By STEVE SPINKS
WHEN the word came through last Thursday that the Empire Vale Primary School's freestyle relay team had progressed to the NSW Swimming Championships the tiny school's population of 54 erupted.
The four swimmers Kye Spence (11), Fletcher Patterson (10), Marissa Carr (8) and Christine Monti (9) became instant celebrities.
Despite the excitement and fuss principal Bonnie Avery decided against giving the school the rest of the day off ... just.
The 4 x 50m relay team qualified for the State Championships in the PP5 division (held for school sizes between 26-150) at the regional North Coast carnival at Coffs Harbour after they slashed a whopping 12 seconds off their qualifying time.
They finished second but it was still enough to progress.
And the big prize ... the relay team get to travel to Sydney and swim at the International Aquatic Centre, which was used at the 2000 Olympics.
None of the team are involved in regular squad training, although Spence and Patterson are involved in Surf Lifesaving.
However, since the school swimming season started they have been training every Friday night at the Ballina pool sharpening their dives and change-overs.
This is not the first time Empire Vale has qualified a relay team.
Seven years ago another mixed relay qualified ... they finished second.
So what is this team's goal?
"They're setting their sights high," Ms Avery said.
"We'll probably finish fifth," Patterson replied honestly.
It seems places aren't important, just the fact that the small school has qualified is enough for them.