Southern Lehigh Swim Team Credits Their Success To Tradition and Togetherness

Saskia Van't Hof, staff writer

For most students, winter marks the time to dig out old scarves, gloves, and coats from the bottom of the closet and bundle up as tightly as possible. This is not the case for the Southern Lehigh swim team. When the final school bell rings everyday, the swimmers scramble to peel off their coats before they board the bus to Muhlenberg College. A loud and chaotic 20 minutes later, their two-hour long practice begins, and they think nothing of diving into cool water to train for their next meet.

On Saturdays, they gather again at seven a.m. for more practice. Aside from regular practices, swimmers are also expected to attend morning training sessions three days a week at 6:30, lifting weights at a time when most other students are still battling with the snooze button on their alarm clocks.

“It’s definitely hard. There’s no doubt about that,” sophomore Delaney Gemmell said.
“But we all just joke around, so that makes it all worth it.”

Every year, the swim team grows in size, with 53 students participating this season. Compared to other sports offered at Southern Lehigh, the swim team has an incredibly close knit atmosphere. Even on the first day of preseason, they resemble more of a big family than anything else.

“The first thing I noticed about the team was how close they all were because of all the time they’ve spent together,” freshman Christian Velez said.

The swimmers have a lot of time to bond. Unlike other athletes who compete for roughly three months, swimming takes place from preseason in November to the competitions in March.

“When you first join swimming, it’s like, ‘Oh, no, these are all seniors! They’re all older than me!’ and it’s really overwhelming,” freshman Rubani Sidhu said. “But then you give it a week or so, and suddenly you’re really eased into it and are having a blast. It’s just a really welcoming atmosphere.”

The anchor that holds this team together is the coaching trio of Brooke Gilson, Brandon Mazepa, and Maggie Olock.

“[The coaches that I’ve had] in my three years in swimming have all been real leaders in my life,” junior Kaitlyn Adams said. “They are all really great people.”

Over the years, the swim team has developed many traditions that reflect its energetic collaborative spirit. The days leading up to meets are filled with pasta parties, buddy-bag exchanges, and spirit days. The boys and girls respectively also each have a secret cheer that they chant before competitions. On January 11, the Thursday before the two-day long All-American Invitational, the team sported hand-decorated t-shirts. Each color t-shirt represented a different grade level: blue for freshmen, yellow for sophomores, red for juniors, and black for seniors.

Their most famous tradition, however, occurs in the days before the District XI competition: the boys bleach their hair, dye it bright colors, and subsequently shave it all off.

“Swimming is very competitive, but in a much different way than other sports. I’d say the competitions are more personal, because of course you’re going for your team but you’re also going for yourself,” Adams said. “The goal is more about beating your own time.”

At the Invitationals this year, the girls placed fifth and the boys placed second. The team looks forward to the upcoming district competitions, which will take place on March 2 and March 3 at La Salle University.