The Oakland Program: Diversity Personified by Ben Sheppard (2010)


Friends and colleagues, how’s everybody doing? Awesome! Well I’ve actually been asked to talk for a long time, two hours. There’s one hour and then there will be a short break and there’s a second hour, and it has been broken into two separate topics.


The first topic for me is about Oakland, it’s about me and my team and our kids, so that’s what I’m going to start with. The second talk will be more about what I’ve been doing since I joined USA Swimming and some of the more broader issues, nationally. So I’ve tried as much as possible to include some different multimedia to make it a little more interesting and to sort of, bring to life some of what I do and we do, and we’re going to start with this short video, hopefully.


[Video, Cross Talk]


Obviously, there, it shows you a lot. It shows you what we’re about in terms of our values and it shows you who we serve in terms of the multiculturalism.  Now, I’m not going to try to open this here. Where did it go? I’m at a loss here, hold on. Getting there — we’re there.


So this is the name of our team – Oakland Undercurrent. The team name came from a mentor of mine. When I was a student at Cal I was taking some yoga classes, actually, and a woman by the name of Nancy Minges was teaching yoga and her class, she called ‘Undercurrent’ and it really struck me, because it was about what’s beneath the surface, basically. And yoga, obviously, it’s a series of poses but her whole philosophy was that it’s what lies beneath the pose or inside the pose which is really the magic, and I think that’s true with all of us. Let’s go.


I wanted to include this. This is me on my back, if you can see, and that’s my mother who passed away recently. I could swim before I could walk and she is why. And this is a lake outside of Gainesville. She was a competitive swimmer as well in high school. I was born in Gainesville in 1975. I have two sisters. An older sister, Katherine she is 41, Milley is 24, and my brother Chris here is 31.


My mom, named Mary and my father is Joseph. They both wanted me to learn at a young age, and I learned from Harvey Barnett who some of you may know. I actually learned in his backyard pool. He’s sort of, famous for bringing infant swimming into the mainstream and he has patented the infant swim.


So from a very young age I was with some of the pioneers of the sport. As a young kid I started swimming at O’Connell Center in Gainesville. My coaches were Vince and Ants Santostefano who were Assistant Coaches with Randy Reese at the time. From the age of 8 I started going — actually, the first story is the first day I went to swim practice to try it out I was seven-years-old and I got out of the water and I went straight to my mom and I said, “Write the cheque.”


So ever since I was a kid I’ve been in love with the sport, in love with water and, you know, all of these people have influenced me. At 8 I started going to Randy Reese’s swim camp and by 10 I spent 6 weeks in the dorm at the camp. You know, we did 250 sit-ups every night with our crazy Australian dorm monitor at 10 years-old. So I’ve been heavily influenced by some of the greats of the sport. I moved to Boston in 6th grade, and then on to Marshfield, Wisconsin at which point in my freshman year, I made the state championship and got last place.


So I got out of the pool and went to my dad and said, “This is not what I want to do, this is not what I want to be. I need to get somewhere where I can swim, so they sent me to Bolles. Gratefully, my father was a surgeon, so he was able to afford us going to Bolles back when it was about half the price it is now. At that school is where I really kind of, grew from a boy to a young man and I had Coach Troy as a father-figure and a coach from 13 on. The late Larry Shofe as well, and even Martyn Wilby was my Dorm Resident Advisor. So, again, some of these guys, spoke this weekend. These are some of the greats.


After I graduated from Bolles I went to the University of Florida which was kind of, like a childhood dream. You know, I was born in Gainesville, I bled orange-and-blue since I was born, my dad went to the University of Florida, played football there so it was kind of, truly, a dream come true and I actually — this was when you could still live in the athlete dorms, and so I lived in the side of the football stadium in my freshman year which was the same place my dad lived.


So that was kind of, like a dream come true but then when I got there it was a little bit of a nightmare. I swam with Chris Martin and it was a tumultuous year in the program and it was a rough transition for me to have a new coach who didn’t have the same personal stake in me and the same approach to me that I had had in high school, but I was able to swim around some great swimmers including Greg Burgess and Nicole Hazlett who really showed me what it takes to be an Olympic champion.


There’s a kind of, serendipity story that I want to share with you. Our SEC Championships were, the first year, in Auburn and I won’t tell the whole story but openly, there was a fight in the middle of the meet which I was not involved in, but it was right before my 100-breaststroke. And I had never swam a 100-breaststroke at a championship meet either; we just had eleven 400 IM-ers. So they put me in a 100-breast.


