Mountaintop Swimmers Excel At States, District Competitions
By ANDREA O’NEILL
Correspondent
MOUNTAINTOP SWIMMERS Robbie Keenan, Josh Grzech, Chris Lukashewski and Joe Grzech have had amazing success in the Class 2A District and State competitions despite the fact that they are not a school sponsored team. Shown, from left, are Coach Tammy, Robbie Keenan, Josh Grzech, Chris Lukashewski, Joe Grzech, Coach Rob and Head Coach Frank.

Over the first weekend in March, three of the four PIAA swimmers who reside in the Crestwood School District won gold at the district competition.

These swimmers without a team then headed off to PIAA Class AA Swimming and Diving Championships at the Kinney Natatorium on the Bucknell University campus last weekend where they ended their high school swimming careers with state honors.

At states, Joshua Grzech earned his place on the medal stand with a sixth-place medal in the 100 Fly with a time of 52.41 and a fifth place in the 100 Free with a time of 47.41. Twin brother Joe Grzech placed 15th in the 100 Back with a time of 54.91 and teammate Chris Lukashewski was 14th in the 50 Free.

The boys’ hard earned success began at the district competition, where Josh won gold in the 100 Fly, breaking the district record, and then won the 100 freestyle. Joe won the 200 Free and the 100 Back. Chris won the 50 Free and placed 3rd in the 100 Free. Teammate Robbie Keenan placed 9th in the 100 Butterfly and 100 Backstroke –out of roughly 250 swimmers from across the region.

Faring so well at the district meet, especially when your opponents include powerhouses such as Holy Redeemer, Dallas and Wyoming Valley West, is worthy of all the accolades a school can bestow.

The amazing thing about these swimmers, however, is that their school no longer has a swim team, which was suspended when the boys were sophomores, and the pool use agreement between Crestwood and Greater Nanticoke Area School District ended during renegotiations. At the time, there were thirty-five students on the team. Four students decided to continue by practicing with the Wyoming Valley West swim team and swimming exhibition heats against each other during Valley West home meets. Their best times over the course of the season become their seed for the district meet. All four Crestwood students cannot express enough gratitude to the Wyoming Valley West coach and team for their hospitality and willingness to help them keep their dreams and goals alive when their own school could not.

“The support that Valley West gave us was incredible,” says Josh. “We were always welcome, were still able to train, still able to get times and were treated, and felt like, any other swimmer; it was just at a different pool.”

Chris agrees. “They took us in and treated us as one of their own and we really appreciated it. I would like to say thank you to coaching staff and the Valley West swim team for taking us in and treating us as one of their own I greatly appreciated it and I know Joe, Josh and Robbie did too.”

Swimming is a physically taxing, mentally demanding sport. While it may look effortless from the sidelines or on television, the strength required in every part of the body from upper to lower to core, is incredible. Team support and training, along with personal dedication and perseverance, is the key for success. Although Josh says they weren’t too affected by the fact that their district did not support their efforts since physically, they were still able to train every day, he did say it was a little disappointing. He and his teammates, however, agree that focusing on the negative won’t really do them any good.

“We swam with one of the best coaches in the valley and that has evolved all four of us into better swimmers,” says Josh “It all worked out for the best.”

It is possible to think in that manner since swimming is not just a team sport, but is also highly individualized. Chris says that while they were at a disadvantage not being able to swim relays or size up their opponent during the season by swimming next to them, when it all comes down to it, everyone is on their own when in the pool.

“I still get pushed during heats by Joe, Josh and Robbie,” says Chris. “Going into my sophomore year, they were faster and my goal was to beat them by my senior year. I was able to do that in the 50 Free.”

You would have expected the boys to be nervous on such a large stage as states but that was not the case. Prior to the state meet, the boys displayed the confidence and dedication that has been a big part of their success.

“I feel very confident going into states –all three of us do,” said Josh. “We trained really hard, did well at districts and expect to improve upon that. Our coaches at Valley West are supporting us and it is a great feeling. I am satisfied where I am as of now.”

That sentiment was echoed by Chris, who was very intent on perfecting his race. “I am very happy that I got the district win in the 50. I didn’t get the time I wanted but the win means a lot and I have another chance to make that time. I’m working to improve now at practice and I feel confident. This is such a big accomplishment for me. Not many get to go to states, so being able to go is really great.”

For those up and coming swimmers who may have a fight ahead of them just for the opportunity to compete, grow, and maybe even advance, Josh has some words of wisdom to offer, that underlie his love of the sport. “The hardest thing about swimming is the dedication and commitment –and that is also the greatest thing about it. This sport doesn’t just make us better athletes; it allows us to work on the all-around responsibilities of attending practice, keeping up with homework, etc. I feel bad that they are not getting the opportunity that we had. I encourage anyone to try swimming. It’s a fun, hardworking sport that anyone can get enjoyment out of.”

That dedication and commitment is what makes this victory so sweet for them.

All in all, it seems like a happy ending to a disappointing story of budgets, politics and administrative decisions. However, the question, and potential of a Crestwood swim team continues to linger with parents and students.

At the last several school board meetings, there has been support for the reinstatement of middle school sports and swimming. While middle school teams were reinstated, pleas for district support for up and coming swimmers went largely unheeded. There are several options on the table: the first is to reinstate the Crestwood team, complete with a coach, a pool and home meets; and, the second, to allow swimmers to practice and swim exhibition with other districts, much like the Grzech brothers, Chris and Robbie have done for the last three years. Parents of these students have been frustrated with what they feel is a lack of cooperation from the School District, stating they have done their own leg work in negotiating a host pool at a low cost and gaining permission from other districts for their children to participate in varsity practices and exhibition heats.

One counter point noted by board members and district administrators was that they were unaware there was interest in bringing the swim team back even though many Mountaintop students swim for other organizations such as the YMCA, CYC and other school district programs.

At the same meeting in February during which several students and parents expressed their interest, board member Norb Dotzel made a motion to disband the team altogether, making it more difficult to allow students to swim with other districts under PIAA rules. Only board member Maureen McGovern voted no to the motion.

Superintendent Dave McLaughlin-Smith pointed out that other districts, in this case, Hanover, have been uncooperative in forming an agreement for Crestwood swimmers to participate in their program. A parent responded that the information she was receiving from Hanover and what the superintendent was reporting was contradictory. When asked by that same parent why he was not “championing for our girls”, the superintendent cited transportation fees and the fact that a volunteer would be necessary for students to swim at other districts. He did promise to contact the district and PIAA “one more time” to try to iron out the particulars of an agreement.

Parents of younger students are taking heart in the impressive performance of Josh, Joe and Chris who refused to give up when their swim team was suspended, and taking up the cause for their children.