Introduction: Good Morning, Everyone. My name is Mark Onset. I am President of NISCA, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank ASCA for once again hosting the High School track at the World Clinic. Our first speaker today is Phil Emery. Phil is from Bangor, Maine. He is at Bangor, Maine High School, and has been for 36 years as a teacher and coach. He has an incredible record there with 20 State Championships, 17 State Coach of the Year awards, and as you might, imagine, Bangor, Maine is probably (most of us would say) a difficult place to get folks excited about swimming. But I think Phil is going to tell you some things that will translate to your programs about how he does it there; and I know he is going to do it in a very entertaining fashion. One of the things that is probably most representative of Phil is maybe not the 20 State Championships, but the fact that the latest NISCA Journal — the All-American issue — has a picture of Phil and three of his swimmers who graduated last year. They attended every single practice for four years. I think it is really cool that those guys, who were not All-Americans – none of them could swim under a minute in the 100 freestyle when they started, and I believe Phil indicated one was a .49 when he graduate; one was a .51; and one was a distance guy who didn’t swim quite that fast, but had great improvement. Just when Phil was telling that story and how proud he was of those guys, I thought that was probably representative of who Phil Emery is. I know he is going to tell us some great stories and give us some great information.
Phil Emery: Thank you. Good morning. My talk this morning is called: “How do we do it – Where do they come from?” Before I do this talk, I would like to tell you a little story. A lot of people, by the way, think that because we are from Maine, and that is just before you hit the Artic Circle, that we are kind of not too bright — but we are pretty bright. I will admit that we aren’t too bright, but we aren’t stupid either; we are kind of that little gem in the rough. Here is an interesting thing I discovered. I have a nephew, Enoch, and he lives down in Jonesport, which is on the coast of Maine. He is from a long line of fishermen. His father was a lobster fisherman, or actually still is. His grandfather, his great-grandfather, and really all the way back to when people discovered that lobster were worth fishing for, as opposed to using them for fertilizer like they used to do when they washed up on the beach years ago. We were at some kind of a gathering and I got talking to Enoch and I said: “Enoch, it was my understanding that you had decided to go to the University of Maine and try to lead an easier life because the fishing is so dangerous. You watch your relatives work so hard, and you were going to try to use your brain as opposed to your brawn.” He said: “Well, Uncle Phil, I did go to the University, but I got kicked out.” I said: “What did you get kicked out for?” “Insubordination.” I said: “Enoch, you are not insubordinate.” He said: “This is what happened, Uncle Phil. I decided to major in wild life and maybe become a game warden or be a biologist. One of the courses I was taking was ornithology – you know – the study of birds. I was really doing good in that. I liked it. We get lots of birds in Maine, and I had been studying those birds.” “I thought it was all pretty good,” he continued, “until we got to the Final. That Final was it was the stupidest thing I ever saw.”
I said: “What do you mean, Enoch?” He said: “Well, on the Final, we had these lab tables, and there were 20 birds on the lab table. The professor held a bag, a paper bag, all the way down so the only thing you could see was feet of the birds, and we had to identify the birds by looking at their feet. I looked over at the professor and I said: ‘this is the stupidest thing I have ever seen.’ Professor Abbot said: ’Son, who are you?’ So, I stepped up and I said: ‘if you are so smart, you tell me.’”
And so that is kind of a little of that… Now, to come back to my talk. First of all, you do have to have a good sense of humor, and some of us at one time or another lose that. So, I gave you a handout. I also gave you a card. My talk today really stems from the fact that, as many of you are aware, especially in boys’ swimming, the numbers have been declining for the last 25 years. There was a time 25 years or so ago when the number of swimmers was 65% male and 35% female – maybe in 1970. The number of swimmers nationwide today, more or less at every level, is exactly the opposite – approximately 65% female and 35% male. We have worked very hard in Maine. I have worked very hard, and our community has worked very hard. I am primarily, by the way, a boy’s coach. I have done summer swimming programs which I do not do any more (there is fishing to be done and other things). I now, since I did take on the position a year ago, actually oversee our girl’s program also – from the perspective of – rather than the girl’s coach getting blamed by somebody – all final decisions are mine, even though she is still the head coach. I approve of the bathing suits, for example. I mean, she selects it and I will say: “Yes.” The point is that I am involved in that program also. The girls’ numbers are wonderful, but our boys’ numbers …. When I started in 1969, I think we had 13 on the boys’ team — primarily age group swimmers out of the Y and once in a while a buddy. Those buddies were often trouble because there were things going on, and the guys would say: “Oh, come on, be on the team.” For the last 20 years the numbers continually went up. By 1975, we were running around 30. By 1980, we were running around 40; and the biggest team we have ever had is 58. This past year we had 42, and out of the 42, there were four age group swimmers. The three that Mark mentioned who went to over 1100 practices combined – without a miss — in four years. Then, there was a sophomore who also had never broken a minute and that was it. So that means 38 of those swimmers that I had we found someplace – we begged and borrowed and stole. So this talk is going to deal with begging and borrowing and stealing.
By the way, if you don’t mind, I just want to get a picture of who is here today. Now see what I will do is I will take this home and digitize it and then I will put bodies in every seat, so when I show my friends how many people were here, they will be impressed. Anyways, I’ll see if I can stay on track. I hope when you leave this talk you have at least one new idea and if it is not a new idea – it is a renewed idea.
I have also handed out some 5 x 8 cards, and I know that each of you has something that you must do that is unique. Most of the stuff we all do the same, but there is bound to be one thing maybe that you do that you think: “Boy, you know? If everybody did this, there would be more boys involved in swimming – or, if you do it for girls, more girls involved in swimming.
