Category Archives for Smart & Swift

Frustration on Friday at 4 pm — and Summer Dreamers starts on Monday. The contract changes are explained.

Yesterday was a bad day for me because I lost my cool waging an administrative battle with some with Pittsburgh Public Schools. I was frustrated. I think a solution that includes a down-sizing has been found. We’ll see what the first day and week of camp brings.

Sadly, the contract for Swim & Water Polo with the Pittsburgh Public Schools / APOST and the nonprofit, BGC is in going to change. There are more than a dozen kids who expect to be in water polo next week, and they’ll be denied. Ugh.

Providing opportunities and access to aquatics for our city kids is central to my being. The outcome in this latest challenge, still to be formalized with an adjusted deal, is not what is desired: FEWER kids in our program. So, I’m disappointed. I’ll explain what’s what in this posting.

I am sticking to my original thoughts and will not compromise. Let’s not threaten the program’s principles in terms of:

  1. Safety, nor,
  2. Learning advancement, nor,
  3. Game integrity.

The spirit of cooperation and my relationship with PPS and PPS Summer Dreamers is something I take seriously. I have never broken a deal. Generally, I’m wrongly blamed for recruiting extra students into Swim & Water Polo. In the past, we often open up more spots for kids who want to join us. I have expressed a desire to grow participation in Swim & Water Polo, past 190 students at our peak enrollment in the past, to more than 1,000. So, turning away kids is against my personal constitution.

I have a plan for coaching 90 kids at the Northside site and I’m happy and excited to do so. But, how those kids are managed needs to be with best practices and in a way I dictate. We want to energize the kids in water polo — not ring-around-the-rosy games. The squad structure and matrix of the Swim & Water Polo activities are keys to our mission and success.

Summary: I want 15 or 16 kids in a squad. I want to manage three squads each with 16 kids. Meanwhile, the on-site order was to do two squads of 25 kids. Hold everything! Someone at PPS feels the best I can do with my program is to have two squads each with 25 kids. I won’t do that, and that’s what I made clear in a not-so-elegant manner on Friday.

Very best solution — three groups and use of all the local pools

The ultimate solution, to get a program that sets the world on fire, is to have three squads of 15 to 17 kids. Two of the squads would swim each day, in shifts / stations at the indoor PPS swim pool at Allegheny Middle School and the THIRD squad would go off campus to the Northside’s Citipark Swim Pool called Sue Murray. They would hike over and swim there from 1 to 3 pm.

Sue Murray Pool from past

At the Citiparks Pool, we’d have some skills to work upon. But it would be a time to also play games with some other kids, playing well with others. And, a time to get outdoors. We have had a great history of swimming outside with Swim & Water Polo in the past years. Never a problem. Always rewarding. And, when we can work indoors for a majority of the time, going outdoors is a great camp experience in terms of variety.

The city kids should be able to use the city parks and city pools — and they have been welcome. We need PPS to allow this to happen again, as it worked in the past without problems.

Two adults and a captain helper can easily manage 15 kids in a well supervised walk and swim. Even if this happened 1 day a week, it would do wonders. To keep it simple, let’s take one squad every day so every kid gets to go outdoor swimming once every third day — if they know how to act accordingly, of course.

If denied regular outdoors swimming — then let’s have three squads rotate in stations and swim indoors

We can live with less regular field trips and swim a super-majority of the time indoors with three squads in three stations. Begging for less than ideal is a buzz kill.


Swim & Water Polo operates as an “activity provider” in a sub-contract with APOST and PPS. APOST is part of the after-school wing of the United Way. APOST is a meta-organization for doing some administrative duties with PPS. APOST helps, especially, with finance and cash-flow issues for the activity providers.

This 2017 Swim & Water Polo contract had assigned 90 students with 50 at Northside’s King and 30 at U-Prep in the Hill District. There isn’t any issue at U-Prep as we have 30 kids total, that is of course, two squads of 15 students in each squad.

Supervision isn’t an issue.

Plenty of swim instructors, coaches and lifeguards are ready to work. For the Northside site, PPS provides some teachers and camp coordinators to help.  On paper, now, the ratio is 4:1 camper:adult. At King, we were to have six PPS teachers, two lifeguards, three teen captains, and one and a half experienced coaches. I’m counting myself as half as I’ll be either at King or at U-Prep depending upon activities. Plus, we were promised five Learn-and-Earn helpers, but seem to be expecting three. Let’s not even count those folks.

Fit, Fitness, and pitching the numbers.

The 50 kids at King are to swim at the pool at Allegheny Middle School, an easy three-block walk. The pool is 4 lanes wide with a shallow and deep end. One important limitation is water space in the shallow end with third-grade kids. None of the kids are expected to know how to swim on the first day. Less than 10% will be able to swim in the deep water as we begin. In past years, Swim & Water Polo had far more of middle school kids in higher grades. This year, in 2017, all the assigned students are 3rd graders. If we had a mix of students from various grades, some would be older, taller, and able to stand in deeper water. Last year, 2016, allowed for different squad sizes because many of the kids had been in Swim & Water Polo in in prior years (2015 & 2014). There were already good swimmers and older kids in the camp. And, the pool, Brashear High School, was a bigger, 6-lane pool. We could play two games at the same time. In 2017, the assigned kids are all new to Swim & Water Polo.

My plans for the 50 students calls for the formation of three squads with 16 or 17 kids per squad. (50 divided by 3 is 16.6.) Given a typical day and kids absent from camp any given day, we’d have about 15 kids per squad. There are plenty of reasons for having three squads of 15-students at King, in my expert opinion.

The rub. I’m told we must have two squads with 25 kids.

No way. I’m not going to dunk 25 kids, all rookie swimmers, all 3rd graders, into the 4-lane pool. Two-squads won’t work.

With three different squads, the swimmers have ample room in the pool, in lessons, in the games and in the locker-areas for transitions.

The three squad matrix, my plan, came with two objections from PPS teachers who are assigned to our activity. The complaints arose from newcomers to my program and within the initial 3-minutes of our initial training meeting on Thursday. I heard the order: “All 50 students were going to go to the pool at the same time.” Plus, “Every day of camp would be just like the others.”

PPS people are to support the activity providers, not dictate, the terms of the experience (in this case, sabotage).

Some issues surface between activity-providers and assigned PPS teachers now and then. Nine-out-of-ten times, the relationships have been great. But, training week is always awkward. And when the personnel fit isn’t present, things can spin sideways, especially after a pitched complaint to a specific principal / camp director. “Partnerships,”  expert leadership, and program goals matter little. The principal pitched the concept of ONE group of 50 kids all in the pool at the same time. OMG. The cooler head of the activity coordinator gave a compromise of 25 kids with two groups.

Three squad matrix with three activity stations in a circuit-style rotation

  1. Academic / classroom instruction happens in the mornings.
  2. Our kids get early lunch (great) to 12:45 pm.
  3. 12:45 to 1 pm: Meeting with all coaches and students with Water Polo, plus attendance. Breaking up into squads and then heading to stations.
  4. 1 to 1:50 pm: First station
  5. 1:50 to 2:40 pm: Second station
  6. 2:40 to 3:30 pm: Third station
  7. Prepare for dismissal at 3:45 pm and 4 pm buses.

The stations are similar to circuit training. The groups rotate from one station to the other on a schedule. I call this the daily matrix.

    Activities and locations for these three stations:

  • Swim Pool
  • Literacy / Technology in a computer lab or else patio with tablets
  • Exercise in patio and immediate areas on the sidewalk around the school.

Time at the swim pool is divided into a tiny bit of dry-land time to ensure listening. That can be some simple arm swings. Getting in the water is accompanied with fitness time, often starting with shallow-water running, jumping, kicking, spinning, dolphin dives. Then comes the group lesson on swim technique. Then we get specialized drills and skills with water polo and SKWIM. Passing, defense, goal-keeping and game play. The last bit in the water is generally devoted to game play, scrimmages, continual action. Game over. Put away equipment. Dry off and change into clothing for a group walk back to school.

