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Meinelschmidt's 'legacy'

Goretti creates memorial event for fallen coach

Goretti creates memorial event for fallen coach

January 03, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI

To Erik Meinelschmidt, life was one big pool party.

As the St. Maria Goretti swim coach, his passion for swimming had friends, parents and athletes alike diving in head first to build the Gaels' program.

He looked for those strokes of genius to make his swimmers great individuals, while creating great teammates. He had the ability to make work fun while preventing fun from feeling like work.

Meinelschmidt stood for team and individuals, fun and competition, friendship and accomplishment. They were all components of a dream to create a swimming event that incorporated each into one competition.

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He never got the chance. Meinelschmidt passed away suddenly last May at age 36.

Goretti took the plunge to make sure their coach will always be remembered by creating the initial Erik Meinelschmidt Memorial Invitational on Saturday at the Hagerstown YMCA pool.

"This event will be his legacy," said Cort Meinelschmidt, Erik's younger brother, who took over as Goretti's coach. "This will keep the legacy of what he did going."

It was the mission of the Goretti swim family to make the invitational a reality after Cort Meinelschmidt took over. The idea grew out of the swimming pentathlon -- a combination of five races: 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke and 50 butterfly -- and turning it into one fun, fast-paced competition. The competition will use the combined times of the five events to crown boys and girls individual champions with overall scores tabulated to decide a team champion.

"When I read about a pentathlon meet, I thought this isn't something that is done all the time around here," Cort Meinelschmidt said. "It would be unique and it would be fun and competitive. That's what Erik would have wanted."

The first invitational was a closed party, though. Only Goretti swimmers came out to compete in memory of their departed coach. It was labeled as a day of fun, featuring swimming tugs-of-war and a relay race between past and present Goretti swimmers, all wrapped around the first pentathlon competition.

"This is like our memorial service for our coach," said junior Tanner Beal. "He carried the team. I think he's our strength. We are out here going for records, but the records are in memory of him. We want to continue this each year."

This inaugural event might have been the best way to commemorate Meinelschmidt. Because of the closed field, a Goretti boy and girl will be the first names on each championship trophy. Next year, the event will be open competition for any individuals and any school.

"Erik always wanted something fun like this, so we decided to do it. It's a competition, but it's a fun competition," said Lisa Collins, the mother of Goretti junior swimmer Jessica Collins. "Erik was a great coach. The kids adored him. When he passed away, we asked what we could do. It was something he always wanted to host."

Collins saw Meinelschmidt's impact first hand with Jessica. The younger Collins joined the swim team, even though she didn't swim well.

"He said that was all right. He took her and put her in the 500," Collins said. "I said you had be ready to help her, she's going to drown. When she got in the pool, the entire team was standing up and cheering for her. It was a team effort. Erik brought everyone together. Erik was very motivating. He was both strict and fair."

Those qualities were attributes Jessica Collins appreciated.

"He was a great guy and he got us to where we are today. I've improved because of him," she said. "It's great to have this memorial to show how much he meant. He is a big part of us. He taught us to battle our fears. We should remember him and the swimmers who come in here after us should know who he was and what he did."

What he did was turn Goretti's program around with his efforts and his caring.

"He did a lot of things for the swim team," said Andrew Lechowicz, a Goretti swimming alumni. "He used his pay to get an extra hour of pool time for us to practice. He would give us rides to and from meets and go a half-hour, an hour out of his way to do it. He did everything he could to try and keep us out of trouble. He turned us into winners his first year.

"This is a great way to do this in memory of him. It's sad he doesn't get to continue all this, but we are glad he was here to get it started."

Cort Meinelschmidt admitted he has struggled with the emotions of filling his brother's role as Goretti's coach. It has been an emotional burden because he was close to Erik.

"This is my way to deal with him being gone and to not let the team down," he said.

The event Erik Meinelschmidt always wanted will be come the legacy he always deserved.

"He brought this team to what it is. It was nine swimmers when he started and we have 39 this year," Cort Meinelschmidt said. "This is the team he wanted. He wanted to see everyone do their best in everything. He wasn't worried about them breaking records, he just wanted them to improve and do their own best.

"He is the one pushing this team. This team is out here and setting records because of him. He would be loving every minute of this."

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