The CCYS Globe Miami Piranha Swim Team has many challenges, but finding a great coach is not one of them.
Coach Barry Schwenk, who serves as pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Miami, is in his second year at the helm, bringing a lifetime of community service and talent to his work. Through his eldest daughter Emily’s participation in the Summer Youth Musical Theater Program several years ago, he met Piranhas’ organizer Leslie Parker, whose daughter Ruby was also in SYMTP.
Schwenk was hesitant, however, and put Parker off for two years until he finally accepted the offer.
“Barry really makes what we do as organizers easier,” Parker says. “We can run the behind-the-scenes items and know that the swimmers are receiving the coaching assistance that enables them to be confident and skilled swimmers.”
The team practices every Thursday after Miami’s Hostetler Community Pool opens for the season, which includes six regular meets and a championship contest around the third week of July.
Schwenk comes to a program that has the trials and tribulations of many small nonprofits, but also has challenges related to aging and insufficient facilities.
Since 1987, the CCYS Globe Miami Piranha Swim Team has offered an outlet for local kids to compete in aquatic sports. The program was originally operated out of the Globe Community Center pool, but after its closure in 2014, moved to Hostetler.
While regulation competition pools are 25 yards in length, and deep enough at both ends to do flip-turns, Hostetler is nearly 34 yards long, about 30% longer than its competitive counterpart, and is very shallow at one end.
There have also been a series of maintenance problems affecting the team’s ability to use it. In 2018, the Town of Miami spent about $124,000 for an overhaul of the pool, fixing cracks, replacing the diving board and resurfacing decking.
There were issues threatening the pool’s opening this year and in the days leading up to the Piranhas first meet of the season on June 22, a filter problem threatened to cancel activities.
Despite the problems though, Schwenk is happy with the way things are going. Participation in the program has doubled—from 35 to 70 swimmers—under his coaching.
“It’s been good: All the heavy lifting is done by swim parents, so I have time to invest individually in the kids,” he says. “To coach swimming, which seems like a frivolous way to spend time, is an investment in the lives of these kids.”
Schwenk comes to Globe after spending his life trying to make the world a better place. At age 12, his parents took him on a mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, working with seminomadic tribes to help them adjust to forced relocation.
The family returned to his native Indiana four year later where he stumbled upon swimming.
“It was a big [high school] campus and I kept getting lost trying to find the practice field,” Schwenk says. “I always wound up at the pool and, finally, one of the coaches told me ‘you could just swim,’ so I ended up swimming by accident.”
He competed at a high level and was offered a college scholarship, but passed because it would have slowed down his dream to become a veterinarian.
After graduating from vet school, he took a position as a at Samaritan Veterinary Center in Globe, but the 80-plus-hour workweeks threatened to burn him out. In 2000, Schwenk was ready to head back to Indiana, but a friend set him up on a blind date with his now-wife Colette.
Naturally, they were married within a year and a half.
With the addition of Emily, born in 2004, the family left for missionary work in Ethiopia and Sudan. Much of what the trained veterinarian did there was treat war-related wounds in humans.
The family, which now numbers five with the additions of Jonas, 12, and Simon, 6, returned to Globe four years later.
Both swim parents and their kids love the sophomore Piranhas coach and recognize the challenges he faces.
Samantha Irish, 16, has been a Piranha since age 5. She took a brief respite, but is glad to be back in the water.
“My experience with the Piranhas has been nothing but great,” she says. “Barry has been our coach since last year, and I can already tell that he’s probably the best one that I’ve ever had. He helps me figure out how I can become a better swimmer, and helps anyone who needs it.”
Her mother, Stephanie Irish, echoed those sentiments, but sees limitations with facilities that often thwart the best efforts of everyone involved.
“Barry is consistent, fair and knowledgeable on his teachings,” Stephanie Irish says. “But a lot of teams won’t come to our facilities because they are in such bad shape.”
Both Samantha and Stephanie Irish support community efforts to build a centrally located aquatic center.
“If we were to get a nice Aquatic Center—maybe indoors—then I feel like we could really grow our program into something amazing, with a year-round club team and a good pool location,” Samantha adds.
Schwenk looks at a new pool not as frivolous, but as a way to enhance community self-esteem.
“When you invest in people—such as building a swimming pool—it gives them a sense of pride,” he says. “It might seem like a luxury, but it helps a person’s attitude about themselves.”
Ultimately, though, Schwenk sees coaching as an investment in the future.
“I believe a good coach coaches beyond the game and the mark of a successful coach is a community that wins,” he concludes.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
The CCYS Globe Miami Piranha Swim Team operates on a shoestring budget, but organizers try to make its fees accessible to all in the community, at $55 per child annually.
According to Parker, expenses are directly proportional to the number of kids, i.e. competition swimsuits, T-shirts, swim caps, extra lifeguards and ribbons.
The cost of a season with 60 participants is about $9,000, leaving a deficit of about $6,000 per year.
Operating expenses do not include pool repairs and equipment such as starting blocks, time clocks and kick-boards. United Fund of Globe-Miami has been a critical contributor to the program.
Journalist, writer and editor who has worked for community newspapers for more than 15 years. After four years at Davis-Monthan AFB and a few years living in Tucson, moved to California to find his fortune. He is happy to be back in Arizona, in the mountains he loves.