WPIALs meant a little more for Gateway swimmer Mears

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Monday, April 2, 2018 | 12:36 AM


When Jake Mears stepped on the diving board or was moving through the water during his swim event, he was alone with his thoughts.

He would process what could or would be the end result of his efforts.

But when the Gateway senior was on the pool deck, or even away from the natatorium, he was among a support system of teammates, friends and family.

Mears said he always appreciates that interaction. It never became more important, he said, than during a period of time late this winter as he dealt with the death of his father.

Ray Mears died Feb. 18, a couple of days after suffering a brain aneurysm. He was 56.

“It's been such a hard time for me, my mother (Lisa), my sister (Samantha) and the rest of my family, but we've had so many people there for us. It's been amazing,” Mears said shortly before he competed at the WPIAL swimming championships March 1 at Pitt's Trees Pool.

Mears swam the breaststroke leg of Gateway's 200-yard medley relay. He gave a quiet thought for his father and proceeded to record a personal-best split of 29.81 seconds.

The split helped the relay, along with seniors Mike Holmes, Luke DiPalma and David MacMurchy, finish 20th and shave almost 3 seconds off its seed time.

“I have the utmost admiration for Jake and how he handled the situation,” Gateway coach Jonathan Moore said.

“He showed so much maturity through all of this.”

Mears' final WPIAL diving competition was Feb. 24, two days after his father's funeral. He missed several days of school that week and, he said, he wasn't able to practice his dive list as much as he wanted.

He placed 25th in the Class AAA boys competition at North Allegheny.

“My head wasn't totally into it, but I competed,” Mears said. “It's what my dad would've wanted me to do.”

Mears said the support from his father for him and his sister extended beyond the natatorium.

“He always wanted (us) to put school first, but he also understood how much (athletics) meant. He was there at all the meets.”

Mears finished the season as one of the boys team MVPs as he scored the most points in dual-meet competition.

Samantha Mears enjoyed a strong swim career at Gateway and graduated in 2015 before extending her athletic and academic pursuits at Saint Vincent.

“My dad always was so motivating,” she said. “He always wanted to see us do the best we could. Whenever we would leave for a practice or meet, he would be like, ‘Give it your all.' ”

She capped her junior season by competing in several events at the annual Presidents Athletic Conference championships at Grove City. Her heart and her mind, while trying to concentrate on her events, was thinking of her father's condition.

On the final day of the meet, Feb. 17, she recorded a time of 55.78 in the 100-meter freestyle. That time earned her a seventh-place medal.

She added a 10th-place finish in the 50 free (25.29) on Feb. 15 and a ninth in the 200 butterfly (2:25.94).

“I really wished I could have been home,” Mears said. “I had worked so hard all season long, so I couldn't let what was going on personally affect me athletically. I had to keep going. He would've wanted me to keep going.

“I know that even though he might not have been awake, I could feel that he was there watching me swim, that he knew how I was doing. When I medaled, the first person I wanted to tell was him.”

As it was with her brother, Samantha Mears was there for her teammates during the championships but gained a great measure of strength when of her friends and teammates were there for her.

“As soon as it happened, every one of my teammates and friends were there for me,” she said. “I received countless text messages, emails and phone calls from so many people checking up on me and my family. They took the time to come to the viewing and funeral service. It was incredible all the support we received from Gateway, from Saint Vincent, from everyone.”

Jake Mears will make the transition from high school to college, and that might include diving at the next level.

He said Chatham and Pitt's branch campuses are possibilities for him to continue diving. Mehran Hedjazi, the diving coach at Gateway, also is the coach at Chatham.

Samantha Mears said she is looking forward to her senior year. She is working towards a degree in biology.

“He would want us to keep moving forward to meet all of our goals,” she said. “We want to make him proud.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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