By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – It is said that the show must go on. The 2018 West Virginia Games, hosted by the Marshall University swimming and diving program, went as scheduled Friday and Saturday without a hitch.
This was no small feat. The seven-team event, which includes Division I, Division II and Division III men's and women's programs from around the Mountain State, required substantial effort by the Marshall athletic department, the swim team, parents of student-athletes and members of the swimming community after the abrupt resignation of coach Bill Tramel a week ago. That left the season opening event in peril, and the student-athletes in a lurch.
"It was not ideal, but from the moment we found out, we knew we had a strong support system behind us to be able to put the meet together," said Catherine Bendziewicz, the 2017-18 Female Student-Athlete of the Year. "It would have been easy to ask WVU to host the meet, but the community, like always was able to step up. The parents were more than happy to help time us and make sure everything went smoothly. It made us feel important."
Beatrice Crane Banford, the associate athletic director who oversees Olympic sports, initially considered moving the event to WVU, a participant in the event. She asked former Herd swimmer Teel Hartmann, who works as a Partner Services Coordinator at IMG College on campus, to be the interim coach because the program was not only without a head coach, but an assistant coach, too. Together, they decided the event could still be hosted by Marshall even with a narrow, four-day window to prepare.
"We decided not to move everything," Hartmann said. "I called who I needed to call and she called others."
That included people like Jim O'Dell, the father of Marshall swimmer Jordyn O'Dell, and a long list of volunteers like Sonia Chambers, Kathy Morris, Alyssa Morris, Dallas McNabb and Jeff Waugh. There were countless others were pitched in to make the two-day event run perfectly. Jim O'Dell has contacts throughout the swimming community, and the volunteers banded together to find officials and other staff necessary to make a meet happen.
"We found out early in the week that there had not been much communication with other teams," Hartmann said. "We had to pull from last year's itinerary and meet scheduled and based it off of that."
In addition to WVU and Marshall, West Virginia Wesleyan, Davis & Elkins, Fairmont State, Salem and WVU Tech participated in the women's event. The visiting Mountaineers won with a score of 1462.5, but Marshall placed second and the swimmers persevered despite the adversity. They enjoyed it, too, and could exhale after a week of potential tumult ended with calm waters.
"It was an awesome meet and the girls did outstanding," Hartmann said. "There were a ton of girls who had better times at this meet than at this same meet last year, which shows a ton of improvement. It's kind of crazy when you consider that, as of Monday, they didn't even know if they were going to have practice.
"But we kept them swimming, kept them in the water, and when it came to the meet I told them my only expectation was for them to have fun. The atmosphere was unbelievable with the circumstances."
Hartmann received an assist from Chloe Parsemain, another former Herd swimmer who still resides in Huntington. They were reminded about the strength of the bond created as a member of the Herd family.
"When you graduate you want to come back and see the team, and I've been lucky enough to stay here after my four years," Hartmann said. "After the meet, I cried. I choked up a little bit. You realize your heart is in it as much as theirs, and it's good to have heart in it while we're trying to work through all of this."