Otsego student helps OHSAA add Para-Swimming

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BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (WTVG) - The OHSAA recently added Para-Swimming as a state-sponsored sport.

One reason it is coming soon to the state level is because of a formal letter a student at Otsego High School sent to Columbus.

"Then I sent numerous emails," Otsego High School swimmer Abby Gase said. "Probably over ten to board members, different people within the OHSAA. Several emails and I never got a response back from any of them. At one point, I just kind of stopped sending them because they never responded positively or negatively."

Gase is unlike most high school para-swimmers in Ohio.

She recently won numerous medals at the Para-Pan Am games in South America and could be in the conversation for the USA Para-Olympic Team this summer.

So when her attempts at grabbing the attention of the OHSAA failed, Gase does what she does most days -- continue swimming in the pool.

Gase and her coach Carolyn Strunk thought Gase was set to compete last season at the OHSAA District meet. But since the OHSAA never added this as an official event, that was quickly squashed.

"I found out that there's a whole process that you need to go through," Strunk said. "You can't just say, 'Well, we want to do it at the District level to help these athletes.' The OHSAA likes you to go through all of its official channels."

This began one of the biggest projects Strunk took on in her 30 years of coaching swimming.

Meetings.

Talks with the state coaches association.

Conference calls.

The OHSAA made it official last month that it will have 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter backstroke para-swimming events at this year's district meet. The 2021 OHSAA State Championship in Canton will feature these two events for state titles.

Since these are not state championship events in the first year, this was initially frustrating to Gase and Strunk.

"But after know that the pool states is held at is (inaccessible)," Gase said.

There are renovations taking place to the C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton making it ADA accessible and ready for next year.

"I want to make sure we do it right," OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass is midway through his second school year as the OHSAA's Executive Director.

"Sometimes I see things fail because they're not ready to go," Snodgrass said. "They're implemented, it's not often the best start and then you're kind of fighting from the bottom up.

"(The) young lady from Otsego reached out to us. Very well spoken, very well done and it's about providing an opportunity. And I look at it from another angle. When schools, individuals, teams want to be part of organization -- who am I to say no?"

Now that this is on the calendar, this was certainty a learning experience for Abby and her coach.

"It takes activists like Abby who has been involved in swimming since she was nine years old," Strunk said.

Gase says it feels good knowing this start is will hopefully continue to grow with swimming as it has with track and field.

"You never know who is going to help you," Gase said. "Carolyn has been a big part of this, she's been helping out a lot. You never know what kind of response you're going to get. Keep working on it."