Walter Johnson Swim and Dive: Celebrating the season lost to COVID

By Contributors David Meisel and Becky Umhofer

June 6th, 2021 a new senior class will graduate from Walter Johnson High School located in Bethesda, Maryland. The seniors among this class lost their senior high school season they had looked forward to for more than a decade. We therefore honor them here and give them a chance to reflect on their high school swimming experience.
Anyone reading this article knows what it takes to be a swimmer who is still swimming their senior year of high school. Early mornings, late nights, smelling like chlorine all day, and the understanding that you do this to be with your team, to be a part of something bigger than oneself, to be a senior in high school, representing your school at dual meets, regional meets, the state meet and most importantly- Metros!
Senior year is not about breaking HS team records as much as it is about enjoying your fourth year on this team with friends, mentoring younger teammates (who will likely swim faster than your best times…it’s how the sport works) to be future captains, expressing team pride, and carrying on team traditions.


From the Coach:

Jamie Grimes – Head Coach – Walter Johnson Swim and Dive (WJSD)
The swim and dive team has been a great blend of athletes who have team spirit, the commitment to excel, and genuinely like each other. Team functions allow the kids to get to know each other and become part of a team. Whether they are the team breakfast after morning practice or the pasta dinner before the meets, the kids like being in each other’s company. At the meets the athletes are always supportive of one another and that is what allows everyone to perform at their best. This year’s graduating class is no different. They have been a great addition to the WJSD tradition. Even though they did not get their senior year they still have provided me with great memories and instilled the underclassmen with the values that will continue to have the Wildcats excel in the future.

Today we honor the Class of 2021 from Walter Johnson High School:

  • Sophia Abels
  • Kayden Austin-Vaias
  • Henry Bagshaw
  • Chandler Dietrich
  • Quinn Harris
  • Jane Joncas
  • Tina Jovic
  • Alexandra Keefe
  • Noelle Krupinski
  • Yoav Lavy
  • Sam Meisel
  • Ava Powell
  • Luke Simmons
  • Sam Spasoff
  • Jane Umhofer
  • Jackson Young

From the Captains:

Chandler Dietrich – WJ- Swim Captain – Class of 2021
Unfortunately, along with many other clubs and sports, Walter Johnson Swim & Dive was unable to perform at our traditional competitions this past year in compliance with MCPS protocols due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Many swimmers on private clubs were able to train on their respective teams and even participate in Potomac Valley Swim meets in the spring of 2021. Fortunately, Coach Grimes and the WJ Swim Team Captains devised a plan for swimmers to stay connected to the team. Weekly zoom meetings were offered to WJSD swimmers that featured an array of hosts. From local swim coaches to successful MCPS alumni, athletes were given a wide variety of opportunities to gain valuable and motivational information during the season. Looking ahead to the future, the re-opening of MCPS schools shows promise on the possibility of having a regular 2021-2022 season.

Jane Umhofer – WJ Swim Captain & Jane Joncas – WJ Dive Captain – Class of 2021
Given the fact that there was no in-person winter sports season for MCPS this year, many athletes, specifically seniors on Walter Johnson Swim and Dive, had a lot more time on their hands. This year’s virtual schedule differed greatly from the events of a normal high school swim season. The team usually participates in two practices a week and weekly meets from the end of November to the end of February. This year, the season was cut down to just a few zoom meetings, and many swimmers found other things to do with the time that WJSD previously occupied. Our senior swimmers watched more Netflix and slept more, of course, but also: joined clubs, focused on college applications, started Instagram businesses, began swimming year-round, lifted weights, worked jobs/internships, and much more! While we wish we were all together at the KSAC pool, surrounded by our fellow Wildcats, we have been able to find a silver lining during this pandemic.

Kayden Austin-Vaias – WJ Swim Captain – Class of 2021
Over the years, the WJSD team has had many victories and many meals! Jamie’s birthday dinners were so fun, bringing together his RMSC and WJ swimmers. Tuesday morning breakfasts were always delicious and made the early wakeup time totally worth it. The parents brought us bagels, sausages, fruit, and the fan favorite-chocolate milk.
There were also some awesome captains. Grace Burgett was always so supportive, spirited, and took the little freshmen under her wing. In the giant crowds cheering at metros, you could always spot her in her green and white striped overalls! Watching Maren Conze break the metros record for 500 freestyle was amazing! She totally dominated and the whole team was on deck, jumping, screaming, and cheering her on. Swimming and cheering at metros was so exciting. Whether you swam, or just came to cheer, we all left with our voices gone and bodies exhausted.
This team is so close, and I’ll always love my fellow wildcats.

