Hurricane Laura evacuee, swimmer setting new records

BATON ROUGE, Ala. (AP) — Many of us seek normalcy in 2020. William Bright embraces his normal each afternoon at the A.C. Lewis YMCA pool.

“The coaches and guys on the team have all been nice,” Bright said. “Swimming gets me in a good mood. I missed it.”

A story that includes Hurricane Laura, a house fire, a case of COVID-19, a new school and unexpected success with the Catholic High swim team might seem far-fetched.

But this is 2020 and Bright, days shy of a 16th birthday he shares with his twin sister Emma, explains it. His desire to return to Lake Charles, St. Louis Catholic and swim teams there in January shines through.

“We rode it (Hurricane Laura) out at my dad’s vet clinic … moved beds in there and waited,” Bright said. “I slept through it and don’t member much. Everybody tells me it was pretty loud.

“The morning after I hopped on my bike. Lake Charles has always been a beautiful city with a bunch of old oak trees with green leaves. There were no green leaves. The only trees standing were dead. I had to ride in the yards of houses because roads were blocked by trees. It was crazy.”

Bright contracted COVID-19 about 12 days later and quarantined in part of the vet clinic where the family was living. He experienced mild symptoms that he said lasted a week. During that time, a fire caused by a generator did major damage to the family’s home already damaged by the storm.

Next came a move to Baton Rouge. His mother and sister had already made the trip. Emma Bright, a student at Barbe High, was already enrolled at St. Joseph’s Academy. Quarantine pushed back Bright’s enrollment at Catholic two weeks to Sept. 21, the day the school began in-person classes.

“We are fortunate to have friends from Lake Charles who live in Baton Rouge and lucky to be able to stay with the family of one of my good friends,” Bright’s mother, Tracy, said. “To have both children (twins) in school where they are is a blessing. William has been able to experience things he might not have otherwise.”

Both twins have thrived. William Bright cut seven seconds off his personal best in his specialty, the 100-yard breaststroke. Emma Bright plays volleyball at Barbe but has used the fall of her sophomore year to work toward earning a pilot’s license.

When it comes to swimming, the sky may be the limit for the 6-foot-4, 178-pound William Bright, who said adjusting to a large all-boys school and new teammates was a challenge. A desire to be home leads him back to Lake Charles most weekends.

“He’s very open about wanting to go back to Lake Charles. That’s home,” Catholic coach Doug Logsdon said. “He is such a great kid. I am so happy we have him with us. He will always have fans in Baton Rouge when he leaves.”

Logsdon met Bright when the family toured Catholic before the teen’s COVID-19 diagnosis. Once he enrolled, Logsdon learned that Bright had competed in the 100 breaststroke at the LHSAA Division III meet as a freshman.

In his first meet for the Bears after limited practice, Bright equaled his best 2019 time. Two weeks ago, Bright swam a new personal record of 1:07.47 after added tutelage from first-year Catholic assistant Geoffrey Hart. The Bears swam their final regular season Capital City Swim League meet Saturday.

“I played football and ran track. I decided to try swimming in eighth grade as a way to get in better shape,” Bright said. “I really liked it, so I stuck with it. Breaststroke is what clicked for me.”

Bright’s newfound love of swimming as a middle schooler happened before a 6-inch growth spurt.

“The thing that sets William apart is the way he comes to practice and just works hard the entire time,” Logsdon said. “He does whatever we ask and stays after to work on his starts or whatever he feels like he needs to work on. He definitely has more potential to tap into once he returns to Lake Charles.”

Kent Shepard, Bright’s Spartan Swimming coach at Lake Charles’ Ward 3 pool, agrees.

“William is that kid who always has a smile on his face and works hard,” Shepard said. “I am so glad he got to swim in Baton Rouge. We stay in touch, so I feel like I have been part of it.”

Bright eagerly talks about Lake Charles. He has designs on an architecture major in college and improving as a swimmer.

“I’m excited about taking what I have learned back to St. Louis,” Bright said. “The plan is to keep swimming and getting better.”