First time I qualified 16th in the morning, so I was able to swim at night and the fight broke out and I was on my way to the blocks, and so as you can imagine an 18-year-old — my blood was coursing, I was even more nervous than excited then I am right now and I went up to the blocks and dropped like 1.8 seconds, won the B-final and made my first national cut which I didn’t even realized. The story goes on.


Two weeks later Chris Martin made us all go to Nationals which none of us wanted to go. But we were made to go to Nationals and I didn’t realize that I had made it. It’s my first Nationals in an individual event. Begrudgingly I went and I went-on to qualify for the Olympic Festival, which I didn’t even know was a part of the meet. So I have basically the rest of my life, I have Chris to thank, because he made us go to Nationals which in turn gave me the opportunity to make Olympic Festival. And at this Olympic Festival which was the final and last Olympic Festival, Nort Thorton and Eran Goral, who was his assistant, both had decided to be coaches at this Olympic Festival and they had never done it before. One of them was my coach and he was talking to me about going back to Florida and help in turning Florida around and I told him I wasn’t going to go back. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do and that’s when kind of faith went my way and North recruited me and got me into school.


So he really took a chance on me and, you know, allowed me the opportunity to go to UC Berkeley which is where I studied, Peace and Conflict studies. Basically, I was, like I say here I was overly idealistic. I wanted to make a difference and I did quit swimming but with North’s acceptance and it was back to what I was used to from coaching which is someone to care about you and someone to care of you as a person and not just how fast you go or how many points you can score. And he became and he still is, one of my primary adult mentors.


And Professor Hertz, I put him there because he was at the University, he is still at the University. He’s been there for 40 years and he basically created opportunity where one-third of your course units can be in the field and can be pass and fail. I took full advantage and that’s how I basically launched this team which I’ll tell you a little bit more about.


I started coaching in college and I coached, it’s called ‘The College Prep School.’ So that was literally the name of it, it still is. It’s the most elite academic school, pretty much in the bay area and some people say it stands for ‘Can’t Play Sports.’ But it was my first opportunity and from there I started at a summer program at the resort where a lot of these kids recreated. But again as fate would have it my first week on the job at this resort for the summer job they told me that I had to go to a meeting in Oakland, because this team was picky packed with the team in the Oakland Parks and Rec.


I said, “Okay, I’ll do whatever I am told.” I went to this meeting. I’d never really been in to Oakland at this point. I had to go really in to the depths of Oakland for this meeting at one of the pools and I was supposed to meet a man by the name of Haritha Leme who was the head coach. We’re like three months apart in age. And at that time I think I was 21 or 20, right around that age and when I met him he said he’s a very gentle, kind, sweet, caring person. His mom taught pre-kindergarten for 40 years and he said, “It’s nice to meet you. Sorry to tell you this but we’ve basically made a decision that we’re tired of your team. They’re rich. They have great equipment. They have private lessons, they come down, they kick our butt, they don’t do anything to contribute anything other than take our awards and they don’t even sit with us at the meet.” And that was sort of my wake-up call; that was a slap in the face for me, because that’s not who I am, that’s not who I was raised to be and I really just sort of was very fortunate that he was open to me because I looked him in the eyes and I said, “Well, that’s not the way it’s going to be anymore. I promise and I’ll do everything I can to show you otherwise and we’ll turn this around 180 degrees.”


So he was at a pool called ‘Frame on,’ which is in East Oakland. It’s a very heavily Latino and Hispanic community and also a lot of black Muslims. It’s actually, the seed of the Black Panthers back in the 70s right in this community. I told him I would volunteer. I would bring my kids to his pool. We would become a team. And so that first summer I started morning practice, because I had afternoon practice where I had to get paid at the other pool. So I started morning practice at their pool. I rode my bike there everyday for the whole summer and, you know, sometimes we’d have as few as five kids, but slowly but surely they realized that, this was going to be a different experience. By the end of the summer we were having Friday potlucks where we all came together.


Again kind of a motivational — I didn’t know that any of these was going to end up being my life at all. I was in college. I was just taking a job for the summer but slowly it started to occur to me that this was really fun and this is really awesome. And it’s bringing together a lot of my interests and talents and it was in Oakland Hills Tennis Club, it was the other tennis club were the reigning champs nine years straight. They had coaches who swam at Stanford. They had, all the best suits. They had swim lessons all winter. You know just the traditional sort of country club swim team.


Again they came down off the hill in to the flat lands and kicked everybody’s butts and Frame on was either fifth or sixth out of six every year. Another team in West Oakland was, we always traded last. So I sort of after doing that for the summer I realized, “Hey, I want us to actually — now that I’ve kind of figured out what this game’s about I want to figure out how we can beat this guys.” So right then we all started envisioning what can we do and we knew right away we had to swim all year or at least more than eight weeks a year.