I do want to give you a quick overview of Maine and Bangor. The state of Maine is bigger than the rest of the New England states (Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut) combined. There is more land area in Maine. Over half of the state of Maine, or approximately half of the state of Maine, is forest land with not a single paved road – plenty of roads – roads every place. Those thousands and thousands and thousands of acres generate a lot of work and a lot of money recreationally, plus all forest products and so on. Then, on the other end is the coast line of Maine which, because of what the glaciers did and how it zig-zags up and down, is actually as much coastline as from the New Hampshire border to the Texas border, because the rest of the coastline of the United States is pretty straight, by and large. Maine’s is all over the place, including the islands that are part of Maine. Bangor South is a pretty good cross-section of the community. When you get to Bangor, if you go 100 miles further east, you are at the most Eastern point in the United States where the sun rises first. There is Eastport, Maine, Lubec… They all fight over which place it rises first, but then if you go to the tallest mountain in Maine, they will tell you it actually rises there first. Our population is approximately 33,000. That is approximately the same population that Bangor had in the 1880’s and 1890’s when it was the lumber capitol of the world. When you are on Main Street in Bangor, there is a statue of Paul Bunyan. Probably, it is kind of a paper mache, although you wouldn’t know it. It is a huge statue and all of the tourists stop and take pictures of it. I guess you can go to Minnesota and find another one of Paul Bunyan I guess he got around because a lot of people claim him.
Most of you are aware of Stephen King and the horror stuff that he writes. He is a long time resident of Bangor and a tremendous supporter of Bangor. He has a foundation. He used to just give money, but now, if it is approved, you have to raise half of it. You want three million? You have to raise half of it – if he approves the project. He built a field for kids in town, a baseball field for youth baseball which is a wonderful stadium. They now have the Senior Little League World Series there. And he built a whole new outside swim complex, non-competitive. Each of the things like that have been named for somebody who died from an illness, by the way. Senator William Cohen – who one time was the Secretary of Defense was from Bangor High School. He graduated six years before me. He was a Mayor of Bangor and so on. Bangor is a service community also for that whole section of the state and all the services are so even because Bangor comes from very wealthy old money that came from the lumber industry and people who have nothing and everyone in between. It is a wonderful cross-section. Some other interesting people from Bangor include the current Governor of the State of Maine is a Bangor resident, and actually I had him as a student years ago. One of our other former Governors was a person I went to high school with.
One more thing: have any of you ever heard of the IFOCE? The International Federation of Competitive Eating? They have the Coney Island hot dog eating contest; they have the Battle of the Buffet’s. Have you heard of that? The two owners are George and Mokey Shay. They have a PR firm in Manhattan, New York, and they took on Nathan’s World Famous Coney Island Hot Dogs and run that Coney Island Hot Dog eating thing and from there. You have heard about the little Asian girl who eats – I don’t know how many — hot dogs and rolls and dips them in the water… well, one is a former swimmer and diver from Bangor and the other is a former swimmer. The diving coach at Texas A&M, Kevin Wright, is a former All-American diver from Bangor High School. The diving coach at Dartmouth, Chris Hamilton, is a former diver from Bangor High School and so on. We are pretty well spread around, as probably students from every high school are, if you look over a long enough time span.
Let me tell you about the facility. We rent from a college called Hudson College. It is approximately one mile from Bangor high school. It is six lanes, 25 yards. The pool was built in 1968. The college started a team in 1969. They dropped the team in the spring of ’74, and like flies to garbage, we were there knocking on their door on January 1 of ’75, and we have been there ever since. At that time, Hudson College was shrinking, as a lot of colleges did that started during the Viet Nam War when people didn’t want to go to war. When the war ended, those colleges began to shrink again. Hudson went through that, and they went through some tremendous financial struggles, so they dropped their swimming program, and we took over. We now own every piece of equipment in that pool. We do not own the deck and we don’t own the water, but we own the starting blocks; we own the lane lines; we have two sets. We own the Colorado timing system; blah, blah, blah. The nice thing about that is that when something breaks, we repair it. We don’t have to depend on a third party and so that has been a wonderful relationship. I have a master key to the building, so I don’t have to go and get somebody like years ago. I mean, we have the run of that place, and so it has been wonderful. The balcony has seating for about 400 so we host quite a few meets and so on. It has been a wonderful facility for us and we get as much time as we need – basically four hours a day – two for the girls – two for the boys, plus deck time. At Christmas time, each team goes two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, and we also practice three mornings a week – optional. The optional means nobody has to do it and between the boys and girls team (we have approximately 100 kids), I think last year we had 14 kids doing mornings, so that makes it pretty clear that it really is optional. That was the deal I made with the A.D. I said: “If you ever hear of me using innuendos or indirect ways to pressure kids to get them to do the mornings, you can let me go because I will guarantee you, I will not do that.” Going mornings it is not for everybody, and more is not better for everybody. Sometimes, it is worse because they cannot discipline themselves and they can’t get enough sleep and all they do is go in the other direction. Optional mornings has worked wonderfully for us in our situation, I have always run the morning practices.
We have a student body of about 1460. You may have seen Bangor high school, if you saw the Sports Illustrated issue that listed the best athletic high schools in the country. It did one list of about 20 and then it picked one in every state, someplace else, and Bangor was the one for the state of Maine. We have a good program in Bangor, and it is well supported. There was another magazine, Time Magazine, which had an issue – probably last spring – listing the best academic high schools in the United States and it picked a certain number in each state. I think it listed the best thousand, and Bangor was one of the three picked from the state of Maine. That had to do, I think, with students graduating and students going on to post-secondary and so on.
We also get great support from our administration. I will give you one example. Our athletic director basically just keeps hands off. He says: “You know swimming. I know everything else. Unless there is an issue, you just let me know what you need; put it in your budget.” He reminds me that if I don’t order our stuff early, he mightl use it for football, but on the other hand, if I get your budget in – like right now – by October 1st, then anything I want up to $3,000 between the two teams for equipment and stuff is ours. They buy our suits, and we do it this way: you buy a suit this year, and then we use that as a practice suit next year, and we will buy a new one for you that year. So, it all works very well. A few years ago, we had the diving coaching position open and we had two people apply. In the process of interviewing both candidates, the A.D. called me after the interviews, and he said: “Phil, do you know what? I think we need to hire them both. One is working for an architectural firm in town, there may be occasions where he wouldn’t be available; and the other one has his own private business and there might be occasions when he wouldn’t be available either.” Then, he said: “If we can get them both in here, we can probably work out something where one would be the head and the other be the assistant, and sometimes they would both be there.” Well, the long and short of it is, he did that, and so, we have a head boy’s coach and an assistant coach and a head girl’s coach and an assistant coach and we have a diving coach and then I oversee everything on top of that as the head boy’s coach.
Our season is 14 weeks long. It is controlled by the Maine Principal’s Association, and we cannot coach outside the season. Other than during the high school season, I may have no work in the weight rooms or any place, other than in the season. It is an honor thing. The truth is – you all, I am sure, are from states in where somebody says this is the rule, I don’t like it, but I will follow it, and somebody else says this is the a rule, I don’t like it and I am not going to follow it. That goes on in Maine, as I know it goes on in a lot of places. Not that I am the best guy in the world, but those are the rules, and I have fought them, but that is the way we do it — and we get a lot done in 14 weeks, by the way.
Parent Support: we have unbelievable parent support, and I am going to talk to you a little bit about that this afternoon. Our sound system is a music system. One day a parent came to me. I had coached his two sons and I was currently coaching his daughter in the mornings. He came to me and said: “Coach, Sara came home and said: ‘you know, Dad, swimming is so boring going back and forth all the time. If we had a sound system, you know, a music system, it would really be neat.’” So the father continued: “Based on that, Phil, would you object if the parents raised some money to put in a sound system? – not a separate PA and music system, but have a CD player and tape players and so on?” I said: “You mean, you are going to go and sell brownies?” “No, No, No, No,” he said. “I will just call the parents, and we will get the money, and we will buy it.” The long and the short: we did; he did; they did; and he sent the sound man down to ask me where we want it. We have it in the closet, and wired out through so when we close the closet nobody can get out.
One time I was sitting beside a guy whose license plate said “Dumpy”. He owned the landfill. He recognized, because he was smarter than I was, that there was more money in trash than there was in a lot of other things, and he became a millionaire. Well, his daughters were swimming in a Meet. This was back in the 80’s when the blocks that we had were wooden blocks, and they had big things of cement underneath. They were kind of like steps, and they were closed in, and when the swimmers would dive off, the blocks would often slide back. Somebody would have to sit on them. He said: “Phil, what would it cost to replace those blocks?” I said: “Tom, it is interesting that you should ask. I was just going through a catalog today and Paragon sells those for about $600 apiece; plus, you have to have them installed, so I would say $750 apiece. He said: “Get an estimate. Call me. Give me the numbers. I will write a check.” I did. He did. The blocks were in. They were the quickset blocks, one of the first five that Paragon made of that style.
The School Boards. When we raise money in combination with fund raisers, aqua-thons and school support (I think that we raised $10,000), we bought a timing system and have since upgraded to a System 5. At first, we had one line. The parents would go to the University of Maine and see all the other lines. So the parents said to me: “Coach, how much would it cost to have six lines, 5 more?” I said: Well, it is funny you should ask. I talked to Colorado a few weeks ago because I was thinking along that line and they said about $2,000. a line so that would be about $10,000.” One of the parents said: “Do you mind if I do a fund-raiser?” And I said: “Are we going to sell brownies?” He said: “No. No. No. I will call around to the parents.” He did and in seven days, he called me back and he said: “I have got $7,000. How much more do you want me to raise?” I said: “STOP. I want the School Committee to have some money put in of their own. So we stopped, and I went to the A.D. and told him we had 7, would they give 3? He said that they would be embarrassed not to give the $3,000 — and so we did that and immediately got the 5 lines. So that is kind of the way those types of things have gone. It has been very successful.
Our Booster’s Club. We don’t have a swimmers’ booster club and a football boosters’ club. It is one club, and if it is a fund raiser, we all kind of do it together. There may be events where football raises more than swimming, but we are all welcome to the money on a need basis. This way, we are not competing against each other, and there aren’t jealousies and stuff like that. It has worked wonderfully well. The fund raiser things I just told you about weren’t boosters. We just, the parents of swimmers just said: “We will do it.” By the way, in that $7,000, one parent gave $3,000 – one thousand for each of the three kids that I had coached. That is what happens with longevity. You can’t do that in five years, but that is what happens with longevity — and taking good care of kids.
We have an Alumni meet on December 26 at 6 o’clock every year. We started that when I came back from college and it continues to this day. The only exception is we do not do activities on Sundays. We are not allowed to do that. So if Christmas were on a Saturday, then we would do it on the 27th at 6 o’clock. Other than that, everybody knows when it is. We get piles and piles of spectators. It is our biggest crowd of the year. Parents want to come back and see all these kids that they haven’t seen for years. It is a wonderful traditional thing we do.
