I had the pleasure of meeting my school board member, Cynthia Falls, for lunch on Feb 8, 2019, a cold winter day. We got to talk about some of my concerns. Plus, I got a sense from her as to what she has been working on and how we might be able to proceed.
Of course, she asked for a written summary, and I sent it to her a week or so later, on Feb 17, 2019.
Memo from Mark Rauterkus, Swim, SKWIM & Water Polo Coach
With the past ten years of coaching at PPS, I always delivered great results with my programs, but sadly, the district slogan, “Expect Great Things,” is far from the truth when it comes to the treatment of swim programs and pools within PPS.
The PPS board and superintendent, Dr. Hamlet, can sustain swimming's evaporation into nothingness and continue to squander the swim-pool resources throughout the district. Or, together, we can turn the tide and make the existing swim pools inspiring learning laboratories for discovering individual and group excellence.
The hope is to give witness, grow political will and provide district leadership with a vision to enable, dynamic, pool usage that benefits students and community.
These statements concerning PPS swim pools and programs are organized in four parts:
2) Recent past,
3) Present, and
- Recent Past
When I met PPS's Athletic Director, Mike Gavlik, he told me, “Swimming is dying in the city.”
“No. Swimming within PPS was dying because PPS administrators were killing it,” I said.
Swimming in-and-around the city was doing better than ever. Ten years ago, USA Swimming was riding a wave of increased participation thanks in part to Michael Phelps. Locally, Oakland Catholic's super-star, Leah Smith, became an Olympic Champion.
We got Schenley's varsity team into the WPIAL, and the Spartans went undefeated to win a WPIAL Class AA Section Title, the first for any sports team from PPS. Our 27-day Swim & Water Polo program as part of Summer Dreams operated out of five sites and grew to 200+ kids. Incredible results, but a hard slog with hit-and-miss support.
Coach Mark Rauterkus:
- Began swim team with PPS Phillips. Sons swam at Phillips, Frick, Schenley, Obama.
- Schenley HS got city team title and record breakers.
- Served on Mark Roosevelt era Athletic Reform Task Force.
- Authored position paper to Dr. Lane and PPS Board, Fewer Sports Alternatives. Avoided cuts
- First city team in any sport to win a WPIAL section, Obama Boys Varsity Swim Teams
- Coached first city athlete in any sport to get WPIAL gold medal and set a WPIAL record
- Offered 8 years of support with Summer Dreamers with Swim & Water Polo
- Teaches / trains 200+ city kids in swimming each year
- Sent PPS student-athletes to PIAA swim championships every season for 9 years
Horrible experiences with Obama's Principal(s), especially Ms Colbert's treatment of teams and coaches:
Principal's bogus "investigation" in the swim season (First quarter, 2018) never had any report. No findings. No hints of restorative justice. Inaction by school AD, school principal, PPS AD, HR, Vice Superintendents, and Dr. Hamlet who was personally contacted four times.
August 4, 2017, Principal Colbert refused to sign a pool permit for fall water polo. Program costs $0 to PPS. Volunteer coaching. More than 35 students at Obama played water polo in 2016 and wanted to resume activities but could not have a season for no reason. Inaction was resolved, with administration support, on October 25, 2017 - but competitive swim season began the next week.
Upon taking the new role as Principal, Ms. Colbert refused to meet with the swim coach despite weekly requests from the end of May 2017 to mid October. Plenty of issues needed attention.
A problem co-worker coach (C.W.) was elevated to the varsity team, quit on the team, then was to be re-hired for the next year despite a year's worth of documentation and other capable interviewed candidates. Additional documented objections recinded her re-hiring as a varsity coach, but sadly, she was re-positioned to an Obama middle-school role in 2017-18. In 2018-19, she was often absent missing many meets and practices. Documented folly is omitted due to its length.
Coach Rauterkus desired to move from Obama to Brashear, as two new coaches were needed with the Bulls. None applied for the posted positions for the 2018-19 season by July. Brashear's principal didn't grant an interview.
