Swim team raises money to help injured teammate

If soap and water could wash away the ordeal 9-year-old Will Ragan, of Mandeville, will have to endure during the next few months and perhaps for years to come — his fellow Fins Swim Team members would have accomplished that and more at a benefit carwash they held Saturday at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic School.

As they cleaned more than 50 cars in the first hours of the fundraiser, Belgium Coignet greeted the drivers lined up in the school parking lot with good news.

“The young boy who this benefits was taken off the ventilator yesterday,” Coignet said about Will, who was burned earlier this month in an accident at a science camp held at St. Scholastica Academy. He remains hospitalized at LSU Medical Center in Shreveport.

That bit of news is what team members hope is the first milestone in his recovery. She said many people came for the carwash, while others came by to drop off a donation.

“One driver told me, ‘I have a 9-year-old. This is for Will,’ and handed me a $100 bill,” she said.

“It will be at least nine months before they can move him from the center where he is being treated to a facility closer to home,” she said. But the wounds are healing and there’s no infection.

She said Will’s family called with the update and told her once they pulled the tubes out, he was able to start talking and asked for ice and popsicles.

“It was like seeing the old Will again,” they told her.

Will just finished second grade at Mary, Queen of Peace and teachers and students joined with swim team members for the benefit. They set up a table for the youths to make get-well cards which the church pastor, the Rev. Ronnie Calkins, will take to him Monday when he travels to Shreveport to visit the family.

Coignet said the team’s goal is to raise $100,000 for the first skin graft that Will will need. “Grafts don’t grow,” and he will need them again and again as he gets older, she said.

The team has set up a donation fund at the Fifth District Savings Bank, 4650 Highway 22 near Franco’s Athletic Club where they practice. Anyone can make a donation to the Will Ragan account at the branch, she said.

The Fins are a close-knit community of swimmers who are organized from ages 4 to 18 in training groups with the names Family, Ambition, Trust, Pride and Action. Fins Coach Robby Fritscher said by mixing the ages, the swimmers get to know each other.

“As soon as we heard one of our fellow team members needed help, we got into action,” he said. “We’re never going to let anyone get behind.”

Will is a member of Trust, as is Ava Grace Mann, who was sporting a bright orange swimsuit and doing her best to polish the freshly cleaned cars with a towel. She competes along with Will on the Fins’ Dolphins team.

“I’m just chilling and having fun helping out,” she said about the fundraiser. “Will likes playing video games and he’d definitely like 100 games,” she suggested as one possible outcome for their efforts.

She said that by swimming together in competition, they’ve learned to overcome obstacles.

“It can be a little hard. The goggles are wrong, you have an itch, but you have to keep going.” She’s confident that training will serve Will as he recuperates and they await his return.

“He’s really fun to play with and hang out with. Will would be pretty happy we’re doing this,” she said.

Mary, Queen of Peace librarian Maria Dumb called Will an avid reader and high scorer in Accelerated Reader and First On Math. He was in second grade with her son in Dana Stiller’s homeroom.

“The school is collecting books-on-tape to send with Father Ronnie” for Will, Dumb said, adding that she hopes his love of reading will help him through this tough time.

In the meantime, Coach Fritscher has contacted a swim team in Shreveport to help the family with meals and Coignet said they are looking for a hotel to donate a place for the family to stay.

A 10-year-old boy, who has not been identified, was also burned in the lab accident, which occurred when an experiment was being conducted to transform sugar to carbon, according to a report by fire officials. That child is hospitalized at Baton Rouge General Medical Center.