Ben McDade swam in his first Madison All-City Swim Meet 13 years ago, back when he was 6 years old.
Even at that young age, he was fully aware of the fringe benefits that resulted from hanging around the swimming pool.
“Ben wound up in swimming because we just dragged him everywhere,” said his father, Phil McDade, who — along with his wife, Sue — are two of the driving forces behind the Monona Swim and Dive Club.
“We have pictures of Ben at Monona Grove High School swim meets when he was 4 or 5 years old,” Phil McDade said. “The Monona Grove girls swim team kind of adopted him as their mascot.”
Monona is the host club for this year’s All-City Meet, running Thursday through Saturday at Monona Community Pool.
And this weekend, Ben will compete in his 13th and final All-City Swim Meet — in his home pool, the same place where everything began.
“It’s special to have such a long-lasting tradition that we save the date every summer,” Ben said. “It’s going to be great spending the last summer here.”
Ben McDade is the most decorated swimmer in WIAA state history — he won two individual events and two relay titles in the 2018 state meet, bringing his four-year victory total to a state-record 15. Next, he will head to Indiana University this fall to compete in the Big Ten Conference.
It all started when Ben watched his older brothers, Jake and Alex, enjoy their time with the Monona Swim and Dive Club — although being “adopted” by the Silver Eagles girls team certainly didn’t hurt.
“Jake was the one who got us involved in all of this. He started when he was 8 years old,” Phil McDade said. “Like all young parents with kids, we tossed him into basketball and soccer and baseball, but we learned that Jake was a danger to himself, and occasionally others, in land-based sports.
“So, we put him in the pool and he took to it like a fish. What he liked the most was the camaraderie … he loved it from literally the first minute he tried it.”
Jake won six All-City Meet titles, all on relays. The family’s middle son, Alex, was ‘the least serious of the three swimmers,” Phil McDade said.
In the meantime, Phil and Sue found themselves getting more and more involved with the club as volunteers.
And then came Ben’s chance.
“The biggest thing the all-city league has done for me is create a love for the sport,” said Ben, who plans to study astronomy and astrophysics at Indiana. “I have a friend I’ve known my entire life, and we met because of swim team.”
As for his initial memories of the all-city meet, McDade recalls the atmosphere at Monona.
“I do remember there being a giant contraption over the diving well with a bunch of coaches and being able to jump off that. … I remember a lot of high energy and good times,” McDade said.
Ben also is in his third season as an assistant coach with the Monona Swim Club, sharing his knowledge with the next generation of swimming successes. The relationship has been beneficial for both parties.
“They kind of remind me what it was like to be that age and to just be at the pool for fun and to enjoy swimming,” McDade said. “They have taught me a lot, and I hope I have helped them enjoy swimming as much as I do.”
Phil has been the regular announcer for Monona’s meets for many years, and he’s been busy for weeks helping the club set up for the influx of thousands of swimmers from all the city’s clubs.
“I can’t remember an all-city meet when he was not an announcer,” Ben McDade said. “My family has been a big part of the all-city league and Monona swim team.”
Sue will serve as clerk of course, taking on the formidable job of making sure every swimmer gets to the starting line for his or her event on time and in the right lane. She also has served as the club’s representative on the All-City steering committee.
Jake McDade and his wife, Abby — whom he met while both were swimmers at UW-Eau Claire — will return to Monona from their home in Eagan, Minn., to watch Ben’s final All-City meet.
“They’re going to deliver us our first grandchild (a girl) within a number of months,” Phil McDade said. “She won’t be able to see it, but we hope she will catch the vibe of the meet.”
And the cycle, quite possibly, will begin anew.