Athlete of the Week: Wolff makes wave in, out of pool

maxSisters and St. James High swimming teammate Anna and Kater Wolff have always been proud of their big brother. Now a lot more people around the school, state and country are big fans of Max Wolff as well.

What started out as a story about a good-hearted kid with Down Syndrome who simply wanted to be a member of his school’s swim team has turned into a tale of inspiration for people around the country, and has raised awareness about the importance of giving everyone the opportunity to experience the thrill of competition.

“Max’s story is what high school athletics are all about,” said St. James athletics director Paula Lee. “He has taught a lot of people about the true spirit of sports and the importance of inclusion.”

For the past six years Max has quietly competed for his school and club teams with little fanfare, but that began to change when Lee began petitioning the SCHSL to allow him to take part in the sport during his senior season despite a steadfast national rule against 19-year-olds participating in high school sports. The ruling on his waiver stated that Max would not be allowed to compete in meets, or even join his teammates in uniform.

“I knew about the rule, but I also knew that this wasn’t right,” said Lee, who credited SCHSL Executive Director Jerome Singleton for going to bat for Max’s appeal. “There was a hearing before the Executive Committee and they voted unanimously to let Max compete against the clock. That’s all he really wanted was to be able to swim and to be with his teammates. … I said all along that if this is the only thing I accomplish in my career, it was worth it.”

Max made his first solo swim this season and received wild applause from the swimmers and fans on hand for the meet, but his moment in the spotlight grew even brighter and wider when the video of his exhibition went viral. Former U.S. Olympic swimmer Rowdy Gaines retweeted the clip with an encouraging comment and soon even the Internet was catching Max Fever. His heats became the highlight of meets as all teams and fans gathered around the pool to root him on.

“I like the meets the most,” said Max, who was voted the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week for his impact on the local and national sports scene. “It’s fun when everybody is cheering for me. It makes me happy.”

That’s all he really hoped for, but Max got so much more. In fact, he was given a special award by Singleton at the SCHSL State Championships on Oct. 14-15. But as it turns out, Max gave much more than he ever received.

“We have always been really proud of Max but now a lot of other people are too,” said sister Anna Wolff, who along with younger sister Kater Wolff turned in strong showings at the state tournament. But they were no match for their big brother. “He was like a celebrity at the state meet. Random people were coming up to him and congratulating him. He was loving it.”

Max’s popularity has even spilled out of the swimming pool. He is a real hit among his classmates and is even in the running for homecoming king this week.

“Everybody loves Max,” said St. James swim coach Ann Moore. “Not only do they love him, but they look up to him. He’s a real inspiration to our swimmers and to the whole school.”

And to the entire sports world.

– Photo by Terry Massey

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