Alex Cho ’23
It is common knowledge that the Mercersburg Academy swim team is by far the largest and most accomplished team on campus. Every time I enter their eighteen-million-dollar facility, I feel like I have set foot in enemy territory, intimidated by the vastness of the pool and the proud spirit of the athletes. Swimmers have a distinct identity on campus, with their swim bags, their oversized blue parkas with the words “Mercersburg Swimming” on the back, and their tendency to arrive at dinner in a horde immediately following practice – they also go to the student center as a team to eat dinner, I assume in order to escape the chatter and movement of the dining hall. All of this has contributed to their reputation on campus. Some call them a cult. Some see them as just a tight-knit team.
I am also guilty of developing my own view on swimmers: I love hanging out with my swimmer friends when they are removed from the rest of the team, but I try my utmost best to avoid them when they are gathered together because, most of the time, I have absolutely no clue what they are talking about. It’s like they speak a whole different language that only Mercersburg swimmers can understand.
To clarify, I don’t have any hatred or disdain for swimmers or the program. I have a lot of respect for their passion and commitment to the sport and team. My sophomore year roommate was a swimmer. My current roommate is a swimmer. My would-be roommate next year is a swimmer. By the time I graduate, I probably will have been roommates with three different swimmers. I have just always wondered why they are so big and have such a distinct identity in the community.
Over the years, I have been in very close contact with some swimmers, and that has caused me to learn a lot about the team. They engage in team-bonding exercises such as “the spoon game” which takes place outside of practice time. In this activity everyone gets a spoon; the task is to snatch the spoon from their designated person while trying to protect their own spoon. Arnav Pallapothu ’23, my roommate, said, “I think it’s nice that they are so close and have many team-bonding moments. But I still think they are a cult.” Team member Teddy Blake ’23 had something to say in response to Pallapothu’s comments: “We’re a family, not a cult.” I can’t deny that their team chemistry is incredible. It can all be credited to the head coach, Glenn Neufeld, and traditions like the aforementioned spoon game. However, their identity can also be rooted in the team’s history of accomplishment and the hard work that each swimmer devotes to training across the year.
The swim team always performs well, returning from regional meets, such as the Eastern Interscholastic Swimming Championship, the most important event of the season, with impressive results. Speaking of Easterns, connected to the event is another very distinct tradition: bleaching their hair in preparation for the competition. Why? My sophomore year roommate Mason Green ’23 answered this mystery. He said, “I don’t know. Why not? It’s funny.” I am as confused as the rest of the students are but my best guess is that it is yet another display of the team’s tight-knit spirit.
Swim season is at its peak in the winter term, with many important meets and intense practices. Yes, the team has some traditions and behavior that some may find strange, but we can’t ignore their achievements. The team placed third overall at Easterns 2020 and consistently competes as a powerhouse in the Northeast region. Currently, their focus lies on the MAPL Invitational and then shifts to this year’s Easterns soon after.
Mercersburg swimming has been a renowned powerhouse since its founding in 1912. It has firmly established its dominance in the sport and will be, for the foreseeable future, the juggernaut of Mercersburg athletics.