Tuesday, September 16, 2014



VISD aquatics director starts middle school swim program

By BY JULIE GARCIA - JGARCIA@VICAD.COM
Dec. 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.

Kelyn Windham, 11, left, and Bianca Gutierrez, 11, wait for instruction on the next activity during middle school swim practice Nov. 21 at the VISD Aquatic Center. The new program was created to help strengthen the high school swim teams by starting kids younger.

Debi Mease is looking for athletic kids who haven't found their niche yet and wants to turn them into swimmers.

When numbers in the varsity programs at Victoria East and Victoria West started dropping, the VISD aquatics director decided to drum up interest by starting a new program.

"I'm really working hard on the junior high because that's what brings your program up," Mease said after finishing up a Thursday night practice with 10 middle schoolers. "Swimming will hit some kids that may not want to play football or basketball."

In the last few months, Mease has been working with anywhere from 10 to 30 middle schoolers every Tuesday and Thursday night for an hour. Most of them have swum recreationally but never competed in a meet.

"It's beginning, the very beginning," Mease said. "We're learning to breathe, learning to blow bubbles and breathe."

Valerie Balli wants her daughter, Mikayla Delgado, to be able to join a sports team in high school next school year.

The Cade Middle School eighth-grader has only ever swum recreationally, Balli said. She played softball when she was younger but hasn't participated on a team in a few years.

"I have a friend whose daughter started like this and is now on a swim team," Balli said. "(Mikayla) was a little undecided about it, but she needed to do a physical activity to keep active."

In the few weeks since she has started, Balli has noticed a marked change in her ability.

"She's learned a lot of technique that she didn't know before," she said. "She has finally learned the breathing, which she said was the hardest part."

Mease, who was the head swim coach at Memorial High School and has also coached basketball and volleyball, loves taking on beginners.

"I like to get the basics. I believe in basics in every sport," Mease said. "If they have the basics, they can go on."

Last summer, Mease coached 96 swimmers on the summer league team from the age of 4 to 36. Her preschooler made it to the regional meet.

"I love watching them from the very first day to when they start competing - it's a lot of fun," Mease said. "It's the same even with my varsity; I had one kid as a freshman who was horrible. Now, he's swimming in college."

Over the course of her coaching career, Mease has noticed a downward trend in kids' dedication.

"It's been kind of disappointing because they're not as dedicated as they used to be," she said.

There is hope, though.

"This group (of 10 swimmers) has been coming every Tuesday and Thursday, and they're loving it," she said. "That's really good because we're not doing a whole lot of fun things yet."

There is time for fun every now and then.

"I try to do fun things in between all the practices because I want them to enjoy swimming and like it," Mease said. "I'll do 30 minutes of technique and 30 minutes of we play a game. They don't realize how much swimming they're getting in the game."

Twelve-year-old Anjelica Joy said she enjoyed playing games a few weeks ago at practice.

"It was a lot of fun, and all the coaches were really nice," Anjelica said.

The Cade middle schooler considers swimming a break from her busy schedule of school, tennis, orchestra and riding horses.

"It's been fun, and I've learned a lot, and it's been good exercise," Angelica said. "I'm a very competitive person, and I love swimming and being in the water."

There are four middle schools in Victoria, and Mease hopes to recruit more swimmers in the spring after football and basketball finish up.

"I'm hoping for more because 30 kids sounds like a lot, but it's really not when you divide it by four junior highs," Mease said. "I want to get as many as I can to be in the program."

Angelica's father, Jason Joy, is pleased with the new program geared for his daughter's age group.

"There's no better way to stay in shape," Joy said. "She's learning different strokes and seems to be doing well even though she's never done this before."

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