Time with literacy and technology includes connected writing, discussions, quiz taking, video watching and efforts with multimedia and our online resources including a course, Get Your Feet Wet – Swimming, at We do A-for-Athlete activities and stress water safety stories too.

The exercise time with the students includes body-weight exercises, med-balls, stretching, some yoga, planks, box jumps, and a few other exercise routines that we’ve designed and create. But this exercise time also includes talk about water polo rules, SKWIM techniques, game-play, sportsmanship, teamwork and goal-setting. We de-brief and prep about our time in the pool and answer questions, offer in-depth tips and watch video of ourselves. Plus, of course, we take the hike to and from the school and pool, hydrate, perhaps snack, and change into and out of our swim suits.

Conducting “Recreational Swimming” and “Free Swims” isn’t our aspiration, especially at the indoor-pool setting in the summer.

The three 50-minute periods can work its magic, especially in the early stages of camp when swimming stamina isn’t developed. We don’t want the kids to take breaks in the water, get cold, have to substitute and sit idle. When people are out of the pool, on the deck, and causing distractions, the sessions suffer.

Everyone stays engaged with the matrix and 15 player squad sizes.

One squad swims first, while the other squads are at the exercise and literacy stations. On the next day, that squad swims at the second station. And later in the week it swims in the third station. Every day brings a slightly new experience with new flow, new challenges, new lessons, new progression. I like it best when a squad gets to exercise before swimming, getting hot and breaking a sweat before showering and cooling off in the swim pool.

Equipment issues too

SKWIM goal at the Obama pool, 6-lanes wide. See how we can’t put 25 kids into the pool at one time.

In 2016 we deployed swim fins and in 2017, we invested in lots of additional fins for the smaller feet of the younger swimmers. These official SKWIM fins are going to be a great addition to the program. However, we have four or five pair of each size fin. We should be able to get a whole squad of 15 kids wearing fins — but — there is no way we’d have enough fins to outfit a squad of 25 kids if they are in the water at the same time.

Playing water polo at an indoor pool is competitive fun and everyone gets to play.

Expand the pool of eligible coaches for Pittsburgh Public Schools by including city workers

Article link in the Post-Gazette newspaper.

Clip of newspaepr.

The example of Mayor Bill Peduto coaching the Carrick High School ice hockey team was fun, especially as the Penguins are playing home games for the Stanley Cup. But, the example fails on a few other levels. Many example exist. A better example: Cory O’Connor, an elected member of Pittsburgh City Council and a city employee, is the varsity golf coach at Pittsburgh Central Catholic (not a public school). Under the existing conditions, he could not be hired to be the coach at Pittsburgh Allderdice, a public school.

Additional background statement created at the Saturday Swim School.

Agenda of Standing Committee Meeting, June 7, 2017

Ordinance amending and supplementing the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter, Article VII - Personnel, Section 707 - Multiple Employment Prohibited, by adding a new subsction f which will allow City employees being able to be scholastic sports coaches in part-time positions with Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The above text was put on hold for review of the City’s Law Department. Further text is not yet available. Expected action would be a change by substitution to make the amendment f as a ballot question at the next city-wide election.


Within Pittsburgh Public Schools, there is no shortage of athletic coaches.

Gearing up again

Working on the Swim & Water Polo Camp efforts has begun in earnest. We’ll be coaching 80 students at two different sites: U-Prep (in The Hill District) and Allegheny (on the Northside).

Propaganda for PIAA coaches a fellow swim coach from Pittsburgh

Dear Fellow Swim Coaches:

Your opinions, feedback and participation are welcomed, at your leisure, as you are able. Thanks for the consideration.

#1. You, your spouse, other helpers with you team, and even a few of your varsity swimmers are invited to join in at a seminar and demonstration as well as post-game social to be held in Pittsburgh’s South Side starting at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at the historic, Citiparks’ Oliver Bath House. Out of town guest include aquatic experts with the National Drowning Prevention Alliance ( and Kevin McCarthy of Washington state,  inventor of the aquatic game, SKWIM. Bring your swim suit and towel as we will put our PA friends into SKWIM games with opponents from around the nation, learning about this terrific game that you might want to deploy in your facilities too. Then walk to post game social at 9 pm at our home / office at 108 S. 12th Street, South Side, Pgh 15203.

