Philadelphia's professional sports teams are less than stellar these days, but one local amateur's star is shining brightly.
Swimmer Reece Whitley, a sophomore at the William Penn Charter School, is the future of swimming in the United States. Earlier this month, he was named Sports Illustrated Kids’ 2015 SportsKid of the Year. (He’s the second Philadelphian to win the award — Mo’ne Davis took the honor last year.) And yesterday, he was the guest of honor at a party at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles.
I had the chance to interview Reece back in April, and since we talked last spring he has been busy. He won two medals at the FINA Junior World Championship and broke the national age group record in the 200-meter breaststroke. His next goal? Compete in the 2016 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.
It was great to get to celebrate this honor with him. Reece’s family, friends, and teammates were at the event, as well as a celebrity guest: Dellin Betances, two-time all-star reliever for the New York Yankees.
After Reece, his classmates, family, friends, and other invited guests arrived, the day’s program began. First, everyone watch a video highlighting what earned Reece SportsKid of the Year. It was very emotional, and a lot of people, including Reece, teared up by the end. Then, SI Kids Managing Editor Mark Bechtel presented Reece with the signature red SportsKid of Year jacket.
After Reece got his jacket, it was my turn to take the stage: to interview Dellin Betances. This was my first time doing an interview in front of people, and it was a really big crowd, so I was a little nervous. But I was also really excited to get to talk to Dellin. I asked him about playing baseball as a kid and what other sports he tried. He’s 6’8” and, unsurprisingly, he played basketball. We also talked about his experiences in the pros and advice he has for Reece. Dellin grew up in New York and said it was great to play alongside stars such as Derek Jeter and how cool it is to play for his hometown team. He also advised Reece to keep working hard and pursue his goals.After the ceremony, the party really got started. There were so many fun things to do—Skee ball, basketball hoops, a photo booth—not to mention all the different types of Goldfish snacks there were to sample. We also got to take a tour of the stadium. It was awesome. I had never been to Lincoln Financial before, and on my first visit I got to go in the locker rooms, the area where the team holds press conferences, and even on the field. It was painted for the Army-Navy game on December 12, and I found out that it takes over 160 gallons of paint to put the lines on the field!
It was a great way to spend a Wednesday afternoon. But more importantly, it was awesome to celebrate with Reece. He’s an amazing swimmer and a great kid and I’m so happy for him!
Photos: Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated