While the CYO swim team from Huntingdon Valley’s St. Albert the Great Parish has dominated the waters for the past decade, winning championships is apparently not stressed to the students in grades kindergarten through eight.
Working hard? Yes. Dedication? Yes.
“The coaches fully understand what goes on for families who have a lot of commitments,” said Ann Fenstermaker, one of several assistant coaches for St. Albert who, like many parents, became involved when her older son started swimming. “If you have to miss a practice for something like a family obligation or something that is very important to attend, it’s understood. It’s not a big problem.”
Speaking earnestly, that isn’t always the case in CYO athletics. Some coaches demand the same kind of commitment that befits a high school athlete, but the truth is that most high school athletes participate in CYO sports because the pressure to succeed is considerably less.
For the past 14 years, Bryan Glaccum has been the head coach at St. Albert. Glaccum and his cohorts were lauded by St. Albert’s parent Michele Purcell for creating a “positive atmosphere” that helps explain its significant success.
On Jan. 30 at the NEPSCA pool in Northeast Philadelphia, St. Albert captured its 10th consecutive CYO championship, defeating St. Christopher. Purcell said that while St. Albert’s title is not considered an anomaly, the accomplishment shouldn’t be understated considering the program’s “humble beginnings with (today’s) same coaches many years ago.”
“These coaches are so special,” she said. “They really get to know the kids. They know their needs, their strengths. They challenge each person in his or her own special way.”
A mother of fifth-grader Erik and second-grader Luke, Fenstermaker’s husband John, a St. Helena School and Cardinal Dougherty High School grad, has been involved with the CYO for many years. She said it is common for people from both inside and outside the parish to discuss St. Albert’s swimming.
However, Fenstermaker was quick to point out that the conversation doesn’t always center on championships.
“The kids are encouraged to keep improving,” she said. “What makes a difference is seeing how the younger kids keep improving and how their times keep getting better.”
This past weekend, numerous St. Albert’s swimmers established personal bests. It’s been that way for the past several years.
According to Glaccum, a 1974 graduate of St. Albert and, later, Archbishop Ryan High School, using positive affirmation and establishing reachable goals serves as a “tremendous motivator.”
“We have a raffle at the end of the year where you get to put in a ticket every time you improve your time,” he said. “We end up having hundreds of tickets in there.”
Glaccum, who became involved with St. Albert when his daughter, Kristin, now 26, began swimming, sometimes tells his swimmers that if they improve their time, he’ll treat to a Gatorade or soda.
Over the years, his pockets have lost a little bit of weight.
“They’re rushing out of the pool saying, ‘You owe me a soda!'” Glaccum said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Hey, I don’t mind paying up.'”
For those who hope that one of these days Glaccum’s protégés pay him back, he said that has already been done – in spades.
“We start out the season with reachable goals and then the kids go out and reach them,” he said. “These kids are so loyal. They know we are flexible when it comes to doing other things like soccer or basketball or cheerleading, but almost all the time, they end up coming to practice anyway after they are done what they needed to do.”
Perspective at its finest.
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.