Tickets / RSVP at – or –

#2. This past season EVERY high school swim meet we hosted in the city had to begin at 2:30 pm, due to officials shortages. Ugh.

#3. Because we need more community engagement, and officials, I am most interested in starting a wide reaching ALUMNI SWIMMING effort. Sure, there is Masters swimming, Tri swimming, Masters Water Polo and Underwater Hockey. All happen in Pittsburgh. Plus, a few of the largest districts have annual alumni events too. Great. But, I think this is the right time to launch a PA and WPIAL SWIM ALUMNI organization. I will be happy to do the heavy lifting and get this started, but would you be willing to serve on a steering committee and participate in a few conference calls? If so, send an email to

#4. Another way to expand and improve swimming in PA, that I think we should address, comes with the formation of another CLASS beyond the existing AAA and AA. Let’s ponder the possibilities and ramifications of making a legitimate JV Swim Classification. We have city schools, big and small, that do not have swim teams. Plus, we have teams that are fielding teams that are struggling to survive. A new, “JV designation,” within the rules, with a few JV focused meets, could be most welcomed addition for the sport in many settings. Ideas?

Thanks again. Best wishes to you and your teams.

Mark Rauterkus

Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Obama Academy

News Recap from Obama Academy and the 2017 WPIAL Class AA Meet

Sead Niksic, 11th grade, Obama Academy student, won the 100 backstroke in WPIAL Championships, class AA, today (3/3/17) at Pitt’s Trees Hall, in a record time of 51.29. He won the event by a four-second margin. This was his first WPIAL title in the backstroke.

Last year, Sead was the first student from any Pittsburgh Public Schools in any sport to get a gold-medal in an individual WPIAL event when he won the 100 yard fly as a sophomore. In the 2017 100 fly, Sead went faster then the WPIAL record, but finished in second place.

Sead Niksic, junior at Obama Academy.

Sead Niksic, junior at Obama Academy.

This year, Obama swimmers can boast to have the city’s first WPIAL record breaker in an individual event in any sport. The boys swim team at Obama claimed the first city WPIAL section title in any sport back in 2013, the first year some city teams were able to compete in the WPIAL, PIAA District 7, rather than District 8, often called “The City League.”

Sead will swim the 100 fly and the 100 back in the 2017 PIAA Class AA Championships in two weeks at Bucknell University. This year Sead will be joined at states by his sister, Amila Niksic, an Obama Academy freshman, as she finished second in the 100 backstroke, improving by more than four seconds and moving to the silver medal from the 10th-place seed. Her time was 1:00.81.

A third Obama swimmer, Noah Jamison, 10th grader, did not qualify with an automatic entry to the PIAA Meet, but his podium finishes in both the 200 IM and the 500 free (also a school record), might be fast enough to earn an at-large entry to the PIAA Championships.

Noah dropped from 5:09.42 seed time (11th) to 4:54.01, and to a possible PIAA invite. At-large invites to PIAA are a couple days away. In 2016, as a freshman, Noah’s time in the 500 free in 2016 was 5:12.92. In 2017, Noah’s time in the 500 free beat the school record that was established by Erik Rauterkus more than four years ago. Erik is the oldest son of Obama’s Coach, Mark Rauterkus. Erik competed at the PIAA meet four consecutive years and then went on to swim at Swarthmore College and is due to graduate college in May, 2017.

Niksic, Jamison, David Donehue, 11, Sci-Tech, and Krishnan Alagar, 11, home-schooled, made up the squad’s 200 medley relay and set a new school record. The four also got points in the 400 free and put Obama’s boys team into the top 10 among AA teams.

This year marks the the 9th consecutive year that at least one swimmer from Pittsburgh Public Schools qualified to compete in the PIAA Championships under the direction of Coach Mark Rauterkus — formerly Schenley and presently Obama. Rauterkus also leads the Swim & Water Polo activities with PPS Summer Dreamers and after-school water polo programs at Westinghouse, Arsenal, Allegheny and Obama.

View a collection of swim races from this year’s championships at

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