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Youth swimming: Badalato exemplifies team spirit

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Jason “Jay Jay” Badalato loves to cheer on other swimmers — almost as much as he enjoys swimming.

The 10-year-old Watertown YMCA Blue Sharks member is in his fourth season on the team and the most recent recipient of the Rodriquez Spirit Award.

Jay Jay was selected from about 100 kids to receive the honor at the end of last season. The award is given in memory of Trinidad “David” Rodriquez Jr., who was an especially enthusiastic supporter of the Blue Sharks program.

David was a Fort Drum soldier who died of a heart attack nearly three years ago while training on post. He became involved with the Blue Sharks when his daughter, Rachel, who was then 10, started swimming with the team in 2006.

The award was created to recognize good sportsmanship and team spirit, while honoring David’s memory.

“The recipients have to show that spirit like David did, that dedication to the sport of swimming,” said David’s wife, Kawehi. “They have to show the passion, the love, the support he’d give the other swimmers, cheering other swimmers on no matter who they were.”

Jay Jay, the son of Jason and Leigh Badalato of Watertown, competes in the boys level D division and is always excited to see others perform well.

“He was always cheering his teammates on and shared his happiness for swimming every time he was around the pool,” Blue Sharks head coach Lori Peters said.

Jay Jay was presented with an impressive trophy, which he will pass on to the next award winner.

“I think they chose me because they might have seen me be nice to another person or something, I think that’s the reason why,” Jay Jay said. “I get nervous sometimes, but I still behave good.”

Rachel, an Indian River senior, was the first recipient of the award, while Peters’ daughter, Brooke, received it the next season.

“We were very proud of Jay Jay’s accomplishments in swimming and that he was chosen,” Leigh said. “They only choose one swimmer out of the whole team from the little kids all the way up through the high schoolers. It says a lot about his character.”

Jay Jay, a fifth-grader at Carthage Middle School, has been taking swimming lessons since he was 6 months old and has always loved the water. Jason and Leigh believe the involvement in swimming has helped Jay Jay develop more confidence.

“We get excited about it,” Jason said. “We’re always happy to see him do well. As a parent it makes you proud. We like swimming, too, because it’s a good sport for him. It’s an individual sport and a team sport. It’s a life skill which is important.”

The Badalatos have a pool in their back yard, and during the summer Jay Jay practices swimming against his father.

“I love swimming against other people that you don’t even know,” he said. “I like competition.”

Jay Jay’s favorite stroke is freestyle because he says he swims the fastest in it. He also competes in the backstroke and has been working on his diving start, breaststroke and the butterfly.

“The butterfly’s a tough one, but my backstroke’s getting better,” Jay Jay said.

The YMCA regular season runs through February. Practice is five nights a week for 1 hours each night, and meets are on Saturdays. The Blue Sharks’ second meet of the season was Saturday versus Norwich at Watertown High School.

“Jay Jay’s the type of kid that if there’s practice five nights a week he thinks he needs to be there five nights a week,” Leigh said. “He’s pretty dedicated.”

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