By Amy Ruttkamp
ORLANDO, May 15. BROOKE Bennett, triple Olympic champion, got her successful start at the Boys & Girls Club of Tampa’s Interbay Unit. Today, Bennett joined seven other alumni, including NBA Hall of Fame member Bill Walton and Actor Mario Lopez, as they were inducted into Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Alumni Hall of Fame.
Induction ceremonies took place in the Grand Ballroom of the World Center Marriott at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) on Thursday, May 15, the opening day of B&GCA’s 97th Annual National Conference in Orlando. This year’s conference theme, “Share The Vision,” is a fitting backdrop for the Alumni Hall of Fame ceremony as it was the vision of the staff in local Boys & Girls Clubs who contributed largely to the success of these outstanding former members.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Bennett has been making a splash since she was five years old. That’s when her grandfather, James Lane, took the Plant City, Fla., resident to the Jim Walter Interbay Unit of the Tampa Boys & Girls Clubs.
Bennett took to the pool, out-swimming older Club members, and her grandfather urged her parents to place her in the Club’s organized swim program. Under the guidance and support of Aquatics Director, Bennett was soon the fastest kid in the water, trying her hand at every pool program, including synchronized swimming.
When she was 9, Bennett’s family moved, and she began work with renowned coach Peter Banks, her coach to this day. Just five years later, she was ready to compete in the 1994 World Championships, and it wasn’t long before the 16-year-old earned a spot on the 1996 Olympic team. Beating the world’s best swimmers, she brought home the gold in the 800-meter freestyle.
After victories at the 1998 World Championships and 1999 Pan Pacific Championships, Bennett returned to the Olympics in 2000. Competing in the 400-meter and 800 meter freestyle events, she earned gold medals in both competitions. Now training for a spot on the 2004 Olympic team, Bennett may soon become the first American female swimmer in Olympic history to win gold medals in three consecutive Games
According to Boys & Girls Clubs of America, other distinguished members of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Alumni Hall of Fame include Boys & Girls Clubs of America national spokesperson Denzel Washington, entertainers Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Lopez, and NBA superstars Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Terry Porter and Darrell Armstrong.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America (www.bgca.org) comprises a national network of more than 3,300 neighborhood-based facilities annually serving some 3.5 million young people, primarily from disadvantaged circumstances.