Warren-born Kramer caps record-setting career across border
FREWSBURG, N.Y. — Bruce Johnson stands at one end of the Frewsburg pool, the water eerily still without a ripple.
Wednesday morning would have usually been one last time for the Frewsburg/Southwestern boys team to cut through the water before a huge Thanksgiving feast, but this year is different with the COVID-19 pandemic putting that season on hold.
But Johnson still sees a reason to come to the pool — to recap the career of a girl he calls “the best overall swimmer we’ve ever had in our girls program.”
That’s high praise from the man who has coached generations of student-athletes and has led dozens of teams to Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association and Section VI championships.
But Madison Kramer is worthy of that praise — even if she’s too humble to accept it.
One look at the record board at the north end of the pool tells a tale of more than three decades of Frewsburg swimmers.
Ironically, a Falconer student has rewritten that story.
Johnson had never heard of Madison Kramer until her mom, Kristy, called him in the summer of 2016.
“I had no idea who she was. … She was a Warren Y swimmer and her mom wasn’t even sure of her times,” Johnson said. “Kristy said, ‘Would you consider merging with Falconer?’ … I think I said as long as it didn’t bump us up to a Class B school, that wouldn’t be a problem.”
Kristy and her husband Jim, who moved their family from Warren for educational purposes and to aid in their son Jimmy’s wrestling career, were also looking for somewhere for Madison to swim.
Madison, Jimmy and their brother Christian had grown up on Conewango Avenue in the shadow of the Warren YMCA, where their mother worked.
Madison swam for the Warren Dolphins since the age of 7, but was unable to swim for her school team in seventh grade because Pennsylvania doesn’t allow student-athletes to participate in varsity sports until their freshman year.
Having moved to the Falconer district, the Golden Falcons didn’t field a swimming team and the Kramers were looking around for a home.
“It was scary at first. She didn’t know what to expect,” Kristy said Tuesday evening. “They never treated her any different. She was part of the team the whole time.”
Johnson was happy to oblige and so began Madison’s assault on the record books.
In her first meet as an eighth-grader, Madison won both the 100-yard backstroke and 200-yard medley while also cementing her spot on the “A Relay” with Dani Gray, Cecilia Pearson and Johnson’s youngest daughter, Kiah.
“She came,” Johnson said, “and from the first practice she was here I said, ‘This girl’s the real deal.'”
Her first record came a year later when she set the school mark in the 400-meter freestyle with a time of 4:54.95. Johnson insists Madison could’ve improved that record in the years that followed, but the team never needed her to swim that event.
“By her ninth-grade year,” Johnson said, “we knew that she was going to be one of the best swimmers that we’ve ever had.”
In 2018, as a sophomore, Madison was part of the record-breaking 200-yard and 200-meter freestyle relay teams with times of 1:58.21 and 1:43.59, respectively. Gray, Kiah Johnson and Kaylee Constantino were her teammates for those swims.
“I knew she’d be OK and make new friends. She molded herself right into those girls at Frewsburg, not just there but everywhere,” Kristy said. “She’s got friends everywhere. … It’s amazing what happened. Just to watch the friendships that she’s made, you can’t ever lose those.”
That same season, Madison established the program record in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 2:17.02. She also experienced her first taste of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Swimming & Diving Championships when she finished 33rd in the 100-yard backstroke preliminaries (59.58).
“I was very nervous (Coach Johnson) was going to retire. I asked him in 10th grade if I made it to states if he would stay,” Madison said Tuesday. “I’m not sure he stayed because I said that, but he did end up staying.”
Pairing Madison with Coach Johnson seemed to be the perfect match.
“Mr. Johnson has made many successful swimmers,” Madison said.
But “M Kramer” really started to dominate the record board in 2019 during her junior season. The 200-yard freestyle (2:02.98), 100-meter butterfly (1:08.92), 100-yard butterfly (59.61), 100-yard freestyle (54.56), 100-meter backstroke (1:09.62) and 100-yard backstroke (58.45) times all fell that year.
“Mr. Johnson has to be one of my biggest role models. He’s always encouraged me to do my best and pushed me to work my absolute hardest,” Madison said. “I would not be where I am without him.”
Again qualifying for the state meet, Madison took 52nd in the 100-yard butterfly preliminaries (59.87) and 19th among public school swimmers in the 100-yard backstroke (58.45).
Then this past season, after the state meet was canceled due to COVID-19, Madison left her final stamp on the record board.
“When I had to tell her they canceled states, there were some tears there,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Hey, you had the opportunity to go to two state meets and your swimming career is far from over Be thankful for the opportunities you had because not a whole lot of kids get those opportunities.”
She set three more marks, in the 200-meter freestyle (2:14.60), the 50-meter freestyle (28.15) and in the 100-meter freestyle (1:01.02).
“We’ve always preached that the record board is there to be changed,” Johnson said. “It’s there to motivate other kids to get better and faster.”
With no sectional or state meets, she capped her career with a double-win performance at the CCAA Championships, winning the butterfly and backstroke to lead the Bears to the Division 1 crown.
Kramer’s impact on the program will not disappear once she graduates from Falconer in the spring.
Three more Golden Falcons have become Bears since Madison began swimming in Frewsburg.
Frewsburg’s Emily Swan was once a Falconer student and swimmer before transferring while Anna Carlson and Cara Pillittieri have also followed in Madison’s footsteps and taken advantage of the merged program.
“Any time we’ve had a merger it’s been for some pretty decent kids,” Johnson said. “Those are the ones that want to do it.”
Pillittieri, in fact, might just be the next big thing for the Bears, having left her mark earlier this month at the CCAA Championships with a victory in the 500-yard freestyle.
Madison will return to her roots starting Monday, when she hits the pool back at the Warren Y and rejoins the Dolphins for a few virtual meets throughout the winter and spring. She’ll take Southwestern star Natalie Fosberg with her and look to cut more time following the truncated fall season.
And in the future, she will no doubt continue watching the Frewsburg/Falconer success while she competes at the college level.
“Ever since I was younger I’ve wanted to swim in college,” Madison said. “Once I got to high school, that’s when I realized I wanted to go (Division I).”
She has interest in doing so at the Division I level and her times in the lead-up to last spring’s Junior Nationals showed that she likely could triumph at that level.
“I think she has the potential,” said Johnson, whose oldest daughter Anneli swam at St. Bonaventure and youngest daughter Kiah swims at Indiana Wesleyan. “I really think if she had the opportunity to finish last year, she was prepped to really go fast at nationals. … I think she would’ve swum times fast enough to probably compete in the Atlantic 10.”
If the last five years are any indication, Madison will likely crush her goals.
“When you look at her, she has all the potential in the world. She has the perfect frame, the perfect build and the perfect attitude,” Johnson said. “Not a day goes by that she doesn’t come in and is the hardest worker on the team.”