(Posted Jan. 22, 2020)
Many don’t see each other every day in hallways or in math class like other athletes in their high schools, and their letterman jackets have different school colors, but make no mistake, these student-athletes are teammates. They all belong to the growing Champaign Area Swim Team nicknamed Team Champ.
After a humble beginning of four swimmers from Mechanicsburg and London high schools in 2016, Team Champ has grown steadily and now includes 17 high school student athletes from London, Graham, Mechanicsburg and West Liberty.
Emily Bennett, a senior from London, and Ethan Kramer, a junior from Mechanicsburg, have been on the team from the beginning. Each has watched the team grow and sees the makeup of the team as its biggest strength.
“Despite us going to different schools, I feel that when we see each other at practices and meets, we haven’t skipped a beat,” Bennett said. “Being a part of a team that represents not one, but four swim teams has been a lot of fun as we always cheer and support each other. It’s fun celebrating our time drops together.”
Kramer emphasized the strength in numbers.
“I’m one of two swimmers from ‘Burg. Last year, I was the only one. I love swimming, but it’s a lot more fun with teammates,” he said.
West Liberty Salem junior Katelyn Stapleton and Graham freshman Jack Boggs are new to the team this year. As a YMCA lifeguard, Stapleton watched the team practice last season and thought it looked like fun.
“Making friends from other schools has definitely been a plus,” she said.
Boggs added, “I love how I can meet new people and build relationships with people from other schools. I can’t wait for next year.”
Team Champ is unique on several levels. First, although the swimmers compete for their own respective high schools, Team Champ swimmers practice together, warm up together, sit together at meets, and root each other on during races. Swimmers wear caps representing their high schools but wear suits that are the same pattern as their teammates, just in different school colors.
Even the coaching situation is unique with London City Schools Superintendent Lou Kramer, a parent of one of the Mechanicsburg swimmers, leading the program.
Team Champ works thanks to the sponsorship of the Champaign Family YMCA, partnering school districts, and dedicated swimmers, coaches and families. Each participating school recognizes swimming as a sport and hires volunteer coaches. Student athletes and their families foot the bill for entry fees and provide their own transportation. The YMCA provides pool time to practice and collects and pays entry fees for swimmers. Coaches develop a common meet schedule and handle all practice and meet coaching and logistics.
The team’s uniqueness is beginning to gain attention at meets with frequent positive comments from other coaches, swimmers and fans. The team’s suit color and style scheme creates a unique visual when the team is assembled, one which prompted a competing swimmer to compare the team’s look to that of a bunch of Skittles candies. This is probably a good comparison because, like Skittles, Team Champ athletes are unique and different but go together pretty well.