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Valley senior puts in extra effort for swim team

| Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, 12:47 a.m.
Valley High School senior Melissa Anderson networked and raised money to buy a swimming touch pad system, which tracks time and the winners of swimming events. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Valley High School senior Melissa Anderson. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Valley High School senior Melissa Anderson has seen efforts to help the school's swim team make a big splash. That's because her dedication to getting new scoring devices and timing systems for the high school's pool have come to fruition, with the help of a local YMCA.

Anderson's interest in securing new equipment began when she joined the team as a ninth-grader.

“We still used parents with stopwatches and clipboards,” said the 17-year-old New Kensington resident. “And without a scoreboard, it's difficult to get your times, and it's hard for spectators to know who won a close race.”

In her 10th-grade year, Anderson, who is now a swim team captain, began to look seriously for a way to bring the equipment to Valley High School's pool.

That was when she turned to the Pepsi Refresh Project, a 2010 initiative awarding grants to top vote-getters in different categories.

A $25,000 prize was just enough to cover the costs of a new timing system and a full scoreboard.

“I entered the contest and passed out flyers to my family, peers at my school and all around town,” she said. “I sent emails out to teachers, administrators and distant relatives. I even had my mom send out emails and links to people she knew.”

Within days, the Valley project had risen to 120th place out of 500 entries. Throughout the month of voting it held roughly the same position.

Though Anderson's efforts didn't bag the $25,000 grant for Valley, getting the word out got people interested. Anderson persisted throughout her junior year, too. With the help of others, she passed out flyers and sent emails requesting support.

Eventually, an offer came through from the Allegheny Valley YMCA. The Y was getting new equipment for its pool and looking for a home for its old touch pad system.

The system includes six touch pads, plus six backup buttons (in case a swimmer was to miss the touch pad or the system malfunctioned) as well as the computer system and a scrolling scoreboard.

The school began using the new system a little more than a week ago.

While using the touch pad takes some getting used to, Anderson said, Valley swimmers and opponents alike appreciate them. The touch pads are portable, so Valley was able to use them right away.

The scoreboards will be up soon, too.

“Once the scoreboard is installed, all of the swimmers will be able to see their times instantly, and that is what they're really looking forward to,” she said.

Anderson, who credits her mother with supporting her dreams and teaching her the value of hard work, is involved in many other activities outside of the pool.

Ranked first in her class, she said she has made high honor roll every year since the fourth grade. A Girl Scout, she has received both the Bronze and Silver awards. Last summer, when participating in the National American Miss Teen Pennsylvania Beauty Pageant, she received a first-place award for academic achievement.

For Anderson, finding a way to obtain new equipment for Valley's pool was about more than just making scoring easier.

“I have received so much through the opportunities afforded to me by this community,” she said. “Giving back is just my way of saying thank-you. I want to help as much as I can.”

Julie E. Martin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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