Montagues and Capulets. Hatfields and McCoys. Bearcats and Tigers. Some factions are just meant to be adversaries whether it’s in fair Verona, a rural backwoods area near the West Virginia-Kentucky border or even Lewis County. Perhaps the first two conflicts on this list could have been resolved relatively quickly, had they just taken to the pool. Apparently, once you add water into the mix, the barriers and differences just seem to melt away.
The Centralia and W.F. West High Schools unified girls’ swimming team has proved this to be true. With limited access to pools in the area (the team practices at Centralia’s Thorbeckes Aquatic Center) the two schools have come together for a number of years now to form one squad, all working for the betterment of the team regardless of what school mascot appears on their swim caps.
“We still get competitive with each other when we’re practicing,” W.F. West senior Kendra Bottenberg said about the team dynamics. “We joke around with each other a lot about coming from different schools, but we definitely have a lot of respect for the other schools and the athletes. When we play against each other in other sports, we’re out there competing as W.F. West and Centralia, but for swimming we come together as one. We’re a small team but we’re a big family that’s learned to love each other.”
While Bearcats and Tigers dominate the lineup this year, the program isn’t just limited to students from those two schools. It is also available for other Lewis County-based high schools including Adna, which has one swimmer, sophomore Jadyn Jimenez, on the squad this season. Jimenez joins 12 athletes from W.F. West and four from Centralia.
“Most of our schools don’t even know we have a swim team,” said W.F. West senior Emma Tufts, a four-year member of the squad.
Tufts fell victim to that as well before stumbling onto the program during her freshman year.
“When I was little I always wanted to do club swimming,” said Tufts, who competes in the 100 and 500 freestyle and 100 backstroke. “I never did because I just always thought we didn’t have a club here. When I got to high school I found out about this team and I joined. Later, I also found out we do have a club here. So now I am doing both.”
It was a similar situation for Jimenez, who is recognized as the Pirates’ first ever member of the girls’ swim team. She moved to Adna four years ago from Arizona where swimming was abundantly available. Here it took some searching before her mom got wind of the high school team and placed a call, asking if the program was open to Pirates. It was.
“My freshman year I knew nobody on the team being the only swimmer from Adna. They immediately took me in,” Jimenez said. “I just love swimming and the members on this team make things 10 times better. We’re helpful and supportive of each other. I just always love going to practice.”
The team competes as one during its 2A Evergreen Conference slate before being required to break up once postseason meets hit – which isn’t a big factor during the individual events but certainly makes things difficult during the relay portions of the meet.
W.F. West and Centralia will each have enough to field relay teams, but Jimenez will be left out.
“I am hoping there will be some more turn out next year,” Jimenez said. “Some people have told me they were interested. So I feel like it’s going to grow.”
Jimenez has already hit the recruiting trail for next season in an attempt to convince more classmates to try out.
“It really is just a matter of whether you can get here on time for practice or not,” first-year coach Paul Masiello said. “We practice 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. during the week. Centralia gets here just fine. Chehalis has an issue because they don’t get out of school until 2:45 and have to hurry over here. Adna gets here whenever Jadyn gets here.”
The team will compete at the Evergreen Conference Sub-District meet at River Ridge High School on October 26. Top swimmers from there advance to the 2A District 4 meet at The Evergreen State College on November 3 and 4.
“Once you find it you realize swimming is surprisingly kind of big around here. It’s just hidden in the background,” Tufts said, “but if you’re in it you know just how great it is. I don’t know why everyone else doesn’t do it.”