Personal coaching update from Mark Rauterkus:
- Swimming the last two years (2017-18, 2018-19) at The Ellis School and will be the head varsity coach in the 2019-20 season.
- Track & Field and Triathlon, (spring 2019) at Ellis
- Scholastic water polo, Pittsburgh Combined, at South Park, (fall 2018).
- Head Lifeguard / summer coach, The Pittsburgh Project on the Northside
- Executive Director, SKWIM USA, national nonprofit
- Afterschool swim activities at PPS Allegheny, Saturday Swim School. (fall 2018)
- Not coaching in PPS Athletics, still a fan and city resident.
PPS swim update, Mark Rauterkus' view:
Swim pools at Perry and Oliver have been closed from August 2018 to Feb 2019, still.
- No Saturday Swim School at Oliver (fall 2018)
- No Thursday Water Polo at Perry (fall 2018)
No water polo activities are happening at PPS schools (2017-18, 2018-19).
No swimming happened in PPS pools in summers, 2018.
Hopes for aquatics within PPS Community Schools, still just talking stages.
Additional swim teams across PPS have evaporated.
- No Arsenal teams in 2018-19.
- Only 4 PPS teams in Elem Championship Meet in December 2018.
- No Wednesday after-school happened in fall 2018 at Westinghouse High School.
All returning PIAA swimmers on Obama's swim team quit in 2018-19.
Zero Obama swimmers qualified for the 2019 WPIAL meet.
Obama swim team participation in 2018-19 was a fraction of the past.
WPIAL requirements with meet results were never realized in 2018-19 season.
PPS Obama Girls Swim Team suffering 6th consecutive year with another first-year coach in 2018-19.
Principal's grand-father coached the team without necessary certifications, again in 2019.
PPS teacher serving as 2018-19 Obama girls varsity swim coach was (her words) “bullied into the position.”
PPS job posting in January 2019, in third month of season, was seeking head boys swim coach.
Middle school boys coach had fleeting support from middle school girls coach (C.W.) in 2018-19.
Remove swim coaches from the PFT contract. Hire and manage swim coaches similar to the model deployed by PPS with UPMC Sports Medicine for athletic training services, non-negotiated roles beyond the PFT.
Appoint a PPS aquatics director to overhaul aquatics to better deploy the investments of public facilities in afternoons, evenings, nights, weekends, holidays, vacations, professional days and summers.
Begin district-wide supervision, permit approval, hiring, training, guarding, and coordination of swim instructors and community activities in hours beyond the school day at all PPS pools. Expect coaching staff coordination and accountability among elementary, middle-school and high school teams.
Harbor aquatics within the PPS Community Schools (department duties).
Build quality competitions and inspiring training opportunities for students, guardians and citizens such as All-City Sports Camps and Year-Round Achievers (not just Summer Dreamers) with new local-and-global partnerships.
Gear up for football's replacement (due to concussions, an emerging public health crisis) can be water polo, SKWIM and canoe water polo. Update PIAA letters on water polo co-ops among schools as requested, even with bordering districts.
Change PPS intramural policy to permit competitions among students at various schools.
Support athletic coaches with school IDs, email addresses, keys to all facilities, fields, and school door access including keys to: equipment storage spaces, light switches, ice machines, AED equipment, weight rooms, aerobic rooms, and install after-hours buzzers at near by outside doors.
Allow for modest upgrades: sound systems with AUX plugs, internet ports, security bobbers, pool vacuums, electronic timing, ADA accessibility standards. Obama pool is not ADA accessible. Need family changing room on same floor.
Think again about swim meet support with paid announcers, scoreboard operators, timing system operators such as the case with other sports. Give coaches / teams needed tech support with PPS computers, printers. Pay for TeamUnify software for record keeping, as per WPIAL rules.
Presently, PPS has less than 40 true swimmers. PPS could and should have 2,000+ dedicated swimmers. Diversity & Inclusion funding from national sources exists for local students in need. Insurance costs are now down to than $20 per athlete per year with USA Swimming's Flex Membership. Insurance might cost less via American Water Polo.