If you're searching out a feel-good sports story for the 2012-13 scholastic year, look no further than Wallenpaupack Area's varsity swim team.
In just four short years, the Buckhorns have gone from the extreme periphery of competition to a bona fide contender at the league, district and state levels.
Even more importantly, Paupack has built its fledgling program on all the right principles.
Under the direction of volunteer coach Lynne Vanderhoof ... and with the undying support of a tireless group of parents ... the Buckhorns are known all over the region for their dedication to sportsmanship and friendly competition.
"To be completely honest, we're more like a family than a sports team," Coach Vanderhoof said.
"These kids are totally focused on doing the right things. They work hard and cheer for each other no matter what. They're an awesome group."
Paupack swimmers are a hardy bunch.
They travel all over the area to practice, often times hitting the water at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays before putting in a full day at school.
The Buckhorns don't have a home pool, so all of their meets are at opponent facilities. However, officials at Wallenpaupack Lake Estates, Woodloch Pines and Hemlock Farms have all stepped up to donate practice time.
"Our biggest dream is one day to have a pool of our own," Coach Vanderhoof said. "Until then, though, we're incredibly grateful to WLE, Woodloch and Hemlock Farms for letting us use their facilities."
Kelly Derrick was Paupack's first volunteer coach.
She came to the Buckhorns via Lycoming College and helped found the squad, which began competing in 2009-10 as a club sport with just five student/athletes.
Page 2 of 3 - That number ballooned to 16 in 2010-11 as Paupack embarked upon its first full season swimming against schools in the Wyoming Valley Conference.
By the start of the 2011-12 campaign, Derrick had decided to move on and Vanderhoof took the reins. In addition, Lynne's husband Ray organized a booster program which has evolved into a robust organization dedicated to supporting the kids.
Once again, interest in the program continued its upward arc and the Buckhorns' roster swelled to nearly 30 boys and girls.
Although the school district hadn't yet officially designated swimming a varsity sport at Wallenpaupack Area, support for the squad was also on the upswing.
Michael Inglesby and Katherine Lufty were the program's first breakout stars.
Inglesby dazzled during his junior and senior seasons, earning district medals in 2009-10 and an individual title in 2010-11.
A talented and versatile performer, Michael excelled in the 200M freestyle and 100M butterfly.
Lufty also rocketed her way to back-to-back medals at the year-end District 2/4 subregional meets. Katherine earned recognition in both individual and relay events.
Here & Now
Baileigh Vanderhoof and Eric Usbeck helped elevate the program to the next level the following season.
Vanderhoof swam her way onto the All Regional team two straight years.
The highlight of Baileigh's most recent campaign was a gold medal performance in the 200 IM, shattering a meet record which had stood since '05.
Usbeck was equally impressive, bringing home District Two gold in the 100 breast stroke and earning All Region honors.
After yet another dazzling performance at the PIAA State Championships, Usbeck parlayed his success into a scholarship at Bloomsburg University.
Page 3 of 3 - Looking Ahead
Wallenpaupack Area's varsity swim team has come light years over the course of its short existence.
Thanks in large part to the selfless dedication of parents, booster club and volunteer coaches like Kelly Derrick, Lynne Vanderhoof and Jeanne Ladner, the program has made a habit of beating the odds.
The Buckhorns are hopeful that full affiliation with the school district is right around the corner. In the meantime, Paupack swimmers continue to exceed expectations.
Despite not having their own practice facility ... or even a regulation sized pool in which to practice ... these hard-working kids are setting a positive example for all of to see.