Elementary Schoolers Filling the Stands at World Junior Championships

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By David Rieder.

When Andrew Abruzzo dove in for his 400 free heat at the FINA World Junior Championships, he already had a legion of fans—hundreds of local elementary school students who had never heard of him and who had never been to a major swim meet.

All week long, various school groups from the Indianapolis area will take field trips to the IUPUI Natatorium to watch different morning sessions. The kids inject some energy into otherwise-quiet morning sessions, but there’s also an educational component attached.

Classes from different schools were assigned to learn about particular countries competing at the World Junior Championships, including China, Romania, Italy and others. Still, when it came to the kids’ rooting interests, those were decidedly domestic.

Abruzzo was the first American to race all meet, and as soon as the students saw the stars and stripes flag pop up on the scoreboard, they knew they were fans. Some didn’t even know which lane was the “4” where Abruzzo was racing, not that it mattered. The chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” got loud in the stretch of sections where the students were sitting.

“They’re very excited because most of them have never seen anything like this or a pool this size before,” said Peggy Storey, a third-grade teacher at Robert Lee Frost Elementary School.

The students had plenty to cheer about when Abruzzo won his heat and then teammate Trey Freeman won the final heat to qualify first for the final. One event later, they watched Emily Weiss claim the top seed in the women’s 50 breast.


Storey’s group of third-graders was equipped with Olympic swimming-themed coloring books, and they had crossword puzzles with clues such as “water glasses,” “how swimmers change direction at the wall” and “has won 23 gold medals.”

What did they enjoy the most? “That I get to see the swimmers race,” third-grader Brooklynn Finley said.

One of her classmates, Destinee Terrell, had a question: “How do they swim all the way down to the other end?”

“Years of hard work,” I answered.

Terrell added that she preferred watching the women’s events, but that had more to do with the strokes than the swimmers themselves. At that point, the only two events she had seen were the men’s 400 free and women’s 50 breast.

And why did she enjoy cheering for the Americans so much?

“Because they’re from the greatest country ever.”

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