At the Western Big 6 boys' swim meet this past weekend, there was an audible reverence that Rock Island sophomore Josh Fleming's name holds.|
Opposing Big 6 swimmers overheard, hoping that this week's Metro Pacesetter for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus wasn't going be racing in their event at Saturday's United Township Sectional.
Fleming has developed into one of the best freestyle swimmers in the conference.
His talent, ability and heart have made him spectacular, but his ties to the Rock Island swim program's past is something that helps drive Fleming further.
Fleming's mother, Julie, swam for Rock Island during her high school days, and Fleming has spent close to his whole life in the pool, getting his first taste of swimming during a mom-and-pop swim class at 6 months old.
Fleming's uncles, Jim and John Gripp, were products of dynamic Rocky swim teams in the '90s.John remains a member of the 400 relay team that holds the school record, with Fleming's name beside it a part of the team that holds the pool record set at sectionals last season.
"Last time, Rock Island won conference, my uncle John was on the team," Fleming said. "The men's team was great back when my uncles were swimming and to be a part of Rocky's rise again is really exciting for me. It's the same pool they swam in and many other Rock Island state qualifiers. It's great to think about who has been in this pool because that is the legacy you carry on as you go to state."
At conference, Fleming bridged that gap, earning Rocky its first Big 6 championship since 1991 by winning the 100 freestyle (49.13) and finishing with a season-best time in the 200 freestyle (1:47.96).
While Fleming currently holds the conference' best times in the 100 freestyle (49.03), 200 freestyle (1:47.96), and 500 freestyle (4:56.37); he's been breaking ground thought his swim career.
At the age of 12, Fleming emerged as a prodigy, winning all four freestyle state titles at Illinois Age Group championships.
At that time, Fleming had to wonder if he was going to be a part of the Rocky tradition after low interest and hard times befell the program.
"I remember talking it over with my coaches two or three years ago if the program was going to be cut," Fleming said. "So I've seen it at its lows, and now to be experiencing it at its highs it has been a great ride."
Fleming isn't concerned about individual glory, yet more about what the team can accomplish as it prepares to defend its sectional title at United Township Saturday.
"Nobody expected us to do what we did last year," Fleming said of Rock Island's first sectional title since 1991. "Now we go in as sectional champions, but we have a very serious threat posed by Dunlap. I think we will have plenty of state qualifiers and gold medals to go along with it. Still, I believe we are looked at as the underdog."
The thing that Fleming continued to get back to was that the Rock Island's team strength was its brotherhood, another family to inspire Fleming even further.
Favorite food: Lee's on 14th Avenue
Favorite movies: Act of Valor and The Guardian
Favorite band: The Killers, and The Glitch Mob
Favorite athlete: Ryan Lochte
If you weren't swimming what sport would you play: Water polo.
Parents name: John and Julie Fleming, Rock Island
In the running
Jessica Howell, Moline: Finished third at the IHSA state meet rolling a two day score of 2,660, and became the first swimmer to earn a state medal for the Maroons.
Austen Willhite, United Township: Swam to a season best time in his win in the 500 yard freestyle (5:10.02) Western Big 6 meet.
Fermann Flowers, Moline: Touched the wall first in the 100 yard backstroke (57.79), and anchored the Maroons to wins in the 200 freestyle relay (1:31.61) and 400 freestyle relay (3:21.96) both season bests.
Raahsaan Brown, Rock Island: Led the Rocks with 32 points in a pair of wins against Galesburg and Aurora Central Catholic.
Chase Wiggins, Rock Island: Won the 132-pound title at the Class 2A Rochelle Sectional.
Derrick Stabler, Moline: Scored 17 points in the Maroons upset at Western Big 6 conference leader Quincy.
Trevor May, United Township: Led the Panthers with 25 points during their back-to-back wins against Alleman and IVC.
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