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Death of Marcus Papanikolaou rocks CB East swimming community


It’s been a shock to the swimming community, to Central Bucks East, but most of all, to his family and friends.

Marcus Papanikolaou, poised to cap off a truly great high school swimming career this winter at CB East, was killed in a single car accident on Friday, Oct. 13, in the 500 block of New Road in Churchville.

Papanikolaou, a senior who attended an online charter school while swimming for the Patriots, had finished swim practice and was en route to a haunted hayride when his car struck a tree, according to family friend Dimitriy Kichin.

The accident occurred approximately 7:45 p.m. and he was pronounced dead at the scene by first responders. No other vehicle was involved, and the investigation is ongoing, according to Northampton Township police officer Zach Wyant.

“Accident reconstructionists are working on it,” Wyant said. “We want to provide the family with as many answers as possible.”

The accident cut short a promising swimming career for Papanikolaou, a Penn State commit who also swam for BeFirst Swim Team.

Because he was still unsigned, the Penn State coaches could not comment but associate head coach Dan Carrington posted an Instagram message.

“I am heartbroken for the family of Marcus Papanikolaou,” it read. “For his teammates and his friends.

“Marcus was a young man with a genuine smile and eyes (when his hair was short enough to see them) who was a pleasure to be around. He was quiet and thoughtful but when you spoke, he listened. Our last conversation was how he submitted his application and was excited for his senior year of high school.

“A loss like this is difficult to understand.

“Marcus, you are dearly missed.”

At CB East, he was a PIAA Class 3A medal winner all three years he competed, specializing in sprint freestyle. Last season, he finished third in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 45.20 and fourth in the 50 free (20.61). In 2022 he was second in both the 50 freestyle (20.23) and 100 freestyle (44.75) and as a freshman captured third in the 50 freestyle (20.58). He was all-state first team in all of these events.

He was a four-time District One champion and was a National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association All-American.

He was one of eight Middle Atlantic swimmers chosen to attend last October’s USA Swimming National Select camp.

Ed Walsh was the CB East head coach when Papanikolaou was a freshman and remains with the program as an assistant.

“It’s the last thing you freaking expect,” said Walsh. “It’s a great blow. He was a nice kid, really got on well with the other kids.

“Obviously, this is also a loss for the program. He was the lynchpin of our relays the last three years and we were really excited to see what he could do this season. It’s tragic, just tragic.”

Current CB East head coach Roberta Lichter is new to the program, but as the Central Bucks aquatics manager, she knew Papanikolaou.

“I’m sick about this, just sick,” she said. “He was such a great kid, and I was so looking forward to having him on the team this season. It was a joy just to watch him swim.”

She has been receiving many communications from other programs as the news has spread.

“The swimming community is very small and very caring,” she said. “I’ve gotten calls from teams as far away as Perkiomen Valley expressing their condolences.”

CB East swimmer and senior captain Owen Lever was very close to Papanikolaou. The two first met at Cold Spring Elementary School.

“I’m completely heartbroken,” Lever said. “I’ve known him since we were six years old. We were both swimmers and at that age that’s not common, so we hit it off right away.

“He was a bright kid and always so happy. I never saw him sad. It’s hard for me to realize that I’ll never see him again. He was one of a kind and I have no bad memories of him. I just can’t believe that he won’t be there. The team is never going to be the same.”

Fellow senior captain Theo Miksa agreed.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I just heard from him on Tuesday. We were texting about the forms we needed to fill out for swim season, and now he’s gone.

“What I’ll miss most is how cheerful he was. He always made you laugh.”

Lever said the team doesn’t have a specific plan in place but will do something to memorialize Papanikolaou this year.

He is survived by his parents, Pete and Christina, and younger brother Maximus. The funeral was held Wednesday at the Greek Orthodox Church in Northeast Philadelphia and interment was at All Saints Cemetery in Newtown.

Kichin started a GoFundMe page for the family, “Remembering the Life of Marcus Papanikolaou,” to help the family with funeral costs.

“The generosity of the community has been incredible,” he said. “The family has a tough road ahead of them and in their darkest hour we are seeing the good in people. I’m grateful for that.

“He was a great kid, and a terrific swimmer. It’s so sad that we’ll never see what he could have accomplished.

“I can’t believe we’ll never see Marcus again, never watch him fooling around with Maximus. He was always so gentle with Maximus (age 12). He was a wonderful brother to him.

“Obviously his parents, especially his mother, are having a very difficult time. Maximus has been comforting his parents as much as he can. He’s holding onto a bracelet with a cross on it that belonged to Marcus and honestly, it’s about the most heartbreaking thing that you can see.”

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