Beloved coach Kenneth Barsa is hitting the showers after 28 years of motivating young swimmers.

Leaving a long career at poolside


In Anne Arundel County

July 06, 2005|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Kenneth Barsa had just started his teaching career when he heard about an opening for a swimming coach. Looking for income to add to his teacher's salary, Barsa applied for the job at the then-Severna Park YMCA.

He didn't get it. But a year later, the position opened again, and this time he was hired.

And Barsa kept the job, touching the lives of thousands of young swimmers from throughout Anne Arundel County in the process, for 28 years.

Last week he announced that he will retire from the position after leading his youth team through the YMCA National Long Course Championships from July 26-29 at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Barsa's retirement was something that many associated with his teams understood and expected, but it was still a decision that brought plenty of sadness to those associated with his organization, Severna Park Y (SPY) Swimming.

"It's been devastating," said Steve Golden, director of the annual Anne Arundel County Invitational meet being held in Annapolis this weekend and a co-worker with Barsa on a SPY team committee. "There's been a lot of emotion. A lot of kids are really upset [because] he's just meant so much to so many people. ... I think he just needs a break."

Barsa, 54, has coached swimming in addition to being a full-time teacher for 33 years. The Millersville resident works at Park Elementary School in Brooklyn Park as a math and computer research teacher. After he's done with class at 3:30 p.m., Barsa then heads to the Severna Park facilities for about four more hours. It's a schedule he has maintained for about 20 years, he said, with some parts of the year requiring his presence six days a week.

SPY has about 180 swimmers from all around Anne Arundel County. Although Barsa has reduced his hours in recent years, many things still go through him. That's what made the decision to retire so much harder.

"The day was going to have to come," Barsa said. "The parents have been very supportive. You want to start spending more time on weekends at home. Some of these meets take a long time; sometimes you're at the pool for 15 hours."

Barsa needed to do a lot of work to help the SPY Swimming program grow to its present level. The program was offered through the Severna Park YMCA. When that closed 10 years ago, the swimming group kept the name after circumstances helped the club stay alive.

The biggest break came when Woods Church purchased the property after the YMCA closed down. The club was locked out before the sale, and SPY started running a business out of the pool. Barsa's program began doing a variety of things and kept growing.

The club hosts a large swim meet called Winterfest at College Park that brings 1,400 swimmers to the area, and SPY swimmers go to meets along the East Coast during the fall and winter.

Barsa's reputation earned him the leadership of the YMCA Coaches Association on a national level for three years.

But he said he still gets the most pleasure from simply being a coach. His teams were winning dual meets by such large margins that they stopped keeping score about three years ago to get more swimmers into the action.

"It gets some of the slower swimmers in," Barsa said. "Their personal improvement to me is more important than any first-, second-, third- or fourth-place finish."

Barsa understands what young swimmers deal with. He swam as a child, capping his career at St. John's University in New York before coming to Maryland for a teaching job.

Retiring from coaching, Barsa said, will give him more time to follow his beloved New York Giants in the fall. But as much as he'll enjoy such pleasures, Barsa, who is married with one son, acknowledged that leaving this coaching job also will leave a big hole in his life.

"I'm the type of person who can't sit down," Barsa said. "I was torn about the decision. When I'm on deck with the children, there's nothing better. I just love it."

Although the news of his retirement wasn't completely unexpected, it didn't make it easier to deal with for the local swimmers.

"I'm sad about him leaving, because I've known him for a really long time," said Severna Park resident Caroline Burns, 14, a SPY swimmer for eight years. "It's going to affect me a lot. I just don't think SPY will be the same without him." Said Severna Park's Amanda Shields, 15: "He wasn't just a coach; he was our friend."

Kori Golden, 14, of Glen Burnie, expressed feelings that seemed to sum up what many are thinking.

"It seemed like the more we argued, the closer we got," she said of inevitable disagreements between coaches and athletes. "He's like my second dad. We fought a lot, but it's because we really cared. I'm really going to miss him."

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