fraenkel when he left the LaGrange team this summer. According to Fraenkel, he had planned to participate in the annual LaGrange Trick or Treat meet on Saturday, but was denied.
Fraenkel said he was simply told that the team was not invited and that it was a closed meet. Troup County Parks and Recreation Director Don Howell said only USA Swimming sanctioned teams were invited, and the VASA team is not.
VASA booster club chairman Tim Strickland said the club is in the process of getting its sanctioning, but its swimmers already are individually sanctioned. Strickland and Fraenkel said the swimmers are eligible to compete in the meet unattached, but Parks and Recreation inexplicably changed the meet to invitation-only about a week prior, when it previously had always been open.
A press release by VASA officials stated the following:
Many of the VASA team swimmers (ages 7-16) reside in Troup County and had previously been a part of the LaGrange Area Swimming Academy team. They attend local schools and their families are involved, tax-paying citizens of the LaGrange/Troup County community.
“It’s very disappointing that those in charge of the LaGrange swim team and the parks and rec center would exclude children from participating in a local meet, based on what one can only guess are feelings of ill-will,” says Fraenkel. “This sort of behavior is truly bad sportsmanship and goes against the sense of community, pride and caring that LaGrange is normally known for. Our children simply want a chance to participate in and support their local meet – one that their families and friends can easily attend.”
VASA publicity chairperson Shelley Strickland told the Daily News that the team wanted to be part of the event in LaGrange and have local family and friends of swimmers come support them.
“I don’t think there was anybody else who was not invited,” Strickland said. “It’s just discouraging, there are a large number of swimmers in LaGrange, Troup County, on the team and they’re not allowed to swim there.”
Fraenkel told the Daily News that he was not initially given any reason for not being invited. He believes the meet suddenly was closed and the team not invited because swimmers who were loyal to him left the Troup County team to be a part of the VASA Sharks.
“If I left and had taken kids with me, then so what? If they did so, they did so out of their own choice,” Fraenkel said. “I have a very, very loyal, supportive bunch of kids.”
Fraenkel said closing the event has excluded some of his students that would have been participating in a USA Swimming sanctioned event for the first time.
“There are new kids and families hoping to swim in their first US sanctioned meet,” Fraenkel said. “Lots of kids joined that had never been in a US sanctioned meet before, and unfortunately they can’t be in one now, either.”
Howell declined to comment on the matter.