We have a no cut policy. Every person is an eligible member of our team. Under no circumstances have we ever cut a swimmer of any ability. We have world famous lane 6 – the breeding ground of champions. My assistant coach’s primary responsibility (I take kids in lanes 1-5), is to spend the whole first year for that child teaching starts, turns, stroke mechanics, and then working a little bit of training in as we progress. The whole year. Not a week. Not a month, but a whole season. By doing that, once the kids understand that we do that, they aren’t quite as afraid to come out for the team, and it is not a stigma to be in lane 6. In fact, the upper classmen will run over immediately and say: “Don’t be nervous, Sam. That is where we started.” On the team I had this year, 38 of the 42 started in lane 6. By the way, we had a kid this year that we started in lane 6 who had never been on a team, but had swum in the lake and stuff like that. He went 23.5. How would you know? Now, we also had other kids who after a whole season were 32. So, it is not like we perform miracles, but by having more bodies in there, we have more chances.
Our winter sports are basketball, track, hockey, and ROTC. Our ROTC high school program is the oldest in the United States. It started in 1861. They also have a ranger group, and they have a drill team and all kinds of stuff. It is a very, very, very involved program and a wonderful program. Skiing kind of comes and goes. Kids can ski with other schools. We have not had success with a ski team in terms of getting consistent numbers. Our philosophy is, and my philosophy in the classroom, as it is in the pool, is to have build an environment in which all of the kids can be successful. They will take charge of that. I used to think that I had to make it happen, but actually, it is the same with all of us. In my case, as a coach, my superintendent and my athletic director and my principals gave me a chance to be successful. They allowed me enough pool time, but I still can’t hesitate to take the horse by the reins and ride it. When I was younger, I thought it was my responsibility to beat the horse into the ground – emotionally and verbally and whatever else I had to do to it. It was so stressful for me. Then, in 1977, I said: “I have either got to back off one step and re-focus my energies and realize what coach’s responsibilities really are, or I cant do this anymore. That is not to say that it still isn’t stressful, but I at least got a little bit of sanity back in my life.
Okay? Where do they come from? Parents talk. I talked a little bit about it. When parents know your program and when they hear about it from other parents, they will often encourage their kids, if they are not involved in other athletic activities, to get involved in the swimming program. It happens. We had a senior this year – another senior who started in Lane 6 four years ago. His name is David Kleinschmidt. David Kleinschmidt was born smarter than I am going to die – 800 on every one of his boards, while he was taking eight subjects at Bangor high school and getting straight A’s for four straight years. He was also attending the University of Maine and taking abstract Math, which I had him explain to me a little bit. I said: “David, I know I don’t really understand it, but I can appreciate what you are doing.” His mother wanted him involved in something besides academics — not that she didn’t want all that brilliance, but she wanted him to have something else to do in addition to the academics. He is very musically talented too, very musical. So he took all these other things, and show choir and this and that and the other. He started swimming in Lane 6, and, literally, he could hardly swim. He progressed steadily. He finally qualified in his junior year, two years ago, for the State Meet. You know how sometimes, especially with these really smart kids, and especially with all this long hair and stuff (and he is really a neat kid so I am not criticizing him, and we don’t require kids to shave their heads), but you know how that infection works. Once one person does it, it can become a tradition and so on. But David didn’t shave his head for the State Meet his junior year. He wasn’t going to place, but obviously, like everybody, he wanted to do his best time. He dives in – his goggles come off – his hat comes off – and after he finishes, he goes up on the deck and cries. I went over and consoled him. I understood. This year, he was one year older. He actually did our morning practices when he could, and you have to do them so he did them. He missed a number of afternoon practices because of all the other things that he was involved in, but he progressed steadily. On the day before the State Meet, I came in and there was David with his head shaved. I said: “David, you are ready – because as you know, it may or may not make you faster, but is like the warrior who puts on the war paint. It says: ‘I am ready.’” That is the part that I like. Shaving their heads tells me that they are ready.
David had a phenomenal state meet. He dropped like from, we will say, the 24th seed to 13th seed — and we only have 12 places in the 50. In the hundred, he dropped maybe from 22nd seed to 14th seed. Again, he didn’t place. On our 200 freestyle relay, we tied for first place with another team, and David was the lead off swimmer on that relay. On the 400 freestyle relay, which was literally the best of the rest in a weak program, we get in the top 6 which was absolutely wonderful, and David was on that. That is as good as it gets.
When the year was over, his mother, who is a brilliant person in terms of being able to express herself, said: “You know, Phil, I want to write something to you, but I don’t know how to do it, so I am not going to write it, I am just going to tell you. David has always been good at academics, so it wasn’t like it wasn’t important to him, but he could already do it. This is the first thing in a long time that he could not do, so when he walked out of that State Meet, you would have thought that he had just come off the blocks at the Olympics with a gold medal.” That comes from parents trusting you – to come back to the beginning. She got him in that program, and now we have his younger brother, who also started in lane 6 this year – about 70 pounds, skinny as a rail, smart as can be – not as smart as David – probably only got a 150 IQ, but on it goes. Parents. If they trust you, they will do some of your recruiting for you.
I keep a grade book, like any teacher does. In the back of it, because I can’t remember stuff, I have a place where if a kid comes up and talks to me about something, or if I know they might have been on the team years ago, I write their name down. I do the same thing with my budget, because when it comes time to do my science budget, I never remember one thing that I need until the day after I submit it, and then I remember everything. So, I keep these things in the back of my book. The other day, a kid walks in and he was talking to me on Thursday, No, Wednesday. He looked up and said: “When does swimming start?” I said: “Are you a swimmer?” “No, I am not a swimmer,” he answered, “But I want to do some activities, and so, you know when swimming starts is when some of the other stuff starts.” So Alex’s name goes in the back of my grade book. There have been five days or six days since school started for us, and I have three names already. Will we get all those kids? Absolutely not. But every time I get a name, I have a potential client, so to speak. By the time the middle of November comes, I will have a pretty massive list of kids.
