At the start of his honors government class last year, Gerry Brewster asked his students at Towson High to list their interests. Just the usual get-to-know-you drill.
Swimming. It would prove to be the understatement of a lifetime.
"Are you any good, Michael?"
"Pretty good," said the freshman.
"Have you won any races?"
"A few," the boy said.
The boy is now 15, a sophomore, and porpoising in Sydney's Olympic pool as we speak. Michael Phelps, aiming to medal in the 200-meter butterfly, is the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic men's swim team since 1932. The boy from Rodgers Forge won his spot on the team at last month's trials with the fourth-fastest time ever by an American. "Pretty good," as Phelps might say of his own resume.
A world away from Sydney, in a village called high school, Phelps' classmates have attached "Fly Michael Phelps Fly" buttons to their jeaned hips. And leading the pep rally has been Brewster, a former state delegate (remember "I'm a Brewster Booster!"?) and defeated congressional candidate who has found another cause, another campaign.
"Last call! Last call!" Brewster announced, as he worked the cafeteria crowd last week. Outside the "International Bistro" (this isn't the high school cafeteria you remember), kids dig into Brewster's bag of Phelps buttons. "A kid accused me of covering up my old campaign buttons." A groundless accusation!
Brewster has befriended Michael's family and chats online with the "Pride of the Towson High Generals," as a school display describes him. So, you think you're a big shot now? teased Brewster in a recent e-mail. He orchestrated a five-minute, greatest hit video that all 1,200 students watched last week during the morning announcements. For anyone who missed it, the classroom televisions showed Michael's performance in the Olympic trials in Indianapolis.
Before traveling to Sydney, Michael appeared late one night at Brewster's house to present his teacher and leading booster with the U.S. Olympic Team Trials T-shirt Phelps earned. It was no small gesture.
Brewster is the high school's golf coach, and Michael has wanted to go out for golf, but the whole swimming thing keeps getting in the way.
It doesn't seem right that an Olympic swimmer can't letter at his own high school. So, the school plans to present Michael with a letter at next month's homecoming.
It will be no small gesture for the Pride of Towson High.