Falcons state title a memorable moment
The Salisbury boys swimming and diving team made history two weeks ago, winning the school's first team state championship.
This team, who started swimming together in middle school, reached a level that was once though impossible due to the lack of depth and the size of the school. While the boys and girls swimming and diving teams have always experienced success, those factors kept them from reaching the top of the podium.
Then last year something changed. A tiny school called Mars, with only six swimmers, was state runner-up to Fairview. Fairview was a clear-cut winner, but second place came down to three teams and Salisbury was in that mix.
Last year's state team consisted of seven athletes and all seven contributed to the team points. Eric Tatum, who earned four state medals including a gold in 100 butterfly, and diver Denny Bonner found success in their individual events, and all three relays scored points.
The team knew last year that if they continued to focus, train hard and work toward their goals, the title was within reach. But more swimmers and divers needed to score points and more needed to earn a trip to Bucknell University to compete.
After another undefeated season and their second straight District 11 title, the team was silently realizing their dream. This year, 10 athletes made the trip to Bucknell.
While Tatum, Bonner and Jon Anderson scored points in individual events, the rest of the team contributed in relays. Connor Harrison, Joe Skibbens, Dylan Bonge and Tatum teamed up for 10th in the 200 medley to open the meet. In the last event of the first day, Garrett Collins, Tyler Lesko, Anderson and Bonge placed fourth in the 200 free relay.
But the meet came down to the 400 free relay, where Tim Costantini, Collins, Anderson and Tatum needed to place in front of Bellefonte and Franklin to capture the state title.
The story behind the 400 freestyle relay team is special. These foursome has been swimming this relay together for three years. In 2011, they finished 18th and in 2012 they earned a fourth place medal. They have set relay records at a number of pools and own the school, pool and District 11 record. But there is a quiet story few outside the team know; a reason why these four boys, once nicknamed "Doom, Demise, Death and Destruction" knew no one would stop them.
That story started two years ago, when Tatum went into the state competition with both pneumonia and a respiratory virus. With lungs beyond hurt, he knew he could not compete at his best in the four events he qualified to swim. His butterfly was fast enough to possibly medal, but within minutes, he would have to swim the 200 free relay. It was obvious his respiratory health was too damaged to sustain him through four events, so Tatum had to choose. He dropped his signature event of 100 butterfly in order to anchor the 200 free relay and 400 free relay with his teammates. Those friends knew he chose the relay over the individual and a forever friendship was forged.
In 2012, it was Collins, Costantini and Anderson who stood at the edge of the pool and watched Tatum earn the first state gold in an individual event for Salisbury. They cheered for their friend and were the first to congratulate him. Again, that friendship was forever solidified.
In 2013, the state title was resting on these four boys winning that relay and being utterly perfect. Yet there was another interesting piece to the story that few knew.
Salisbury's assistant coach, Jim Hersh swam on the 1983 state championship swimming team from Allen High School. Hersh's best friend and teammate was Rich Roberts, Tatum's uncle. The assistant coach on that team was Tim Roberts, Tatum's other uncle. That state title also came down to the 400 free relay.
Hersh swam on that relay, and the anchor of that gold-winning relay team was Rich Roberts. Hersh stood on deck at Kinney Natatorium, witnessing the event from 30 years prior and watching once again how the 400 free relay earned gold to help to secure a first-ever team state title.
Salisbury's 400 free relay went into the meet seeded first by 2.5 seconds. After prelims, they were still seeded first, now by two seconds. The four needed to all be at their best in order to secure the coveted trophy.
As each swimmer dove in the water, they were perfect. Perfect safe starts, perfect turns and each one did what they needed to do. They swam their best - not for themselves - but for each other, for their entire team and for Salisbury.
As Tatum touched the wall in a new school record time of 3:11.52, the screams and emotions of parents, teammates and coaches were overwhelming. Awards were given, and in true fashion, the Salisbury team shook hands with their opponents and acted with pure dignity and decorum.
What happened next astonished even me. The opposing teams did something I have never seen before. They stood there, in a formed line and raised their hands to the Salisbury team. The Falcons proudly walked through Franklin and Bellefonte's formation accepting the ultimate salute and congratulations.
As a senior parent on this amazing team and someone who has been involved with Salisbury swimming in many capacities for over a decade, I want to, for the final time, acknowledge the Salisbury swimming and diving team, coaches Jason Reinhard, Jim Hersh, Alex Dapkewicz, and team members Anderson, Ryan Andrews, Dylan and Jack Bonge, Bonner, Bujcs, Jason Carne, Ian and Gavin Carey, Collins, Costantini, Patrick Golden, Harrison, Tyler Lesko, Joe Skibbens and Tatum.
Thanks for the memories.