Obviously, we do the obvious things that you all do. We have local age group programs. We have a Y. We have a US club in another part of town, and those, in our community, are kind of up and down, depending on who the coach is and what is going on internally. I had a year a few years ago where I had a kid come in that was 4:56 for the 500. Our high school record was 4:57, and I wanted him. Can I do this?
I have had a lot of experience, but can I do this? Because I have never actually coached an athlete that level. It is the same thing, I think, but I had to find out. The kid swam with us for two years. Then, he went away to Prep school after his sophomore year for other reasons, but he went 4:33 and he went 1:40.7. So, Yes, I guess we could do that. The point is that there are other times when there is nobody there — and so I put posters up. I put a few over here. They are professionally done. They are not very fancy, but you know, kids don’t care. You might care. Now, if I was doing a presentation at the World Swim Clinic… Oh, I am… it needs to look fancy, but that one is the actual real McCoy. I didn’t make up something fake. One of them is that a dog with paddles on: “Arf, Arf, Coach Emery, when do I go out for swimming?” And the sign says: “Help wanted. No experience necessary.” There is another
one over there: “Boys and Girls Swim Team – blah, blah, blah…” I can’t read it, but: “All Welcome.” And there is a before picture I have taken out of a swim catalog with little kids with their Speedos on, and there is an after picture of a handsome man and an attractive young woman – showing the after.” And there is another one over there, so you can look at them. They are just around.
Does anybody notice them? Probably somebody does. Probably some of you did. I don’t know for sure, but it like you cover every single base you can. In the classroom, in my classrooms, I do talk to the kids about getting involved in activities. And then, once I say in general how important it is, I say how important it was to me when I was a kid to make a connection to the school. I was not good academically. I had to drop out of scouts when I was in elementary school because I could not get through a day without doing something stupid. I was always kept after school – not for bad stuff – just the stupid stuff. I was as foolish as the day was long. I had no attention span. I had more energy than you can imagine. In junior high school, it was a little bit better, but still, I was kind of different. I got picked up for shop lifting and put on probation. I am not proud of it; neither was my father proud of it. The shoplifting was not anything I needed. It was just to do it. The point was that I was very ashamed of myself. Ironically, during that time I tried out for the basketball team at the high school and I got cut. I was over at the Y swimming when the director of the Y saw me swimming and said: “Phil, why don’t you come out for our Y team?” I didn’t even know they had a swimming team in Bangor. You know – at that age – sometimes you are oblivious, but I did go out for the swimming team, and, of course, I am still involved to this day.
Anyways, I tell that story to my classroom and every so often somebody will come out and say: “But I am going out for basketball.” I say: “I did, and if you want to go out for basketball, you go out. That is where you should be. You should never be a swimmer, if you want to be a basketball player.” You shouldn’t, but I know for years I thought: “God, I wish that kid was not a basketball player.” Now, I have two daughters. One was a swimmer and a basketball player. We made her make the choice, and my wife came and said: “Phil, Jen is going to swim.” I said: “Well, why?” And she said: “Because she doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. You are a swimming coach, and she really thinks that you want her to do that.” I went to my daughter and this was when she was in 8th grade, and I said: “Jenny, I heard what you said to your mother. I swam in high school because I wanted to. Your Grandfather loved it, but I did it because I wanted to. Your uncles, Tom and Tim – I mean – Tom and Steve – same thing. I swam in college because I wanted to.” I said: “What would hurt my feelings is if, when I was 60 years old, I found out that when you swam in high school you did it because you thought I wanted you to. That would hurt my feelings.” She said: “Oh, good! Then I am going to play basketball.” It was never discussed again and she loved it. She was a heck of a swimmer, but I could see how important that basketball was to her and her friends and so on. What I tell the kids is this: if you don’t make it, or you make it as a freshman, but then not as a sophomore — and I say it just like this: sincerely… but, if at some point you stop, then come back and see me. The door is always open. We have gotten kids that way. I tell them when I was in 9th grade and I went out for football.
Question: Do you get them back?
Answer: Sometimes – absolutely – absolutely, but not all.
We have got a kid who was a New England Champion as an 8 and under who is still involved in the basketball because he was good enough to make it as a basketball player, and I talk to him. He comes and he is not afraid to talk to me. He probably will never be back because he started as a Varsity player as a sophomore, and I am happy for him. Do I wish that he was swimming? Yeah, but I don’t wish that he would quit basketball. That is where he needs to be. It is not good for him to be swimming, and wishing he was playing basketball. I coach swimming. I don’t want to coach tennis. Imagine, if they made me coach tennis and I didn’t want to? I want to do swimming and it is the same with the kids. But when you take that approach, it is you know intimidating to them. Some of them will come back. The other thing is: with boys, you can’t go by what they say. Girls? You can to some degree. But boys? Never, because they are so self-conscious. I am not sure it is macho when you are in 9th grade. I teach almost exclusively 9th graders. The only upper classmen I teach in science are those who need to make up a credit, and they have to come back and take it with the 9th graders. If you say to a kid: “Why don’t you come out for the swim team?” and they say: “I hate swimming.” That isn’t it. That is what they are saying. What they really mean is: “I am afraid to put on a Speedo.” He thinks the other kids will laugh at him, or something else. “Oh, I am not very good, and I am afraid the other kids will laugh at me, etc.” They have no history of how the program runs, so you really have to keep working on those kids and working on them.
