A recap of the Badger Ball from Parent Advocate, Mike Conaton:
The Badger Ball was held May 28th at Glen Island Harbour Club, a beautiful venue on the Long Island Sound, attended by nearly 400 current and former Badgers, friends, family and special guests. The entrance to the event was set up as a museum of sorts, featuring memorabilia, pictures and trophies tracing the rich Badger program history. Attendees of this de facto reunion enjoyed rekindling friendships, telling stories and noshing on the generous variety of appetizers. The party continued upstairs for dinner, preceded by an entertaining and informative slide show about Badger, past and present, delivered by Head Coach, John Collins. After dinner a live band played many of John’s favorites, from CCR to the Beatles and other favorites from that era and genre. (I did not know John was such an aficionado and fan of classic rock…did he really meet Jim Morrison??)
If I took my notes correctly, the famous Badger outdoor pool was built for a camp in the 1930s and the Badger swimming program was officially started as an AAU program in 1956. John shared many pictures and stories about the early days of Badger and the people who had the most influence on his life and career. Names and icons from the swimming world (Doc Councilman, Joe Bernal, Jack Geoghan) were laced into the stories that served as a history lesson on our sport. A number of the former Badger Olympians were in attendance and were highlighted in the presentation as a prelude to the introduction of the current swimmers aspiring to make it to Rio next year. What was clear to everyone was not only the rich history of the program, but the very high degree of success the program (and John) have enjoyed over time – through a lot of hard work and dedication by all involved. For the benefit of the newcomers to the Badger program and/or swimming, I will as objectively as possible tell you that there just aren’t that many programs in the US that have this kind of heritage, success and world class profile.
Family & Loyalty
An equally strong impression I had was the overwhelming sense of family that was present in John’s presentation, and felt in the room. John spent a lot of time describing his parents’ dedication and their own contributions to Badger and the swimming world. It was clear to me that John attributed much of his own success and the program’s success not only to the influence of his parents, but also to the efforts of his own kids and their families, as well as the numerous Badger families along the way. Indeed the room was filled with multi-generational Badger families, some attendees traveling from faraway places. The Badger coaches were there with their own families. And yes behind every great swimmer there is a great mom – and many were there that night.
And so naturally such a strong sense of family implies a strong and underlying sense of loyalty. My favorite story told by John was about Olympian and former Badger, Rick Carey, who was also in attendance. After winning three gold medals in 1984, Rick kept one for himself, and gave one to his parents…and one to John. An inspiring demonstration of family, loyalty, gratitude and appreciation. Olympian and former Badger, Lea Loveless Maurer traveled from California to deliver a heartfelt keynote address to the guests, paying tribute to John and Badger, and reminding everyone what it takes to be the best.
The event itself was first class all the way- a perfect reflection of the world class swimming program that Badger provides. Christina Collins, Teresa Lantin and countless others should be commended and applauded.
The Badger Ball was a reunion of former Badgers, a gathering of current Badger friends and family, and a commemoration of the historical success and caliber of the program. Naturally there was a celebration of the many accomplishments of the program, including of course recognition of the multiple (multiple!) Olympians produced. But it wasn’t just about that…
I believe a Badger parent (and swimmer) today can’t lose sight of a few things. All of these former Olympians were age group kids themselves a long time ago. They had parents just like us. In the summer at least, they trained in the same pool that’s still in John’s front yard. They swam the same sets and workouts that our kids are battling through today. This program is the same today and is available to all kids at every age group. You don’t have to be an Olympian to be a part of it. We should all feel a connection to this. We should all be proud of each other’s accomplishments, from 8 & unders to Olympians. We should all feel a pride of association and membership with this Badger legacy…and future being built. We’ve all put a lot into it, and to me the Badger Ball was all about saying we all belong in this family.