Berkshire County and Western Massachusetts swimmers started a Twitter campaign to save the Western Massachusetts swim meet hours after it was canceled.
It now appears those swimmers -- with the help of some Olympians -- have unofficially been successful.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has stood by its descion to cancel all sectional meets and jump right into the state meet on Feb. 16 at Springfield College. However, the MIAA gave permsion to the schools to form an unofficial meet. That's exactly what they did.
Minnechaug Regional High School Athletic Director Mike Roy confirmed to New England Newspapers on Friday evening that the MIAA has allowed unofficial Western Mass. meets to take place. The girls meet will be held Monday at 4:30 p.m. at Westfield High School, with the boys meet Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at Chicopee High School.
Due to space concerns spectators will not be allowed at the meet as of now. Organizers are looking into the possibility of opening an area at the schools for streaming closed-circuit video of the meets, but they're not sure if that's feasible.
"I've been at this since yesterday, since the decision to not allow any sectionals," Roy said. "I have my superintendent and principal on this with us, contacting the MIAA. We understand fully that any time will not qualify a kid for the state tournament. ... So that's the unfortunate part. But those seniors who have been working so hard for four years just to qualify for Western Mass. will at least have the opportunity there."
Rumors began to circulate Friday that the tournament had been rescheduled. MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzel denied those reports at 4 p.m. on Friday.
"Right now there are no plans to reschedule," Wetzel said. "We have explored all the ways we thought of that we might be able to hold the meets and have exhausted those options.
"The main consideration is the safety of the student-athletes and all of those involved. Thought was given to postponing sectionals by a week, and states by a week. We could have done sectionals, but none of the three sites were available for two weeks away."
The announcement to cancel the official meet was made Thursday night. Within hours, swimmers started the hashtag #BringBackWesternMass on Twitter. The use of a pound sign with a phrase following it on Twitter is used as a device to organize tweets on one topic.
The tag's popularity took off.
Olympians like Ryan Lochte, Garrett Weber-Gale and Missy Franklin all wrote tweets showing their support for Western Massachusetts swimming.
"#BringBackWesternMass thank you so much!! It would help us swimmers a lot," Lochte tweeted to Hoosac Valley swimmer Julia Whitney.
"It's huge because he is one of the biggest role models for us," Whitney said. "I think that is shows swimming is one of those sports that the athletes connect with each other the best."
Whitney, who with her sister Emma, swim with a Westfield club team on the weekends. Julia said she connected with several of her teammates from Westfield and late Thursday night to get the hashtag started.
"It means the world to us," Hoosac's Elizabeth Bernardy said about the Twitter reactions. "We had no idea when we started this on Twitter that we would get this much support."
Wetzel said even without the sectional tournaments there are still several hundred swimmers that qualified for the state meet. However, no sectoinals will still leave several swimmers shy of the times needed for states.
He also confirmed Friday afternoon that the MIAA will allow non-sanctioned meets to happen. Because it is an unoffical meet, any swimmer who hits a state qualifying time will not be elgible to particapte in next week's state meet.
"I thought it was crazy to cancel the whole thing," Bernardy said. "It was crazy to think of all the people who didnt make the state cuts, and all the seniors who just had their last meet swept away from them."
Bernarday along with both Whinteys all made state times during the season. Teammate Michaella Vecchiarelli missed the state time by .58 of second in the 50 free, however will still go to states as the fourth member of the 200 medley and 200 free relay team.
Wrestling sectionals were postponed -- not canceled -- due to the storm. All wrestling meets have been pushed back one week, however Massachusetts wrestlers may still miss the New England Regionals since it will now fall on the same weekend as All-States.
New England Newspaper's Matthew Sprague contributed to this article.
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On Twitter: @NAT_DigitalSam