Ian Silverman

Paralympics gold medal swiimer Ian Silverman takes the podium after a surprise welcome at McDonogh School, where he is a student. McDonogh's headmaster Charles W. Britton stands at right. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana / September 12, 2012)

When the McDonogh School year began Aug. 29, Ian Silverman was absent. But he had a good excuse.

Silverman, 16, a McDonogh junior and swimming star, who has a mild form of cerebral palsy in his calves, was in London, England, where he would win a gold medal on Sept. 5 in the Paralympic Games and set a world record.

For him, school finally began Wednesday, Sept. 12 and he did not want to be late.

But as he and his younger brother, Schuyler, drove to McDonogh, Schuyler Silverman, 15, suddenly insisted he had to go to the bathroom. They pulled up at a porta-potty — where Schuyler (pronounced Skylar) locked himself in and called his mother, Dawn, on his cell phone.

"The plan is working," he told her.

Ian Silverman was so angry that he almost left without Schuyler. But when they arrived at McDonogh's gatehouse, his anger turned to shock. Waiting there was a school golf cart, festooned with red, white and blue streamers.

Silverman's friend and junior class president Will Cosgarea drove him to the McDonogh quadrangle, where about 580 upper school students lined the quad, waving tiny flags and cheering as the golf cart cruised the circular drive.

It was the first event of its kind at McDonogh since 1978, when 16-year-old student Pam Shriver returned after losing to Chris Evert in the finals of the U.S. Open, said Laddie Levy, the school's tennis coach.

As if Silverman needed an introduction, Headmaster Charles Britton reintroduced him as "our own gold medalist."

"This is amazing," said his mom, a nurse, shaking her head as she stood in the crowd.

"Well done, Ian," announced Cosgarea, wearing a school blazer and tie. "We are all so proud of you."

"I don't really know what to say," Silverman told the crowd.

"I love you, Ian," a girl yelled.

"It's so great to have people back home rooting for me," Silverman said. "I'm just speechless."

"Now you are excused from first period," Cosgarea said.

For Cosgarea, who organized the celebration, the morning was bittersweet. His brother, Alec Cosgerea, died July 9 in a car accident on Greenspring Valley Road. He was 17.

Silverman dedicated his swim in the Paralympics to Alec.

Alec Cosgarea, a champion McDonogh swimmer was driving home from a swim meet at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club in Mount Washington, when his car struck a tree, Will Cosgarea said

Even with a heavy heart, Will Cosgarea got the whole school involved in the hastily planned celebration.

"It's tough, but it's got to get done," he said, adding, "I'm really happy for Ian."

So, too, was Silverman's father, Dr. Henry Silverman, who teaches pulmonary critical care and medical ethics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Henry Silverman was still amazed by Ian's winning time of 4:01.91. Even for the Paralympics, "it was a fast time," he said. "As the boys would say, not too shabby."

But mostly, he was just proud of his son.

"I had a sense I was watching him grow up," Henry Silverman said. "What I was doing at 16 doesn't compare."

Silverman's celebrations are not over yet. On Friday, he and other Olympians and Paralympians will be honored at the White House, Henry Silverman said.

Silverman's swimming career may not be finished just yet, either. He didn't swim the minimum time needed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, but he has the talent and "work ethic" to do it in 2016, noted Scott Ward, McDonogh's swim coach.

"He's definitely a unique and special individual," Ward said, noting Silverman was All-American as a sophomore, a rare feat, he said.

Silverman's disease, bilateral spasticity isn't noticeable, and he said he wants to continue competing against able-bodied Olympic hopefuls.

"I'm going to try to make the (2016) Olympic trials," Silverman said.