A Team of One

By: Andy Wright and Tim Reusche
Ball State Sports Link

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Whenever Ball State sophomore swimmer J.D Middleton finishes a race, he scores points for his team. While it may seem obvious because swimmers usually score points for their team, Middleton’s teams have been unique.

Being on a team is not always guaranteed. That experience is something Middleton cherishes more than anything.

“I love representing a school, and my team and something that’s more than just me,” Middleton said. “It’s a sense of an accomplishment from swimming.”

Middleton has been swimming since he was in third grade at the age of nine. He swam at the Pendleton Swim Club in Pendleton Heights, Ind. It was there he grew fond of the sport.

“The pool at Pendleton has a lot of memories, just because that’s where I grew as a swimmer,” Middleton said. “There are a lot of memories there.”

Middleton’s swim coach at Pendleton, Jeff Mercer, raved about his work ethic and drive early on in his swimmer career.

“If I told the guy to go all out until he threw up in the gutter he’d do it,” Mercer said. “He embodies everything that a coach wants.”

After several years of swimming club, Middleton progressed into high school, and accomplished feats in the pool that were unheard of. His mother, Beth, is still in awe over his success during high school.

“Whenever we would go to sectionals, J.D would just get to swim two events, but he scored in those two events more points than an entire team, that had a full team,” Beth Middleton said.

What J.D Middleton did in the pool was unprecedented. He did by himself, as a team of one.

Middleton attended high school at Shenandoah, which is in Middletown, Ind. The town has a population of 2,200 people. J.D’s sister, Brittanie, went to Shenandoah as well and knew what J.D had to overcome.

“So, Shenandoah is a really small farm-town school,” Brittanie Middleton said. “There are 400 people in the high school. It had football, basketball and Future Farmers of America. Swimming was never even a topic of discussion.”

Middleton’s mom acknowledged even though the school didn’t have a pool, it was in the original plans when the school was being built.

“When that school was built, there was supposed to have been a pool, but the school board actually voted down the pool,” Beth Middleton said. “It’s sad.”

Since Shenandoah didn’t have a pool, Middleton swam at meets at Pendleton Heights High School — while representing Shenandoah — for all four years of high school.

“I actually had to swim during the junior varsity events, so I didn’t get to swim what I wanted,” Middleton said. “It was kind of difficult for me to not swim with people who could actually push me.”

“I’ve seen him swim a heat where it’s just been him by himself,” Beth Middleton said. “We couldn’t take points away from Pendleton Heights or the other team. Every time J.D swam it was for himself, his school and his time.”

As Middleton entered his final year of high school, the stress of representing an entire school began to wear on him.

“I almost quit the sport of swimming, because I was alone and I didn’t have that team aspect,” Middleton said. “After years of trying to motivate myself, I was really tired of that.”

“There wasn’t a team there, and he was lacking that. What he wanted more than anything was to be on a team,” Beth Middleton said.

It looked like Middleton’s swimming career would come to an end. It didn’t. It took one splash to change J.D’s fortune. His art teacher at Shenandoah, Janie Taylor, had a Ball State Swimming connection.

“I knew Coach Thomas, because his daughters swam with my daughters at the same club,” Taylor said. “I wrote down all of J.D’s best times and stats. He took all the stats, and called J.D in a couple of days. The next week J.D went to Ball State on a visit, and that was that.”

It was long after that recruiting visit that Middleton knew he wanted to keep swimming and to continue his career at Ball State. After years of swimming alone and representing Shenandoah, he finally had a team to be a part of.

“He’s dedicated, he’s very strong willed, and I’m very proud of him,” Brittanie Middleton said.

Author: Sports Link Staff

Sports Link showcases Cardinal student-athletes’ accomplishments on the field, in the classroom and within the surrounding community. Follow @bsusportslink on all social media platforms.

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