Ohio State synchronized swimmers circle around before the start of the 2018 OSU Zero Wast Dual Meet, leaving a space open for Jessica Beck, on Jan. 19, 2018. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics

Before and after every meet, the Ohio State synchronized swimming team gathers in a circle outside the pool, always leaving one spot open.

From the stands, fans might be able to hear the athletes singing the lyrics of “Long Time Sun” or “Carmen Ohio.”

When Jessica Beck unexpectedly passed away in 2005, the synchronized swimming team created a pact that there would always be an open space for Beck in their pregame and postgame tradition the team calls “The Circle.”

“[Beck is] just our forever teammate so that’s her forever spot,” senior Quinn Connor said. “It’s a different spot every time. It can be by whoever wants to have her there.”

The history of Ohio State is full of various traditions and rituals among current athletes on teams at the university and former student athletes.

For “The Circle,” coaches, swimmers and even alumni meet next to the pool, unless the meet is at home. At their home pool, the swimmers stand between the dive well and the pool.

Before each meet, while in the circle, they sing a song called “Long Time Sun” and after the meet concludes, they gather again to sing “Carmen Ohio,” an Ohio State tradition after many sporting events.

Head coach Holly Vargo-Brown, an Ohio State synchronized swimmer from 1986 to 1990, remembered being a part of some of the original circles, but couldn’t pinpoint exactly when the ritual began.

Vargo-Brown said “The Circle” unites the past and the present and provides a space for everyone to take a second to breathe. She also stressed the importance of current swimmers connecting with alumni so they might understand how fast time as a member of the team passes.

“It’s like synchronized swimming’s huddle,” Vargo-Brown said. “It’s that moment for us to just pull together and remind that we’re all close.”

“The circle is probably my favorite part of the meet,” sophomore Kaitlyn Carboun said. “That’s the time that you feel most connected to everyone and pump each other up and get ready for what’s about to happen.”

Once a year, though, that circle is closed. Instead of excitement and joy, tears are shed for a cherished former Buckeye.

On Feb. 10, the team traveled to Beck’s hometown of Richmond, Virginia, for an annual meet.

Each year while in Richmond, the team circles around Beck’s headstone with tears shed for the teammate many on the team never had a chance to meet.

“I think it’s interesting that everyone has a unique connection with Jessica, even though we haven’t met her,” Carboun said. “She wrote a poem that’s outside of our locker room and her name is written on the door.”