So that was sort of the inspiration. It was like, “Here are these kids. They love the summer of swimming. They haven’t really been exposed to high level swimming so we’re going to start year round.” So I figured I’ll just go to the Park and Rec, they got the pool. I’ll just tell them that we are going to coach and it will be easy. But the very meeting I had with the Park and Red deck director, he told me, “Those people don’t swim.” And I was thinking, “What people? You mean the people in the pool?” That’s exactly, what I told him. I said, “Have you been to the pool?” And that’s what they do at the pool.


But it’s an easy answer for a politician and I think it’s a pretty typical attitude of a lot of people when it comes to, you know, swimming in the inner city. Whether it’s a myth or just an excuse or all of the above, it doesn’t matter. It even further strengthen my resolve to figure out a way to make this work. The whole year went by and we couldn’t get into the pool and I had school and, I had a lot of stuff to do. So we did the next summer and by that time I realized no matter what I had to start swimming in the fall. So I had five kids, five high schoolers that I asked to come, start at lap swim and we go to the adult lap swim, and we knew the lifeguards so we got in for free and we take one of the lanes. And my whole thing was if you act like adults and swim more than all the adults then you’ll be allowed to stay.


So we did a whole year where I volunteered. I even went and picked them up, and dropped them off with my friend’s truck and we swam all year in lap swim. We didn’t join USA Swimming. We didn’t do any meets but the whole plan was to come back the next summer and kind of shock Oakland Hills and we did. Slowly but surely we became better and better and more swimmers started to join us and we ultimately won the City Championships three years in a row.


But right before that happened, there was a high school, McClymonds High School which is 95% African-American in west Oakland. It’s where Bill Russell actually went to school, the great Bill Russell. They were redoing a pool, Korax had built a pool for them, years ago and it was left in total disrepair. Kids drowned, people broke stuff off their diving boards so they shut it down for a while but then there was, you know, bond money that suppose to be spent so they fixed the pool. They didn’t have any plans for programming and I found that out and I knew that if I went to the city or to the school district that they wouldn’t probably let me swim because they would, I don’t know what, they were reluctant to help. Those people don’t swim.


So I went to the principal and made a deal with her that I would teach her kids for free if we could use her pool for free and that’s where we got our start. We had a six lane pool, in the diving well and we had — I mean it is in the most decayed area of Oakland. And a lot of the kids from the resort where I was working started there and ultimately left because they weren’t comfortable driving down there. But again, we slowly built our program and at that time I became OPR aquatics director too. I don’t know how but I got hired as the director of aquatics at about 24. Harry Edwards, who was a famous sociologist, still is a famous sociologist who was part of the ’68 Olympics I guess or ’72 Olympics. I think it was the ’68 Olympics where it took Tommy — ’68 where the guys, won gold and bronze and they did the salute.


Well that was Harry Edwards. He was my boss and we did not get along strangely enough, because I had already started my non-profit actually and he saw that as duplicity of roles and he was really trying to get the money. He was a politician at that point and Jerry Brown was his Mayor and they were good friends. So ultimately by the end of the first summer during that job we agreed to disagree and I was asked to resign by Harry Edwards or give up my non profit. And I decided to stick with the non profit, because that way I could coach and it was a better job.


I was distraught when he asked me that and the next day I was kind of talking to my father actually crying on the phone thinking that I had kind of failed at my first real job and Nort beeped in. He called on ‘call waiting,’ Nort Thorten and I hadn’t spoken to him in probably over a year and he said, “We need a grad assistant. I know you’re busy. Would you be willing to come?” So I thought, “This is cool.” So I went straightaway to start with Nort, and Nort and Mike taught me so much and I was able to do my team and do the Cal team at the same time and I did that for four years.


In the meantime one of our coaches now, his name is Rolandas Gimbutis came from Lithuania and he swam with us at our pool in west Oakland for two years while I helped him get his SATs scores up and he got in to Cal. And he swam with Dominique Cathy and both Rolandas and Dominique are now coaches for us which is an awesome part of the story. But Dominique was one of the first five at the rec swim and he is an incredible person. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about him as time goes on because he is an incredible coach as well.


He was our first sort of example. He’s African – American, oldest of seven boys and openly gay. He was the first sort of shining example and knowledge of these people swim but we can kick your butt probably if we work hard enough. He became obviously the Oakland Parker Rack champion. He became a North Coast which is our high school section. He became the champion. This is the same section as Natalie Coughlin and Matt Biondi and Ben Wildman-Tobriner, I mean it’s a big deal to win that meet.


