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Behrend swimming a common thread for Wattersons

| Monday, April 3, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
From left, TC, Anna and Liam Watterson all have or will have been swimmers at Penn State Behrend.
From left, TC, Anna and Liam Watterson all have or will have been swimmers at Penn State Behrend.
Liam Watterson
Liam Watterson
Terrance Watterson
Terrance Watterson

They share a common thread.

Actually, several threads.

Each loves to swim.

Each was coached, at one time or another, by their dad.

Each has had success in the pool.

And each has chosen to attend Penn State Behrend.

Liam Watterson is a senior at Baldwin, where he was a four-year letterman and four-time WPIAL qualifier as a member of the boys' swim team.

Liam, 17, set a school record in the 200-yard intermediate medley this year, and will represent Team Pittsburgh Aquatics at the USA Swimming Eastern Zone Sectionals meet in Christiansburg, Va. at the end of this month.

He plans to continue his swimming career at Penn State Behrend, and major in mechanical engineering.

“As soon as I got there for my recruiting trip, I fell in love with the campus and swim team,” said Liam, who is a member of the Davincian Society, Junior Classical League and Science Club at Baldwin. “It felt like I really fit in there, and from what I hear the academics are great for engineers. They actually installed a new building for engineering, so that was a bonus.”

Liam's sister, Anna, 22, is a senior member of the Penn State Behrend women's swim team. She was a seven-time AMCC champion, and a team captain for two years.

She was on section-winning teams in high school, and is a 2013 Seton-La Salle graduate.

“College has been an amazing ride, and I cannot even begin to explain the amount of fun I have had these past four years,” Anna said. “Behrend reminded me of what I found when I was at Seton — a family, a support system full of encouragement.”

Older brother Terrance, also known as TC (short for Terrance Christopher), graduated from Penn State Behrend in 2012, and from Brentwood in 2008. He competed in swimming for four years in both high school and college.

Terrance, 26, was a four-year letterman and qualified for the WPIAL finals four times at Brentwood. He was an AMCC record holder in the mile at Behrend, and a team captain.

He began the Watterson pipeline to the Penn State Behrend campus, which is located in Erie.

“Something about Penn State Behrend and the people there just felt right,” said Terrance, who majored in mechanical engineering. “I graduated with a mechanical engineering degree and worked for Rolls-Royce my first two years out of college. Now, I work for FirstEnergy at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant as a mechanical design engineer.

“I can honestly say that swimming in high school and college was the best decision I have ever made. The lessons I learned along the way have set me up to thrive in the challenges presented in the workplace. If I hadn't swum in college, there is a 100 percent chance I wouldn't be where I am today in terms of my success after college. I have heard the same sentiment from other former student-athletes.”

Liam, Anna and Terrance are the children of Dave and Alexis Watterson of Baldwin.

Dave is a former coach in the Baldwin-Whitehall swim club and at Brentwood High School. He swam for three years at Brentwood (in the first three years of the program), four years at Carnegie Mellon, and now swims in the masters program at Pitt. He graduated from Brentwood in 1976, and from CMU in 1980.

“The fact that all three graduated from different high schools but chose the same university has really surprised me,” said Dave, an account executive with Williams Lea Tag. “But Penn State Behrend has been great for both of the older kids, and I trust will be great for Liam. The academics are challenging, the campus is fantastic and the swim coach, Jen Wallace, has looked out for our kids during some of the hardest times we have had and helped them thrive as swimmers, and, more important, gave them guidance to grow into responsible adults.”

In Terrance's four years at Brentwood, the Spartans compiled an overall record of 60-3 and went undefeated in section action. Some of his fondest memories of his swimming career are:

• “The camaraderie built through the seasons with my teammates in college. You are around them so often and all of you suffer together, which builds a bond unlike anything else I have ever experienced.”

• “The time it snowed while swimming outside during our training trip to Florida in my sophomore year of college.”

• “When I crushed the conference record in the mile by 30 seconds in my freshman year of college, and held it for all of 18 minutes until a friend of mine from Pitt Bradford beat it in the next heat.”

• “During the letter ceremony in my freshman year of high school, my dad gave me his (varsity) letter that he got from Brentwood.”

• “I don't think that in my high school and college career I ever lost a conference meet.”

For Liam, his top swim memories revolve around the relays.

“I think my fondest memories have been qualifying for WPIALs in our relays because that has always been a fun goal to reach for the guys,” he said. “I always tend to do very well at WPIALs. Last year, I actually made my mom cry because I had such a good race.”

For Anna, it's been all about family.

“At Brentwood, I broke several records and was the first female in school history to qualify for WPIALs in individual events,” she said. “The reason I transferred (to Seton-La Salle) is because, like too many kids out there, I was badly bullied. The moment my dad became my superhero was the moment he saw it first-hand. The moment my dad chose me over being a coach, it changed my life. I knew how much he loved coaching, but he loved doing it because his kids were swimming.

“Our family rallied around me and became closer. I think everything happens for a reason, and we had to become closer as a family. Months later, our mother suffered a massive stroke. If it were not for swimming, Terrance, Liam and I wouldn't have had a way to cope with our new reality.”

Anna decided Penn State Behrend was the best fit for her following high school.

“Honestly, I was so lost without having my mom's guidance,” she said. “I chose Behrend because I was lost. Watching the (Behrend) family that supported Terrance through our mother's stroke, I knew I had a family there, too. It felt like home, a safe haven. Behrend provided a place where I could keep swimming. I had friends already there.

“At Behrend, I was and sometimes still am TC's ‘little sister.' I don't mind because I am proud to be his little sister, but I made it very clear that I am my own person. I love that at Behrend I have a huge, crazy dysfunctional family that is driven by goals athletically and academically. My favorite swimming memory has to be my very last one, as my team won another AMCC title. Ever since my freshmen year, TC showed up and surprised me at the conference championships on the day of my big race, the 1,650. This year, our coach allowed him to come down on deck and be my counter. I won the race by over a minute. Finishing that race knowing it was my last was bittersweet, but I cannot think of a better way to end my college career. Standing on the podium was great, and seeing my dad as happy as he was made me feel like a kid again. And getting to have my mom there was amazing.”

Anna has one more semester of classes. She will graduate with a degree in communications, a minor in history and a certificate in public relations.

“I have found myself loving radio and vlogging,” she said. “I am working on building my radio show, Hot Mess, where I talk opening and candidly about having been bullied and my uncommon family dynamic. I talk about overcoming anxieties, and how I am trying to find my way as a young woman without the guidance of my mother.

“Those are my plans for after college — building my own brand and telling my story.”

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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