So I said: “You know, when I was in 9th grade – and this is true – I went to the meeting when they had the organizational meeting for football.” Now, I had played football in the back yard which we did all the time. Before organized sports, we might play 10 football games a day, and I know we played 10 or 15 baseball games a day. If it was organized, you would do it once or twice a week, but we played stuff all the time. So we played football in the yard or down in the vacant lot and one time you were a quarterback and one time you were a running back. So I went to this meeting, and all of these jocks are talking about yeah, I want to be a guard and another guy saying I want to be a running back or half back and another one saying: “I am going to go out for quarter back.” I know what a quarter back is. I know there are people on the line. I don’t know one other term. I know people catch a football so I am so intimidated by all the shadow that I didn’t go back to get the uniform and stuff. I just disappeared. A few weeks later, the football coach said: “Phil, you signed up for the football, why didn’t you come?” I said: “Well, I was interested, but you know, in the fall I do a lot of hunting.” Now, at that age, all I did was bow and arrow hunting because we were not allowed to have guns. My father did not allow guns in the house in any way, shape or form. He was not an outdoorsman, but I did hunt with bows and arrows down in the woods, near the house and stuff like that. But I was lying. What I was really saying was: “I am too intimidated. I am too self-conscious because I don’t know anything about the sport.” He wasn’t able to pick up on that, so I tell the kids that. I say, I wished I had done it. Not because being a football player was a dream for me. I just wanted to try it. I would have been at every practice, just like I would have been at basketball. I would have been the first guy there and the last guy to leave, but I said: “I was too afraid…too self-conscious…I didn’t have any confidence.”
About this time and this is a true story, this young man named Sun Win – he was from Viet Nam – this is maybe ten years ago now — raised his hand: “Mr. Emery?” I said: “Yes, Son?” “If you don’t know how to swim, can you be on the swim team?” I said: “You don’t know how to swim?” “No. I came from Viet Nam two years ago, and I do not know how to swim.” I said: “Son, are you afraid of the water?” “Oh, No – not afraid of the water – just don’t know how to swim.” I said: “Yes, you can be on the swim team. We will put you in lane 6. My assistant coach will teach you how to swim.” On the first day of practice, I explained to my assistant coach who is employed some place else. I said to my assistant coach: “Nick, you are going to have 14 kids in lane 6. One of them is Sun Win. He is Vietnamese. Some days, he stays after school to take ESL – English as a second language. He seems to be very intelligent. He wants to be on the team, but he has no idea how to swim, so you are going to have to keep him in the shallow water and just work with him. Just don’t worry about what he can do – just – because even if he never learns how to swim, he may have a brother or something.” It is just like Amway. Every human being is a potential client. Aint it true? About a week later, my assistant coach, Nick, comes back and he says: “Coach, this isn’t going to work.” I said: “What is not going to work?” He said: “Sun. He is just in everybody’s way. He has to stand in the shallow end.” I said: “Nick, I am going to tell you again.” This person swam for me. He is a wonderful person. Sometimes, you are kind of tough on the people that have been your swimmers because they have always been below you. I hate to say it that way, as opposed to somebody that came in from the side, but anyways… I said: “It is going to work because you are going to make it work.” Well, that was Sun’s freshman year. Sun, by his senior year, graduated with honors. He placed 6th in the State Meet in the 100 yard butterfly and 7th in the State Meet in the 100 yard breaststroke. Does it get any better than that? And now, that is a story that I tell to the kids in my classes. We have always had kids that could just barely swim, but that is the only kid that we had who could not swim one single stroke. That was a success, and when I tell that story, every so often, somebody picks up on that and there is another body coming.
Obviously, we have brothers. I have coached brothers of brothers of brothers and all kinds of things. When I came to Bangor years ago, there was a man named Norman Palmer who was the Y coach. His son was in the age group program at the Y. He was a great kid, strong as a horse, not real talented, but there was no amount of work that you could give him that he wouldn’t do. I had a group of kids in the early 70’s that were that way also, leading up to 1975 when we won the New England Championships. We were 22nd in 1974. We won it in 1975.
To give you an example of how far we came in one year, we broke the state record by 13 seconds and we broke the New England record by 6 seconds. We did times we never imagined. We were as surprised as everybody, but we trained every day until six days before that championship. This kid, Ritchie Palmer, from that team now is an adult and now is one of our coaches. He is a parent, and I am coaching his son. One day, I was standing on the pool deck and behind Norman Palmer who passed away this past Christmas day, but I am standing behind Norm Palmer, and I am looking over at block #4. There is his grandson, Eric. Then, I am look up into the balcony at the announcer, who is Norm’s son and Eric’s father, Ritchie – the swimmer for us in the 70’s. If you are in one place long enough, those things happen – and it doesn’t get any better than that. It is almost from cradle to grave. – I mean: it is just wonderful.
I wrote down all kinds of notes and I really haven’t had to refer to them. I am just following the outline. Anyways, I also go to the freshman basketball coach because everybody wants to be a basketball player I say to him: “I need swimmers. When you are done, after you are done, after the last day of cuts, after you have done it, would you explain to the kids to come and see me?” We have a great relationship and so he does it. I also go to the freshman football team, and I usually do it in the week prior to the end of their season, and I ask the coach if can I have ten minutes with his kids. I tell them the same deal about the swimmer as quickly and concisely as I can. I go to the freshman soccer team and do exactly the same thing there. Do I get football players? Once in a while. Do I get soccer players? Once in a while. I mean new swimmers, because there may be swimmers who are already on football or soccer, but I am talking about brand new bodies.
Yes? Question: You said you were only training like 14 weeks a year? Answer: Yes.
Question: Do you do any club training?
Answer: Some of the kids do. I am not allowed to. I could run a club in the summer, but during the academic year, technically speaking, we are only supposed to be with them once prior to the season and once after. That is ridiculous, so we do more than that, but not a lot. We can have at the high school a general weight program when there is something on the wall, but we cannot have coaches directing that weight program. But, I bet that you can figure out who probably is in the weight room. That is okay because I think they probably should be there, because those football players need to be stronger because of the nature of that sport, but we cannot coach. I am not telling you there aren’t some of our coaches in the state who do that, but the rule is that you cannot coach those kids. I could be running a Y team. I could be running a program for younger kids, but I am also a fulltime, 100% science teacher. That is my primary job. When this high school season starts, believe me, we get plenty of time in. It is still amazing what we can do. When the season is over, those kids often go back to their Y’s.