He’s a far western champion which for us was — he really was a pioneer for us and like I said he was the first black and the first openly gay swimmer on the Cal team and he went swimming all four years. He got two degrees in African-American studies and Social Welfare and now he works with us and with [indiscernible] [00:21:23]. He actually spends the night, three nights a week with group home and monitors these kids.


Strangely in 2006, I’ll start with Alex. In 2000 Alex Silver who is one of the fellows this year and he also coached with us for a few years. He came to me and said, “I want to go to Olympic trials.” He was out of college. He was from Santa Rosa but he was living in Berkeley. He said, “I want to train with you and I want to go to 2000 Olympic trials,” and so we had to — that’s when we officially had to become a USA swim team, because we had to have a charter.


So we became a USA swim team and Olympic Trials was actually our first meet where Undercurrents was ever sort of represented. So that’s kind of a cool — we thought that was kind of cool. We didn’t develop him obviously, but he did go one best time and it was here 10 years ago which is kind of cool too.


2006, again I don’t know how all of these stuff keeps happening. But in 2006, FINA called me; Dale Neuburger called me.  And I said, “What is FINA?” I kind of didn’t even realize what FINA was and he said, “I have these Algerians. They want to come to Oakland and train with you.” I said, “What are you talking about?” So he literally came to my house, the vice president of FINA came to my house in Oakland, sat down with me for a couple of hours. We drove around and saw the pools and two weeks later there were six Algerian national team members in Auckland.


They didn’t know — they just thought they were coming to sunny California. I won’t dwell on that part of the story but it did give me another great experience just in terms of working with different cultures, working with elite level athletes and again helping to expose our kids to the best of the best. I mean we did, I did get to travel as the Algerian national team coach to China in 2006 and then, when we got home they decided that they were tired of having their bikes stolen and they left, true story.


Moving on, the first real, I am kind of tracking back here a little bit, but I wanted to just tell you a little bit of my story and our team story of how we came about. The first real break for me and for us was when someone who’s much smarter than me, an attorney filled out a grant application for the Oakland fund for children and youth. The City of Oakland is required to give 3% of their budget to children’s grants. So they gave us enough money, $25,000 to have three eight week sessions of swim lessons and we only had to charge a $5 USA Swimming outreach membership fee.


In the middle of the second session the heater broke and we had over a 100 kids in our program which for us was a lot at that time. So I went to the principal and said, “The heater is broke.” She said, “You got to talk to the school district.” When I went to the school district and they said, “Well, we didn’t even know you were in this pool and we are not fixing it.” And we had been there for almost four years by that point.


But luckily I had always known that if we really wanted to take off, Bill Jull who is the coach at Fords when he was at USC he pulled me aside and told me that if you want to have a great swim team you have to have Cadillac and he was referring to the pool. So you want to have the best pool you can have to have the best team you can have. Obviously we didn’t care what water we had, but I had always kept that mind and as a community college in town where we now are, Laney College. It has a beautiful eight lane pool as well, as a three lane pool centrally located, clean, perfect place.


So I had been calling them for about a year about ever two weeks trying to get hold of the president and finally, strangely just as the pool closed again serendipity or the Undercurrent or whatever you want to call it, when the pool closed they had changed presidents. So the president was a interim president and she was Africa-America female and she was very sympathetic and she answered phone, she was not even enough to still answered her phone calls and I said, we got these program, we have to finish, can we have a pilot opportunity here just for the summer, just to complete our city.


We now are mandated by the city to complete these grant. You got to help us, I know you have, I knew exactly what pools time was available. I said you got to allow us to use this pool time and if it works, we can maybe stay. So she lets in and then, she left and then new president came in and as far as he was concern we were institutional already as he knew no better and we didn’t tell him.


But you know as you can see the theme here is however it works, you know, just make it work. This first grant really opened up my eyes and opened up our eyes to this possibility of funding this new world of funding as I’m calling it where we can actually, people just give us money to do, I mean not loads of money but $25000 is lot of money to be given to, offer these programs for kids and it made me realize that specially in the bay area there is a strong support network available, if you’re willing to put in effort and do a good job and by that point we had a track record, you know, Dominic was in a Cal.


So we had to shown that our best swimmer can not only win but he can get admitted to these great universities. So, we had a product of what it is that we do and that’s also right at the time that Michael Jordan resign and something that he said that always stuck with me was, if you develop your product you will make lots of money and to him his product was his gain.


