'Small things with great love'
LIZ PINKEY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWSCoach "Wink" Kovalchick instructs swimmer Anthony Witczak on the finer points of diving.
Ask any coach and they will tell you the success of their team depends not on the individual superstar, but on how well their team can come together and support each other. Good coaches also know that how their athletes conduct themselves off the field is just as important as how they conduct themselves on the field. In this case, however, the field is a swimming pool, but head coach Jennifer Paisley wants to make sure that both of these lessons are an integral part of the training her young swimmers receive.
The Tamaqua Blue Waves have over 90 members this winter season, a number that has been rising steadily over the past few seasons. While fundraising is always a concern for any youth sports team, Paisley doesn't want swimmers to lose sight of how valuable the community's support is and when the chances arose to give back this season, she didn't hesitate to dive right into action.
"Our whole team was just shocked this season when one of our own little swimmers and her family lost everything in a devastating fire," said Paisley. "It just made us realize how close tragedy can be and how unexpectedly your world can be turned upside down." Within two days, Paisley and the Blue Waves Booster Club organized and donated the entire proceeds from their swim meet concession stand and 50/50 drawing to the family. Having only four home meets this season, that was one quarter of the anticipated profits that usually go into the team's fund. Paisley was also gratified by how many team members stepped up to make sure their teammate had her swimsuits and other equipment replaced. "We need to take care of our own and it was overwhelming how many kids offered to turn over their brand-new team bathing suits so that our swimmer wouldn't have to miss a meet or not be dressed in the team suit."
The Blue Waves also organized an open swim night to benefit elementary school teacher Lindsay Rascavage, who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer. "So many of our swimmers have been affected by Mrs. Rascavage's battle, and this was another opportunity for us to show them that we understand that and we want to do something about it," said Paisley. Swim team parents provided a seemingly endless supply of food for the concession stand, and parents and coaches were all on deck throughout the night to assist with the event. "Wow, there are so many people here" was frequently heard throughout the course of the evening. By the end of the night, over $1,100 had been raised for the beloved teacher and her family.
"While swimming is an individual sport, in which a big emphasis is placed on getting YOUR best time and individual performance, the Blue Waves Swim Team also places a big emphasis on building a sense of respect for teammates and our community, " said Colleen Stanek. Stanek has been involved with the team's booster organization since her oldest daughter, Ashley, swam as a young child. At the time, the Tamaqua YMCA sponsored the team. A love of swimming and belonging to a community followed Ashley through her own swimming career and today, she continues to "pay it forward" while coaching the Tamaqua Varsity swim teams. "It is so nice to see the younger swimmers learn the importance of benefiting others and helping the community. I am so proud to be a part of the Blue Waves swim family," said Stanek.
That "family feeling" is another aspect of the sport that Paisley tries to promote, "although sometimes it's like being with your crazy relatives that you can't escape from," she laughs. Paisley and assistant coaches Brandy Hackash and Liz Pinkey have been a part of the Tamaqua youth program since they were young swimmers. Coach Nathaniel "Wink" Kovalchick is a graduate of Tamaqua's Varsity program and swam for the Y team in the summer, too. "We all think it's important to show our swimmers that there is another life outside of the pool," Hackash said. "There needs to be more in your life than just swimming, and sometimes taking care of others is more important than your own needs."
"When we get involved with the community, the community gets involved with us, and we're all better for that," said Kovalchick.
Pinkey, who has been involved as both a swimmer and a coach, off and on for over 37 years, coached both Paisley and Hackash. "To see them grow up to be the fine, caring young women they are now, the moms they are now, the coaches they are now, I know being a part of this team has helped them become those people," she says. "When I look back on my best memories of this team, I don't remember the races we won or the championship titles we earned; I remember the good friends and the good people I've met along the way and I've been privileged to watch so many of them go on to do great things."
The winter swim season will be winding down with the Anthracite Swim League championships to be held on March 29 at the Ned Hampford Natatorium in Pottsville, where the team will have a strong showing across all age groups. Registration for the summer season will be announced on the team's Facebook page: Tamaqua Blue Waves.
"Mother Teresa once said, 'We can do no great things, only small things with great love,'" said Paisley. "I think this is really true about our team. As coaches, we all love what we do here and I think it shows with how our swimmers respond and how they rallied to support our team members and Mrs. Rascavage. When we have that kind of a support system behind us, there really is no limit to what we can do, both individually and as a team."