Henry Bagshaw – WJ Swim Captain – Class of 2021
The highlight of the WJ swim and dive team has been the eating. It has been a great way to bring us all together (out of the water). Just about every week during the season we have a special meal together. These include the Sub Lunch, the Snowflake Brunch and Jamie’s Birthday dinner. It’s always a fun time to get to hang out with the team (in a dry setting). One of my best memories was when Timmy Ellett, James Collishaw, Sean Keller and I broke the 200 free relay state record my sophomore year. That was probably the proudest moment of my entire high school swimming career. I will miss this great group of friends, and teammates.

From the Former Wildcats:

Dear Senior Swimmer – by Kevin Mejia – Class of 2013
This year is the most important season of your high school career. The last chance to leave an impression on your peers inside and outside of the pool. Luckily, some of you have Jamie Grimes for WJSD and Anatomy so there’s no room for error. Take good notes in class because those study packets can help you in real life, 206 bones in the human body.
Embrace your friends, cheer each other on obnoxiously, and make sure to leave your own unique mark on an incredible winning culture! Remember this, champions are made at Post-practice breakfast. Also, Jamie has enhanced hearing so gossip at your own risk. Always thank parent volunteers please, and I hopefully will see you all soon. GO Wildcats 🐾

Dearest Senior Swimmers – Sidney Drill – Class of 2011
I know that this last year and a half wasn’t what you expected when you thought about leaving your impression in the water. Your path strayed from freestyle best times to lengthy Zoom calls with Grimes (for WJ students at least). Still, it was a year to showcase your strong resolve, creativity, and the indestructible bonds of family and friendship.
To steal a quote from that classic anime series: Hunter X Hunter:
“You should enjoy the little detours to the fullest. Because that’s where you’ll find the things more important than what you want.”
The ridiculous spirit outfits, the gluttonous pasta dinners, screaming yourself hoarse at every swim meet. From experience, those memories and friends are the most important things you’ll take from your years on the team.
Also: if you have that one mom on the team who makes the MOST AMAZING potluck brownies, ask for the recipe too. Future you (and your friends) will thank you. GO Wildcats 🐾


Two of the WJSD graduating seniors have committed to continue their athletic careers:

  • Jane Umhofer: will attend and swim for the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, IL.
  • Sam Meisel: will attend and swim for St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s County, MD.

Knowing this strong group of athletes, we are confident that others from the class of 2021 will be swimming club or will commit in time to their colleges swim/dive team.


Celebrate the Seniors ‘Tailgate’ Style!

Please join us on Saturday April 17th (rain date April 24th) for a drive-through poster signing celebration. The seniors will be parked in the back area of the Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center parking lot tailgate style, look for the balloons! Each senior will have a poster and would love for you to stop by and sign it for them. You can park your car in another area of the parking lot and walk through the area where the seniors are (everyone masked, of course).

Timeline:
12:00-12:30 WJSD sophomores
12:30-1:00 WJSD juniors
1:00-1:30 family and special friends


As June 6th comes closer with each passing day, we at Reach For The Wall hope that if you see a class of 2021 swimmer or diver to wish them well, to provide them with a memory of your experience being on a team and the fond memories you had from those days.

The editors at Reach for the Wall encourage any of the DMV’s high schools to celebrate your team and recognize your class of 2021 seniors. Send an email to: operations@reachforthewall.org, we’d love to share it with our readers!

One thought on “Walter Johnson Swim and Dive: Celebrating the season lost to COVID

  • Apr 12, 2021 at 11:44 am
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    As a parent of a Virginia HS Sr, I’d like to start by expressing my condolences to swimmers and parents who have kids attending school in the District and Maryland. Virginia and VHSL had a covid-constrained season, but still had one.

    Even my kid who got to swim at 4A states in an pool without spectators felt it was ‘covid-sad.’ I’d not stopped to consider the alternative – no districts, regionals and states.

    Thank you for sharing the article, which made me pause and be grateful that the kids were able to still (safely) compete.

    Reply

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