So that was our focus was to develop our program and develop the kids and just know that product would be what would attract the money instead of going the other way around looking for money before we did our program. So this point we had a establish program and there is youths sports, its call “Team Up for Youth Sports” give us a grant to hire the administrator which was brilliant and we still have five years later and she does, she was a fund raising professional as well as a book keeper, she would starting writing grants for us and we got money from Warren Wilson who bought and sold Thomas Brothers Map Company and he grew up in West Oakland Rick Cronk who played water pool at Cal, he is still one of our biggest donors and he is one of Cal’s biggest donors and he bought dryers in 1979 and sold it to Nestle, maybe five years ago for about half a billion dollars. And he is actually the international scout’s president right now.  So he is a very youth oriented giving person.


The Olympic Club which is sort of San Francisco’s version of the New York Athletic Club—it’s a very old, I think its maybe the first pool in San Francisco back in like 1890 something. It’s a lot of old money and you know, lot of young lawyers and people who swan at Allen Stanford and they give us grants as well as specific swimming — when we started we, — when we finally became a chartered team we ask specific swimming for money and they had no, I’m really proud of this actually they had no mechanism for giving away money but they had, their very large, very successful LSC they had lot, they had and still have lot of money in the bank and I was thinking, “$500,000 could do so much for us” and they were willing for several years to give $1,000 and now the LSC which I will talk about more latter but the LSC actually gives away up to $25,000 a year to multiple programs.


So it’s now become a grant program that it’s growing and they are lots of team now trying to do what we have been doing, lets go here. The structure of the program as it is now we have a swim school which again I credit my brother for this, you know, he got back into the sports about five years ago and started a swim school and in end of the year you had like seven hundred people I thought, “man I have been doing this for ten years and I’m still around hundred people” so I started a swim school and it’s the, it exploded


We had over five hundred people at this summer and that’s just in about two hours a day. So, it’s action packed and it’s really as I look back on the last ten years it’s only the key to everything if you are going to diversities to teach you how to swim. Because I have talked to other coaches, they say, well you know, there is lot of diver’s kids in my community where my pool is and none of them join my team. And I’m saying, “Do they know how to swim?” Probably not, well whose going to teach them? You have to teach them.


So that’s kind of, what’s now a programs taken off now because we started a swim school which is where everybody needed and it also helps funds our programs and since the swim school has been around for about two years now, three years now we’ve had to create whole bunch of bridge programs for kids who know how to swim already, but not ready for the swim teams so we have a bronze, silver and gold groups that are basically forty five minutes a day for kids who know how to swim, but are not really on a team. And if they wanted to be on the team but they are not ready we call a team, but it’s the bridge, the bridge program and then we have a about a 120-150 kids depending upon the season and our competitive team and then, even this season we started a fitness group because we realize there’s a lot of teenager who want to swim three times a week but don’t really care about competing and they just like social atmosphere as well as some of the exercise and next year we are looking to masters. So we just try to keep growing just like every other team except we are a little different, let me see if these works here.



It’s cut short but it goes on and on so we had to stop somewhere. This just gives you a little idea of some of the people that are affiliated; some of the great parents and grandparents and kids. So I just wanted to throw this in there.


Oops, what happened? Go back; there. This, you know, build-promote-achieve, you know, the three core objectives of USA Swimming, I’ve really leaned on that. It’s a pretty awesome mission, you know, it’s a pretty awesome mantra if in your program. You obviously want to build your base of people, you want to grow and you want to… like I said, we started our swim school on that note and we have, you know, over 500 people so far this year and that’s the building piece. And the ‘promote’ piece has been really important for us not only to grow our program but also, because we rely so heavily on donations and support from others that, you know, you’ve got to market your program and you’ve got to… we’ve done a lot of these different types of video things and I’ve always worked to try to do these video pieces because that is the world we live in and it is a great way… you guys, I could sit here for three hours and you would not know as much as you did just by watching the two videos I’ve shown you. I have one more here, it’s just about 30 seconds. I want to show you. Hopefully this works again.



