Notre Dame tragedy hits NIU, too

By Brian Wiencek

They were only four miles from their Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Ind., on their way home from a swim meet at Northwestern.

The Irish women’s swimming team was traveling east in the middle of a snow storm and high winds on I-80 early Friday morning. All of a sudden, without warning, it happened. It was no one’s fault, and no one could have prevented it. However, it still happened. Nineteen year-old freshmen Colleen Hipp and Margaret Beeler of the swim team were killed in a bus accident.

The bus that carried 37 members of the team swerved right, fell off the highway, and flipped over on its roof crushing Beeler and Hipp, who were tossed from the bus.

Not only were the losses being felt by the Notre Dame team, 19 of which were admitted to the hospital with injuries from bruises to broken bones, but also by all the schools in the NCAA.

The accident especially hit home here in DeKalb to the NIU swimming team because the Irish had just recently come to Anderson Hall Pool one week before to defeat the Huskies. Beeler (Granger, Ind.) helped her team finish first in the 400-yard medley relay, along with a second place finish in the 50-yard freestyle. Hipp (St. Louis, Miss.) finished second in the 1,000-yard freestyle, the 200-yard butterfly and the 500-yard freestyle.

However, the competition went much deeper than who won or lost. During the four hour meet on January 17th, friends and relationships developed, making Friday morning’s accident reach out to even more people.

“Swimming is a very close knit group, and everyone is in contact with almost everyone,” said first-year Coach Jeanne Fleck. “These kids know those kids on the team.”

ND and NIU have gone at it for quite a few years making things a bit rougher.

“In the four years that I swam for Northern, Notre Dame was our closest rival,” said Assistant Coach Bill Zolna, an NIU alumni from ‘87-’91. “It was always a real friendly rivalry. I think any athlete can feel for what happened, but the fact that we were so close to them competitively and the fact that we swam against them the week before this tragedy, it makes you stop and think about how easily something like this could happen.”

“When I heard about this, I was really shocked and really sad because they are such a nice bunch of people. It was definitely tragic. I don’t know what else you could say about it,” stated first-year coach Jeff Symons.

The Irish cancelled all athletic events for that weekend, the entire community wept for the loss of Beeler and Hipp. They will both be missed and remembered by all associated with college athletics. However, despite the sad reality, Coach Tim Welsh and the rest of the University of Notre Dame must continue.

“The men’s team is going to have to go on,” Fleck said. “It’s going to be really hard for them. They’re a combined team like us. They train together. They have the same coach. I’m sure they will try to finish off the season because swimming is a release of classes, so maybe the water, something they love, will help keep their minds off of the tragedy.”