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Swim team travels 1,000 miles to honor Ebersole

Princeton University swimmers and divers gather together in a cheer for their fallen teammate, Alan Ebersole, at the Ebersole’s Vicksburg home on Tuesday night. The team came to Vicksburg to celebrate Ebersole’s life. He drowned in the Atlantic Ocean early Saturday morning. (Meredith SpencerThe Vicksburg Post)

[11/3/04]Fifty-six orange-and-brown-clad swimmers and divers from a university 1,000 miles away joined together Tuesday night in a show of amazing solidarity for a fallen teammate and friend.

“This one’s for Big Al,” one shouted as the team huddled in a circle to recite, what legend has it, is the oldest athletic cheer in the country. In unison, the team began to chant “Tigers” as one of the swim team members used a wooden spoon and saucepan as a drum kit.

“It’s a great cheer that we say before meets as a show of togetherness,” Princeton swimmer Justin Chiles said.

The sense of togetherness brought the team from New Jersey to Vicksburg to celebrate the life and death of their teammate Alan Ebersole. Two planes of swimmers flew in Tuesday and are set to return back to campus today after the funeral for Ebersole.

The 20-year-old St. Aloysius graduate and sophomore swimmer at Princeton, was found dead early Saturday morning after joining two teammates for a swim in the Atlantic Ocean.

“We were going to get here, somehow,” said 19-year-old diver Emily Weigand, one of two people on the beach when Ebersole disappeared. “Everyone on this team would have done anything for him.”

Weigand met Ebersole, who was nicknamed Big Al by teammates because of his 6-foot, 4-inch frame, early in their freshman year at Princeton. The south New Jersey native said Ebersole’s bubbly personality and sense of humor immediately caught her attention.

“We loved him from the start,” she said. “We loved to hear his accent.”

Dan Box, a fellow sophomore who grew up in Pennsylvania close to an aunt and uncle of Ebersole’s, said Alan was the first swimmer he met.

On Tuesday, he talked with Ebersole’s high school friends at the family home on Hildegarde Terrace.

“This is all part of the healing process,” Box said.

The team was in Deerfield Beach, Fla., in the southern Atlantic area of the state for a training session and a couple of scrimmage meets before the season starts this weekend.

Weigand, who had been stressing over a mid-term exam, went to the beach with Ebersole and another swimmer to relax.

Ebersole was found by a Hillsboro Beach police officer shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday.

“We were all in a state of shock,” Weigand said. “Everyone was just bawling.”

The team left Florida for New Jersey on Sunday, then arranged their trip to Vicksburg.