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Team effort saves a swim season at Gilbert

POSTED March 29, 2013
BY John Nestor
Twitter: @nestorjdn

Gilbert School athletic director Pat Cooke is motivated to help kids achieve as much as they can. He has a like-minded coaching partner in Joe Brady and because of the duo's commitment to student-athletes at the Winsted School, the Yellowjackets had a swim team this winter against all odds.

The Yellowjackets were in a bind and just when it looked like there wouldn't be a season, Cooke stepped out of his comfort zone and Brady back into his to make it happen.

Aside from being the athletic director at Gilbert, Cooke is a science teacher and the varsity baseball coach. As the AD, he had been trying to fill the vacant swim team coaching position for some time and it just never came together. There was interest in the position, but none of the interested parties were totally qualified to take over the program. 

So instead of disbanding the team Cooke took on the role and when Brady heard what Cooke was doing, he decided to dive in as well.

"We just have an excellent group of kids on the swim team, in every way and we wanted to do something to make sure they had a team," Cooke said. "We just have one senior and a lot of potential and it has been a great experience."

And a learning one as well. Cooke's knowledge of swimming was limited but he picked up on it throughout the season. It helped to have Brady, Northwest YMCA instructor Bill Hatfield and former Gilbert coach Harry Dauphinais to help out as well. Brady last coached in 1991 but had been a part of the program as a parent of a swimmer in recent years and Hatfield brought his knowledge as an instructor to the team as well. Cooke said Dauphinais was a valuable resource, sending lesson plans and was very open to Cooke's phone calls and questions.

"It's what we do at Gilbert," Brady said. "If there's a need you step up and fill it."

The committee approach seemed to work well. Cooke has coached baseball for 17 years and the pool isn't a diamond but there are still universal lessons that carry over and Brady enjoyed being back at it.

"The experience really reminded me of all that I loved about it," Brady said. "The kids have been great and it was a lot of fun."

"My main contribution has been the organization, the AD type stuff, the emphasis on the student as an athlete," Cooke said. "I've been able to learn a tremendous amount. I didn't really know how to do a turn, but having Bill and Joe and watching videos, I can stand at the end of a lane and help a student perfect his flip turn now. I won't get into the water and do it though!"

Cooke didn't have to get into the water to have an impact on the team

"I think my biggest contribution was the motivational aspect, trying to keep them focused, trying to keep them on the same page with what an athlete in training is supposed to do as far as a workout schedule, sleep, diet, the same thing I would do for baseball," Cooke said. "Having coached baseball for 17 years, a lot of what I have done carried over to this, just the sport of swimming has a different skill set."

The skill sets for swimmers and baseball players may be different, but the messages Cooke was sending to his swimmers got through and made a difference.

"Honestly, it went better than I ever thought it would go by far, Gilbert senior Ian Ellsworth said. "I feel like coach Cooke is one of the better coaches I have had. Even though he didn't know a lot about swimming at the beginning of the season, he has learned so much and all of his coaching experience in the past has helped as well."

So in the end, the AD with tons of coaching experience in anything but swimming and the former coach lured back to the pool teamed up and made sure the Gilbert Swim team didn't miss a beat, or a season. It's a great story about a small school pulling together even if Cooke deflects any praise or attention.

"It's really about the kids, the story is the great group of kids we have, starting with the upperclassmen and all the way through the team," Cooke said. "It's not about me or the other coaches, it's been a lot of fun, but you really can't be in this if you aren't in it for the kids."

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