But just things like that can really, you know, obviously I have a friend who’s really good at videos so that helps too. But when you show that to a funder, I mean, they can’t help but feel connected, you know, and then this kid was our first national qualifier, you know, and he is…and we’ve had like 10 all stars in the last few years and, you know, all of them minorities, all of them on outreach. So it really, I think it really does prove that those people do swim. You know those people as all of us really and you can swim as fast as you want no matter who you are. And I think that’s what Shawn said in the very first talk I was listening to him he was just, “Swimmers are made, not born” and I think that no more is that evident in our program. You know my final piece here is that…what did coach Troy say; he tries to have a gigantic world for his team and his kids. And I think that’s, that it gives me goose bumps even just saying it because that’s exactly what kids need, it’s what people need is just a limitless mind in terms of what’s possible. And I think so many of our kids don’t have that, you know, ‘not our kids’ meaning me and my team but just our kids meaning all of our kids and now I’m going to cry. I’m like getting a little emotional here but it’s why we do what we do, you know, and it’s really…we don’t raise kids for a living. It’s not what we do, you know. I heard someone saying that and it really hit me. I was like, “We all just raise kids for a living.” No, we don’t. We really help to open up their minds to what’s possible and give them the tools to go wherever they want to go, to fly basically. And, you know, our team’s mantra is, ‘Baby Steps to Big Dreams,’ and you have to have both. You have to have a big dream. I mean for me to even think that I’m here. I work for USA Swimming and I work for USA Swimming to help promote diversity and I have a club with, you know, 600 to 700 people a year and I have kids and parents like that. I never would have actually thought, I mean I dreamt it but I never…I still can’t kind of. It’s like, “Pinch me.” I can’t believe and here I am even though there are only 12 people here. You know I’ve been asked to share and it’s like, it’s really validating for my team and, you know, I can only hope that at 34, but I get to do this for 34 more years. And who knows what’s possible. I truly believe that we can change the world and swimming is just what we do. But don’t think that limits you either because if you work with children your impact in the world is limitless. And their impact in the world can be limitless. You can all think of kids that either were on your team or kids that you grew up with that have gone on to do all sorts of amazing things and without the swim team or the swim coach they may have never had that chance. So I think that’s it.  So if you have any questions or anything like that.


[inaudible question from audience]


[Sheppard]: Obviously when we started nobody paid anything and I didn’t make anything. I didn’t tell the part about having to live in my van. I’ll just leave it at that. I was a motivational speaker down by the river. Just kidding, it’s the bay. But now we charge…I mean that opens the whole can of worms which interesting because as we’ve gone on through this the immediate goal was to serve the unserved so to speak. As I’ve gone on I’ve realized how hard that is to do. You know u can’t just do everything for free. It doesn’t work unless you’re rich, infinitely rich. So as our programs become more well known we’ve attracted a lot broader range of socio-economic, you know, about the grandmother, her two daughters that she spoke about are both doctors. So it’s a cultural diversity as well a socio-economic diversity and they don’t always go together. A lot of times people hear diversity they think, “Wow! Can we afford that?” Well that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about giving something away and we do make everybody pay something except for a very select few which is what we call our Leadership Academy. I’ll just do our whole fee structure. Our swim school is $50 for 10 lessons, that’s five bucks a lesson. But if you do enough of those you’re actually making money. I mean if you are doing four to one you’re still making money. So that’s how we do our swim school and if you pay for like three sessions you get like $10 off so that kind of helps us. Our bridge programs go to $55 and they go five days a week all month. Obviously they don’t come everyday but, you know, they might be up to 20 kids in a group. So again that’s still profitable even at $55 which is really cheap for something that’s available everyday. At least in our area that’s pretty cheap.  We go up about $5 a group, 60, 65, 70 but then we have financial aid forms which are always at registration. They are always front and center and if you need help it’s there. You don’t have to go searching for it and you can fill out your form and we don’t give anybody 100%, the most we give is 75%. We probably give between 30 and 40% of our people some form of support, whether it’s 25% or 50% or 75% it varies. This year is the first year because everybody is in a money crunch. This is the first year where we’re actually requiring, what do you call it, your pay stub. You have to have some proof that you are telling us the truth, that you really need help because I do think still some people take advantage of that. But we are there to help and we try to do as much as we can but we are a business too and we have to be solvent and we want to last forever. We don’t want to just come and go on a few grants. So that’s basically our fee structure. We do have a Leadership Academy. If you’ve been around because as you go up the ranks, as you know it just gets more and more expensive. Not just the monthly fees but, you know, you’re paying the coach three hours a day, six days a week minimum plus you got to travel to meets plus all the meet entries and you need them to go to all of the meets plus hotel and plus, you know, the stuff that some people spent is more than some people make. So we’ve created what we call our Leadership Academy and you basically have to be at a high level of swimming and at a high level of a person and you have to be a leader. You have to be an exemplary model person or a team. It varies; we’ve had as many as like 18 and as few as six. And we get grants specifically for that portion. I will tell a short story about two of our girls. The one you saw talk about falling in the water, she was a Junior Olympic champion at 12. She was in the nationally ranked, top 10 in the nation. 27 flat 50 yards butterfly at 12 years old and she made the All Star team with another friend and they went…Veronica was there at the All Star Meet and they went to Oregon. It was their first reward, you know, for being able to be a great swimmer and they got to leave home and get stuff. Well they went there and long story short they had a room mate who had no exposure to black people other than TV and they were racist. 12 year old girls can be real catty anyway and they took it to a new extreme and these girls called home crying and in tears. And one quit a year later, you know, she was also a nationally ranked swimmer. I don’t say that’s why but I know that it didn’t help. So the point is that these are the type of kids that we want to keep in the sport and our Leadership Academy was designed to sort of enhance everything else we’re doing. And we’ve got some people…a woman by the name of Missy Park; she owns Title 9 sports which is a sports apparel company for women. There’s a store in Coral Springs. There are a few store fronts but it’s mostly male order so if you are a woman they have the best sports bras in the world for all shapes and sizes. They have a bra genie. My point is support this company if you can because they are really innovative and they, not only in terms of their what they’re trying to do in the market but she gives us annual grants for the girls, for these girls. She heard the story and was like, “No, let’s send them to like 20 meets so if they’re kicking girls butts so that when they go to these meets, not only can they withstand that they’ve have the exposure and experience of being out on the road and being around ignorant people and they’re also better off as swimmers. We’re going to launch them into the atmosphere”. It was that kind of thought. So we do have people that help us with that. And like for example, Jenasa, who you saw there she doesn’t pay at all. And her mom…she has two cousins in the NFL and she’s never met them but they’re really closely related cousins. So their agent this year has agreed to pay all her fees and travel fees. So we still have to pay. I mean even if they don’t pay we have to pay. So we just try to find creative ways and that’s what a non profit is for, you know, that’s why it is what it is. So we wish we could do it even cheaper. Any other questions?


