PEORIA — For more than 100 years, there has been a fierce sports rivalry between Ottawa Township and LaSalle-Peru.
But for the past three seasons, the swimmers from these two schools seem to have found a neutral setting in the pool.
LaSalle-Peru, Ottawa and Streator were formed into the LaSalle-Peru Co-op three seasons ago, and head coach Rob McNally said the first thing he did was make sure the swimmers understood why they had to play well together.
"One of the first things I did with the kids was tell them that we were taking good swimmers from this school, and really good swimmers from this school, and we're combining them into a much better team," he said. "It was important to do that, because Ottawa and LaSalle-Peru are normally very fierce rivals on the basketball court and on the football field. I mean rivals!
"You know how people get crazy sometimes when it comes to sports."
Prior to the co-op formation, L-P had not had a swimming team since 1975, McNally's senior year at the school.
"We were under 10 people on the swim team — and two of them were girls," he said. "We just didn't have enough numbers."
But the Cavaliers did have a pool. So did Ottawa until four years ago.
"Ottawa lost their pool," McNally said. "It was a 103-year-old pool they used to call 'The Puddle,' because it was a four-lane, 20-yard pool.
"When they had to drain it, they were afraid that it was going to collapse. Now it's filled in, and it's a concrete floor."
The pool at L-P is also 103 years old, McNally added, "but they're maintaining it, and it's in pretty good shape."
Ottawa swimmers make up the bulk of the co-op's roster, with 14 of the 17 swimmers. There currently are no swimmers from Streator on the team, mostly because of transportation issues.
"As a group, these Ottawa kids have gone through a lot to get to where they are," McNally said. "But they've been able to persevere through all of this. They had no place to practice, and they had no home swim meets."
Even though the swimmers are part of one team, however, they still root for their respective teams in other sports.
"But it's good-natured," McNally said. "The pride of the schools is fierce, and you see it in some of the kids. And you want to keep a little bit of that tradition. They know that they're coming together to form a good swimming team."
Prior to taking the L-P job, McNally, 60, had retired from a manufacturing job after 37 years. He had also coached the L-P age-group team for 20 years and was ready to walk away from coaching altogether.
"I was ready to kick back, enjoy life and play golf for the rest of my life," he said. "But I reluctantly accepted it, because I had pretty much had enough.
"It's turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made. These kids keep me young, and they're great kids."
And they are setting aside their rivalries in the pool.
Johnny Campos can be reached at 686-3214 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyCampos59.