LANSING | The T.F. South-T.F. North rivalry burns hot in most activities, but a few Meteors have splashed some cool water on one of them.
Co-op teams are not unusual in District 215. A few less-populated sports have rosters comprised of athletes from both high schools, but for the past several years, Thornton Fractional's swim program was co-op in name only.
No North swimmer had made it through an entire season since 2007, so coach Chris Simich grew used to dealing solely with on-campus students. Much to Simich's delight, however, that situation has changed dramatically.
Led by brothers Jose and Moises Mendoza, Thornton Fractional's squad includes five individuals from North for the 2011-12 campaign.
"Five is an unusually high number," Simich said. "And that's a good sign, I think.
"We're not really a swimming area; football is our thing in Lansing and Cal City, so it's nice to have these kids come out. A quarter of the kids we have right now are from T.F. North. I wish I knew (what's caused it) so I could keep it going."
Simich has done his part to draw interest, enticing one student whom he taught at the Center for Academics and Technology to come out for the team. Another newcomer is a swimmer Simich coached in a park district program.
As for the Mendozas, senior Jose is merely making a delayed journey.
"Freshman year, I tried doing it, but there was no time in between because back then there was eight classes (per day)," he said. "There was no travel time between North and South. Now that I'm a senior, I've got less classes and I can get here on time."
Jose bowled for the Meteors the past two winters, but stayed in condition for swimming by participating in a lifeguard program. So what finally convinced him to trade his bowling shoes for a pair of trunks?
"I wanted a challenge," he said, "and I heard swimming was a challenge."
Presenting one of those challenges is his freshman sibling. Moises Mendoza has swam since age 5 and plans on being a part of Thornton Fractional's team all four years in high school.
Jose claims Moises is the better of the two in their primary event, the breaststroke, although the latter is properly respectful of his elder.
"He influenced me," Moises said. "It helps a lot because I have a goal to meet up to."
Simich preaches self-improvement as the main motivation for his swimmers and says "the enemy is not necessarily the guy next to them." That also holds true when students from two schools come together for one cause.
Moises Mendoza termed his first day with Thornton Fractional "scary," and Jose agreed there was a bit of tension initially.
"They saw us -- we're from North, they're from South, (the schools) are old rivals," said Jose, who added some jokes eventually thawed the iciness.
"In this situation, you just got to accept each other because you're not competing against each other," he said. "You're one big team and you're trying to do the best for each other."
Jose Mendoza believes he and the other seniors are setting a base for the program's future. He also thinks if all of North's swimmers successfully complete the current season, it will keep the pipeline from Calumet City to Lansing open.
"It's going to make a big impact, especially when role models start appearing at our school for different sports," Jose said. "A lot of people are going to follow."