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Sheppard]: No. We’ve had a mix, you know. We try to keep the parents as volunteers just for the day to day, you know. We do have…the one mother you saw there she was a board member and now we pay her because she did so much. So she is not a volunteer board member. We have a couple of master swimmers. One of my first bosses at that resort that I was talking about, he is our Vice President. He swam at UC Santa Barbara. He was a swim coach for years but he is not a parent. We have another woman, African-American female who’s an accountant and she does our books. She is new to our board. She has no affiliation with the kids. Me, the Executive Director is my title and Dominique Cathy who is one of the coaches, he is on the board. You have to have a majority over non-paid so we make sure we have that but I think there’s only one parent on our board out of seven.


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Sheppard]: It varies, you know, to be honest. We try to not burn in volunteers that too much work so they are mainly there to be sure we’re doing everything right in terms of forms with the government and taxes, keeping up501C3 status. Just making sure that we’re legal with all our books and everything’s straight but they don’t necessarily do anything in terms of managing the programs. They just help the backbone, the behind the scenes. Yes, Tom.


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Sheppard]: More boring, sorry. You know, you got to do what you got to do and I’m fortunate to have a great staff. I mean I didn’t get into swimming to promote diversity. I didn’t get into coaching to become an administrator. But it ends up, you know; take your path as it comes. And I’m blessed to still be able to live in Oakland and be involved with the program, you know, because that’s my first love and I do coach when I’m in town but now instead of coaching the top kids in terms of everyday all season, I work with those little guys you saw, those are the kids that I coach. And then that way it’s a little easier to come in and out because they do as well. And there are other coaches there that are working with them on a consistent basis. I try to be at the pool everyday I am in Oakland at the pool, you know, as long as I don’t have really pressing work to get done. But there have been times when I don’t even; I can’t make it to practice. But that’s the way it goes and again I have great coaches. All three of them…my other coaches swam at Cal, graduated from Cal and two of them swam in my program before getting into Cal. So they not only know what they’re talking about but they know what we’re dealing with and they’re of us. So we’re in a really special place. We just need more money.


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Sheppard]: Yeah. First of all, you know, and that’s one thing I think is unique about what I’ve been a part of. I went in there. I didn’t ask them to come to me. So it’s kind of a different angle. You know, I went into the heart of east Oakland, to the pool, I rode my bike, you know, there. So I went to their pool and, you know, in Oakland for years the two pools with the most visits per year are the two in the most low income, you know, heavily minority areas. They just weren’t learning how to swim properly. But they were going to the pool. So basically I just instituted education, you know, and information and that was really what I did. And still to this day word of mouth is the primary but Chris was raising the same, my brother because he can remember a day when we were there and I put chop flowers in Chinese. I put them in Spanish. I’ll take him straight to the schools. I’ll take him to the neighborhood, you know, churches and after school groups, you know, that’s what I do. And someone’s telling me to move to Yuma, Arizona and its like, you know, 40-50% Hispanic. “What do I do?” I said, “We’ll start with giving someone who speaks Spanish to be with you all the time, to be at registration and to translate your flyer for example.” Because I mean literally if your first generation American, your parent probably speaks Spanish at home or speaks Chinese at home or speaks Vietnamese or all the 37 languages we have. But the main ones are obviously Mandarin, Cantonese and Spanish and so we translate into those. We’re in Chinatown actually. So we’re 30% African-American, 30%…and when I say these categories, it’s not really even a category because there is Oakland is bit of melting pot because you have a guy who’s half Japanese and half German married to African-American. You have a Salvadoran married to an Iranian. It’s a melting pot but we’re about 30-30-30, you know, African-American, Asian and Hispanic Latino and less than 10% is Caucasian.


