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Performing at a state level in any high school sport brings with it a good deal of pressure, but Whitnall's Ben Bell was also facing a different kind of pressure at the WIAA state swimming meet last month.

Bell was trying to finish with a good enough time in the 50-yard freestyle to earn a spot on the coveted wooden kickboards at the high school pool, which honor the six top times in each event in school history.

Being a senior, Bell knew this was his final chance to make the kickboards, and adding to the pressure was the fact that each of his three brothers, Nick, Alex and Doug Jr., had placed their names on the boards during their careers.

"That (being on the kickboards) was one of my goals for all four years," Ben said.

His father, Douglas Bell, added, "He was on a mission to make the kickboard as all three others had. He felt that since the other brothers made it, he had to. He also knew that this was it. There was no other chance to make the kickboard, and he would never hear the end of it."

Ben received some assistance in his quest from his three brothers, all who had also competed at state in previous seasons and wanted him to join them on the boards.

"All of his brothers arrived (from out of town) at the state meet," Douglas said, "and Ben texted me saying if they wanted to come down, he could get them on the pool deck. All of a sudden, they disappeared one by one, and then I noticed them on the deck."

Helped Ben relax

Ben said his brothers helped him before the race began by taking his mind off it.

"They helped keep my nerves down," Ben said. "They said things like 'don't worry' and 'making it to state is the tough part, this is the fun part.'

"They kept the pressure down by talking about non-swimming things, fun things. They helped me keep my mind off the race."

Once the race began, Alex, Nick and Doug Jr. became Ben's biggest cheerleaders.

"I could see they were pumping him up," Douglas said. "The three were at the end of the lane as he made the turn, screaming at him and pushing him."

Ben finished the 50 freestyle at a personal-best 22.57 seconds, which was good for 12th place at state but also good enough to place him in the sixth spot on the Whitnall kickboard by 0.03 seconds.

"Joining my brothers at the top of school history is such a big accomplishment," Ben said.

Douglas said, "I could not believe it. The last swim of high school, and he made it. The three brothers were elated at the end of the lane, high-fiving each other."

Sick before sectional

The suspense about Ben making the kickboard had built during the previous week because Ben and other members of his family had expected him to achieve that feat at the sectional meet due to his tapering schedule.

Ben, however, had come down with an illness and a high fever the week of the sectional, and he was still not 100 percent on the sectional day.

He posted a 22.8 in the 50 freestyle at the sectional, above the 22.6 needed to make the kickboard.

On top of that, the family was not even sure if that time was low enough to make the state meet.

"The qualifying time last season was about the same," Ben said, "and I thought I needed to be faster."

Douglas added, "We did not think he was going to make it. I was preparing for a very disappointed young man. We were at a restaurant when the state-meet seeding came in after the sectional. The coach (George Guddie) texted him and told him he had made it."

Ben said, "That was a good feeling. I became the first one (of the family) to go to state all four years, and I knew I would have another shot at the kickboard."

He felt much better for the state meet and made the most of his second opportunity, placing his name on the boards along with Nick for diving (428.6 points in 2014), Alex in the 100 breaststroke (1 minute, 4.88 seconds in 2012) and Doug Jr. in the 50 freestyle (22.29 in 2009, just ahead of Ben).

Ben's feat ends the Bell era of swimming at Whitnall, which began in 2005 with Doug Jr. swimming the individual medley as a freshman.

Doug Jr. switched to the 50 and 100 freestyles in his senior year. He swam the 50 for the first time in his life at the sectional, winning the event and posting his kickboard-qualifying time in that same race. He swam at state in the 50 and on relays.

Alex followed in his brother's wake at Whitnall, competing in the breaststroke. Alex qualified for state in the breaststroke in his senior year and made the kickboard with his effort at the Woodland Conference Meet.

Nick pursued diving, making state in his sophomore through senior seasons and finishing third as a senior. He made the kickboard as a junior but then moved up to third place as a senior.

Ben took up the 50 and 100 freestyles as a freshman, reaching state all four seasons.

Support system

Throughout this entire time, the brothers supported each other.

"Alex, Nick and Ben went to every meet to see Doug Jr. swim," Douglas said. "They would be at his practices and at the end of the lane cheering him on.

"Years later, Doug Jr. came back from college to cheer on Alex, and Nick and Ben would still be at the end of the lane cheering. When Nick was diving, Alex and Doug Jr. would come back from college for the state meets."

That all led to the dramatic final scene at this season's state meet as the family saga came full circle.

"From Ben at roughly 6, 7 years old, yelling at Doug Jr. to 'go!', to the three oldest at the end of the lane at Ben's last state meet ... it was an unforgettable high, a moment in time," Douglas said.

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