Now, with our high school team, with the boys, the kids come to every practice. There is not a day when they go to club and stuff like that, and they have never expressed an interest in doing that. There may be a Saturday where a kid will say: “Listen, we have a Y meet this afternoon, or a US meet someplace, can I miss practice?” And I say: “Sure.” That is for the Saturday deal, but usually even then, they will come to the morning practice; or if the girls are practicing at 7, they will go in with the girls. On the girl’s team, even though I oversee both teams. the girls’ coach allowed them, during this past year, to miss Tuesdays to go with their age group team or their club team. That maybe was five kids – even though there are more than five girls on the girl’s team that do club stuff. We have a pretty good rapport with the kids, and we haven’t had a lot of issues in recent years with the club coaches. It seems to be a pretty good relationship. I know in some places that is not the case.
Yes? Question. 14 weeks is such a short time span. Do you have any kind of program that you use here in conjunction with Y programs or something in the off-season? Like saying, if you are interested in high school swimming, learn competitive strokes, or something like that to give somebody the jump?
Answer: Do you mean separate from the age group and Y stuff?
Question: They are not associated, obviously, with the school?
Answer: No, No. I mean, they may go and do that, and some of the kids do go to the Y, and they are from the Y, and they will talk to other kids the next year. You know, the new kids will say: “How did you get to be so good?” And they will say: “Well, I swim at the Y, or I swim with the Hurricane Swim Club.” Some of the kids will do that; such as this David Kleinschmidt, who I was talking about, who swam prior to the season his senior year. Maybe at the end of the season, he went to the University of Maine, where there was a stroke clinic going on in the spring. Those that really want to will find ways to do more, but I am not involved in that. Now, if they come and ask me for information, I will certainly direct them in the right direction.
Once I did a thing I called: “Bring it.” I went into a swimming catalog to these wonderful t-shirts, and I said to the kids: “Look it. Anybody who brings a swimmer in, somebody brand new, and the kid stays three weeks, you can pick one of these t-shirts out of the catalog and we will send away and get you one.” Maybe that year, I got five kids doing that — and that was a kind of desperation thing because I think we had maybe 27 kids at the time. I think we got maybe five or six or seven out of that. That would have been the year when we were the smallest, and that might have been twenty years ago.
We have a middle school swimming program that we run beginning the week after the season ends. When we end our season, it is time for February vacation, and then we are back to school. We have two middle schools in Bangor. Every day, they alternate. One day the bus goes to one school and picks up the kids and brings them to the pool, the next day it goes to the other school and brings them to the pool. I have a lesson plan. My high school kids are the coaches. During the end of the season, I sign them up: who are going to be head coaches; who are going to be assistant coaches; and I give them a lesson plan. Day-1 is like to check to make sure the students can swim because if they can’t, we will keep them in the shallow water and put life jackets or belts on them or whatever. Sometimes when we even have the meet, we have to put fins on them. Nobody complains. We even use life jacket so they can coach those kids. Day-1 there is a plan.
Day-2. There are five practices, six practices, and then there is a meet. When we have the meet, we alternate boy’s events and girl’s events. Certainly, there are a lot more girls involved. We might have the 25 yard freestyle and we might have eight heats of the 25 freestyle, but we don’t do it like you do in a championship meet in high school. Every heat is like a brand new event. We swim the heat. We have an awards chair person, usually two of them. As soon as that heat is over, we announce their names and announce the time. We use the electronic timer, but we push the button. We have one of those things that you push the button; we don’t worry about touching the pad. They get up on the blocks. They get their ribbons, and then we run the next heat. They get up on the block, and they get their ribbons … all the way down through. The meet takes an hour and a half, an hour and forty-five minutes, and then the season is over. We announce the winner and for 36 years in a row, it is hard to believe, but the boys meet has been a tie: 144 to 144; and the girls meet has been a tie, unbelievable as it is, every year: 261 to 261. And they are all happy as clams. They don’t have any idea whether there was a tie or not. They probably are smart enough to figure out that it isn’t.
Really, it is almost embarrassing to know that a kid could get to 9th grade, and be in middle school, and not be able to swim very well. But, nevertheless, they leave there, and they think they are pretty good because the got all these ribbons and they wear them to school the next day. Some of those kids come back to me. They see me and they say: “Coach, I was on the middle school team. I am going to be on the high school team. They are horrible, but they don’t stay horrible, and we don’t get hundreds and hundreds, but we do get some and we have had state champions come that way: two individual state champions and then a number who have been involved in state championship relays. So, I cannot tell you how good that is.
We did a Fall Carnival where we had bazaar events. You know: t-shirt exchange relays, dog paddle relays, kick board relays; but because we do not really have an aquatics program and we just were doing that one practice day in the meet, it was just too much with all the stuff that is going on in the school. We have not done that recently in the high school, but in the middle school swimming we still do it. Obviously, if you have swimmers, you have people who work at the pools around the community, and they always are encouraging kids. I also remind the kids to encourage kids. You see somebody who looks like a swimmer, talk to them. We do pick up kids that way.
