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United Township's Ian Johnson swims the 100 yard butterfly, Saturday, January 24, 2015, during the 34th annual United Township High School's Panther Invitational. He finished with the time of :59.88.

The long hours of practice over many years paid off for United Township swimmer Ian Johnson.

Johnson, who went to state in the 50 freestyle this past season, signed with Western Illinois for a swimming scholarship Thursday.

Johnson was part of a large signing ceremony held in the school’s auditorium.

“It means a lot,” said Johnson, a freestyle sprinter, who hopes to do the same at Western. “I don’t know how to put it quite into words. It goes to show that if you put in the time and effort, it’s all worth it in the end. Not just because they are D-I but because it helped me to go there to pursue (his future major) criminology and law enforcement.”

Johnson said he became very interested in Western a month before the season started when he had contact with the staff, visited and met some of the swimmers.

With a hint of a smile, he described swimming for retiring UT coach Dave Busch as “humorous, hilarious and terrifying.” Knowing it was his last year, Johnson said he wanted to not only put out a good effort for himself and his team, but also for Busch.

Parents joined athletes on the stage for the signing. Johnson said his were pretty excited “moreso that it’s D-I, and there’s going to be a scholarship to go with it.”

The Panthers had 15 athletes signing Thursday, so many that it had to be done in two shifts on the auditorium stage. 

Others getting Division-I scholarships included Tray Buchanan in basketball with the University of North Dakota and Brittney LaFountaine with Illinois State University for softball.

In addition, fiver others signed for softball including Kaitlyn Markin (Central Missouri State), Samantha Miner (Spoon River Community College), Tristan Bautista (Augustana College), Alexus Coleman and Taylor Workheiser (Black Hawk).

There were four soccer signings — Sandra Camarillo  (Augustana), Lexi Garza (University of Dubuque), Samantha Stevens and Mohamed Diallo (Scott Community College)

Also signing were bower Leah Samuelson-Burkeybile (Maryville College), tennis player Emma Lang (St. Ambrose University) and track and cross country runner Sawyer Swearingen (Augustana).