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Sheppard]: Neither. I think that’s not quite true but I think if you have parents who you absolutely trust and have your best interest and the team’s best interest and have the skills. But the most important thing for me when you’re starting a non profit, especially these days because it’s more and more strict in terms of getting your non profit status and maintaining it is that you need an attorney. Some people say you don’t but I did, I do, you know. I had a friend who graduated from Georgetown Law and he was young. He’s not affiliated anymore but he did all the paperwork and made sure everything was set up properly. Again it just depends on your skill set and who you have around you. But the bottom line is, you know, make it happen. However you got to make it happen. I mean if you have to use parents, that’s fine but if you know other people that’s great too. If you can do it yourself I guess that’s great. But you’re ultimately going to need people on your board and you’re going to need people to help you. And the more of that, that you don’t have to do the better.


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Sheppard]: Right. Yeah, I’ve heard all those horror stories from all over and not to interrupt you. Also we could talk as much as you want, you know, after this in the future but I’ve heard those horror stories the whole time when I was building my team and so I’ve really made a conscious effort do not have it be a parent run team. And I tried I don’t have mandatory volunteer hours unless you’re at a meet, you have to time. I tried to…that’s why I had two administrators on staff even though they’re part time. I try to pay people to do the stuff so that you are not beholding to some parent’s wishes and whims. You’re there to serve them and you want to have great customer services and they’re your clients but you don’t want to be attached. I don’t think…because they could go. There’s a theme in town that I have been doing some consulting with that has parents who’ve hadn’t had a [indiscernible] [00:57:59] team for six years and they’re still on the board and they’re pains in the butts. I’m like, “That is not what I want to be.” I don’t think anybody wants to be there. So you want to avoid that. Yes.


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Sheppard]: Yeah. I think in 10 years we could have like 10,000 kids. So I think we’re finally at a place now where we know our model. We know what our model is. We know what we’re doing. We know how to do it. The structure, the curriculum, the staff, we’re in a really good place now. And we wanted to do all that at one place before we try to expand because we felt like we could really build the integrity that way. And there are other pools and there is other opportunity in Oakland. I mean in a two mile radius of my pool there are I think 48000 k through three kids. They go to school there, two mile radius. There are half a million people in Oakland and it’s only 10 miles long. So anybody can get to a pool like that and there’s barred and there’s bus. It’s a really unique place. I just, you know, it’s a matter of scaling it and growing at a proper rate.


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Sheppard]: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah, can’t do anything about that. Nothing I’ve found. I’d try to employ them, you know, lot of my kids they say, “I got to quit. I got to get a job.” I said, “Let’s go. Let’s get you trained. Get your lifeguard.” I mean the city of Oakland pools has 100 employees, I’d say 75 of them came through my program now 10 years later. So even if they don’t work for me they’re making 30 hours a week at $13 an hour at 16 years old and they’re literally a contributing member of their household. And I get a lot of that and I lose a lot of teenagers. It’s part of why we create the Leadership Academy. It’s part of why we started the swim school and this is just an effort to at least retain them within the scope of what we do even if they’re not on a competitive swimming track. And that’s just reality for some people. That’s a good thing. Yeah, do you have a question, Chris?


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Sheppard]: We’d still try to keep it a little mixed. But unfortunately the point that he brought up is that people who we serve they are the most in need don’t really have time. Single parents, two jobs, running the kids around they’re awesome parents but just don’t have time. So we try to get people who have time and we have yet to really crack the getting rich people, people who are connected to rich people on our board, you know, we’d like to but we’re not going to compromise that just to get somebody. You know compromise having a nice working board just to get somebody. And a lot of times… we’ve made an advisory board as well actually where if I just ask…some people are on it, they forgot they’re even on it. But I’ve asked them if they’re willing to be on it and they say yes so I put them on it and a lot of those names I said – Rick Kronk and Warren Wilson, they’re on my advisory board. Steve Haufler is on my advisory board. Nort. So people that can at least… they’re not on my board but they’re connected. They still have a lot of connections.




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