You will also notice, by the way, that we in Maine spell things differently than some of you do. You may have noticed that down through there. Those aren’t spelling errors. We just have a different dictionary. Another thing that I have found that is very important is practice time and location. Sometimes you can control that; sometimes you cannot. In our practices, we alternate with the girls — so Monday we practice from 3-5; and the girls go 5-7. Tuesday: girls 3-5 and boys 5-7. Wednesday, we reverse and so on. Fridays we alternate, and Saturdays we alternate, over the course of the season. That means that there is a bus leaving the high school at 2:08 because that bus wants to get out before the regular busses. If it is late, then it is 2:15. By the time we get them down to the pool, it is 2:30, and then we do the dry land and so on. If somebody can’t go home and get back because there is only one parent or the work schedule conflicts, they just come down, and they sit in the balcony, and theydo their homework or whatever. With programs that, because of their difficulty getting pool time, might practice at 7 at night, that is not anybody’s fault. That is the way it is. Immediately, however, that is a handicap to that program when you are trying to get new kids. Having that bus outside of the school and riding down to practice… you got it. So that – if you ever have a choice, my experience is the sooner you can do practice after school, the better it is, and the more kids that you can keep involved. The more support swimming requires from other places, the more likely you are going to lose kids — just because that is the way it is.
You know, it is funny. I have written a lot of notes and I know we are almost at the end. We started a couple of minutes late. Speedos. Don’t boys hate them. You know when we were kids – you young people don’t know – when we went to a YMCA in 1960, we were not allowed to wear a bathing suit in the pool. We swam naked. Did you know that? Did you ever hear that? I don’t even know about women because it was a YMCA, and there were not women swimming naked when I was there. And, you had to shower naked, and you had to do all this kind of stuff. There wouldn’t be anybody swimming anyplace in America today – seriously – there wouldn’t be… and now the Speedo thing has become a thing. I have heard it back and forth in my classroom. When I would say “swimming.” some kid would say; “Oh, you have got to wear those Speedos” It is self-destructive ,you know, so I made a rule a long time ago that you can wear boxer trunks you and stuff like that. I don’t care what you wear. We started buying the jammers and we do buy the jammers. It takes a while to get through that transition. I have a few kids that love the Speedos though. They grew up with those, and they are not going to wear the jammers. We have pictures of people with the jammers on and stuff like that, and that I think is a big boon to swimming. I really do. It is a different society now, and boys are a lot more self-conscious. Probably they always were, but they kind of were used to getting picked on all the time so that really has helped.
I am going to kind of close with a couple of things. One is that I hope you picked up one thing here. I have a presentation this afternoon that will be pretty interesting, and I hope you pick up at least one thing from that also. If you pick up hundreds of things, you are in trouble. If you are very new, you might have picked up more than that, but I hope that you have picked up something that will help you and interest you. A few years ago there was an organization that promoted a lot of different swimming things, and I remember they handed out bumper stickers that said: “Every American – A Swimmer for Life” or something like that. Maybe it was the national pool operators who ran it. When I grew up as a kid, I remember seeing on TV all the time: “You never outgrow your need for milk.” It was run by the Maine Dairy Council, and maybe in other parts of the country, it was run by the Nebraska Dairy Council and the Wisconsin Dairy Council. But whether you needed milk or not, I grew up truly believing that you need milk and I drink quite a bit of milk. I am down to skim milk though. It used to be regular milk, but that now tastes like ice cream. I can drink skim milk and love it, but in my brain, if I don’t drink milk, I am not going to have good bones and stuff like that. Maybe it doesn’t make any difference.
You know, when kids grow up with swimming… imagine this…imagine when swimming season got over or basketball season, you put all those kids in wheel chairs until the beginning of the next basketball season. Other than when they were in the house walking around, they were in wheel chairs. What would that basketball coach have to do when he started his or her season? You know, the hips would be all beat to pieces if you just powered them up and down the courts. They would have to stop. That is what we do with swimmers. We don’t live in Venice, where people swim every place they go. If we did, when they came out for swim team, everybody would be at a pretty good level. It is really, in a sense, pathetic what the quality of the average person in America by 9th grade is and what their ability is. Some of you may not see that. I see it. It is a national disgrace. You are talking about national disgraces. This is one. I would like to see NISCA, ASCA, USA, YMCA’S, the pool companies start something – do it with little 15 second things – to convince people that every American youth must and deserves to know how to swim. What do I call swimming? Not a hundred yards. I call swimming a minimum of 500 yards. They take you out into a pond, and put you in the middle. If you cant get to shore, you are not a swimmer. If you take a basketball player and put him in the middle of the basketball court, he doesn’t die, unless a meteorite comes through the roof. Put a football player in the middle of the football field, same thing. We are the only sport where if you put the person in the middle of the playing field, they could die.
I mean, think how many non-swimmers there are. It is pathetic. We need to engrain in everyone the right of every person to know how to swim. You have all read in the paper: canoe tips over in 7 feet of water and a person drowns. How can that be? How can that be? But I read it in the paper in Maine. We have thousands of lakes in Maine. Thousands, literally. We need to come up with some kind of a campaign slogan, not expensive, but just you drill it. And what really should happen in my mind is that every child should be on a swim team for two years – maybe only three days a week, three one hour practices. In two years, probably everybody could learn to swim 500 yards, and at that point, as part of that campaign, make sure that they know they can continue on with their other stuff. But the parents should feel the obligation to get them to that level. Now, when a young man or a young woman makes a decision whether to be on a swim team or not, they are actually doing it with some level of skill.
If I had one ultimate goal before I go to the big hunting and fishing camp in the sky, that would be the thing that I would like to see: that somehow, with all the other stuff we yack about, that somehow there is a national swimming mission – done simply, but with the combined forces and so on. By the way, if you come back this afternoon, I have got a few more very interesting stories to tell you. I don’t have time to go into any more today. I did have one more, but I can tell you this afternoon. Are there any other questions? Remember, those kids are there. They actually want to be on your team. They don’t know that they want to be on your teams, but all kids want to be involved in something, just like all people want to be involved in something. There are only a few recluse people in the whole world. Most people want to be part of something and if it is not part of something good, it is going to be part of something bad. I thank you very much and have a good day.