By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Long-time USA Swimming corporate partner Phillips 66 has been a sponsor since 1973 and involved in the sport overall for seven decades. Today, Phillips 66 believes they can improve lives through energy, and in that spirit, usaswimming.org is highlighting swimmers of all levels who have benefited from Phillips 66's contribution and chosen to give back to the sport of swimming or to their community.
When he started organizing an event this summer to raise money to support a nonprofit that helps a member of his own swim club, Andy Fleischer didn’t quite know what to expect.
A high school senior and junior coach for his Lakeland Swim Club in Gaithersburg, Md., Fleischer knew his heart was in the right place, but he’d never done anything like this before. His club didn’t have a history of giving back to the community, so he wasn’t sure what kind of response he’d get from members, coaches and families.
“I brought up the idea to the other coaches during the summer season, and they all said that it sounded like a great idea,” Fleischer said. “I just went from there and pulled this together with their support. I was really happy with the way that it turned out because there was not that much notice before the event.”
Suffice it to say after getting 42 teammates, many family members and team coaches involved in a swim fundraiser July 23 for SPORTS PLUS – an organization started by the Liniak family, who live in his neighborhood and have kids on the team, to raise awareness about autism – Fleischer knows this was the first of many future opportunities to give back to the community in some fashion.
SPORTS PLUS is an award-winning nonprofit that provides uniquely structured sports, swim, camp, social and training programs for children and young adults with mild to moderate autistic spectrum disorders, ADD/ADHD and other developmental disabilities.
“I learned about the organization because the Liniak family has a son, Jonathan, who is on the autism spectrum yet remains a big part of our team,” Fleischer said. “I thought that what the Liniak family was doing was great, and I wanted to help them out.
“We didn’t really have a financial goal because I was not sure what to expect. Since it was the inaugural event, we thought that whatever we got would be great and would then become a standard for the next year. We ended with a total of over $2,000!”
Along with the swim event – where team members got pledges for laps as well as overall donations for the organization – the plan was to hold a raffle and silent auction to raise more money. However, only a few items were donated and local businesses didn’t respond as expected, so Fleischer and his event coordinators decided to leave that for next year.
What did arrive in large amounts was excitement from all the swimmers who participated in the event. And while Fleischer said he isn’t sure everyone understood the significance of the event because the majority of the team is young, he knows everyone had fun.
“One girl made and sold duct-taped headbands to add to her contribution, and others gave money of their own,” Fleischer said. “The older swimmers definitely understood the value and took it upon themselves to raise the most money. They turned it into a competition. They all knew, though, how much they were helping the organization with each donation that they went out and got.”
Fleischer said he also was motivated to organize the event because the Lionfish don’t do much to give back to the community on a regular basis, and he really wanted to get something started before he leaves for college next year.
And while he admits the timing of this year’s event wasn’t great for a variety of reasons, he and the other organizers took away many learning experiences that they intend to use next year and in future years to help the event grow and raise more money and awareness for SPORTS PLUS.
“I think we will see involvement grow within the next couple years,” Fleischer said. “Next year, I would like the event to be held earlier in the season, which will increase participation. This year, it was held the Monday after the season had ended and it was much more low-key because everyone, including the Liniak family, went on vacation after the season was over.
“I have received a lot of positive feedback, thanking me for doing the event, and everyone seems to be looking forward to doing it again. I collected all the donations and then delivered the money to the family.”
Fleischer said he and his team are already planning for next year’s event, and they intend to open it up to other area teams to increase participation and giving.
“Two other neighborhood teams are interested in participating in the event at our pool, and there will definitely be a silent auction or raffle next year,” Fleischer said. “I am very excited for next year's event, and the whole team is looking forward toward next year. It should be a much bigger affair.”
To learn more about SPORTS PLUS and/or make a donation, please visit www.playsportsplus.org and www.Facebook.com/playsportsplus.
DOES YOUR TEAM HAVE A STORY TO TELL? We are looking for more examples of clubs, swimmers, coaches, family members, etc., who are doing great things both big and small to benefit their communities. If you have a story or know of someone who is giving back in some way, please contact Mike Watkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!