PUM One on One with Pittsburgh Stingrays Coach Hosea Holder
The Pittsburgh Stingrays will Feature Olympic Champion Cullen Jones February 8th in Pittsburgh as Part of the Teams Black History Month Celebrations
Hosea Holder is in his 47th year coaching in the Pittsburgh area. He is the oldest African American Coach registered with USA Swimming and the 2nd oldest Coach associated with AMS Swimming. During his 47 years of coaching, Hosea has coached swimmers who have held records, participated in diversity swim camps and have qualified to compete in Zone Championships. Hosea resides in East Liberty with his wife Mamie and they have three adult children. The USA Swimming Organization presented Coach Holder with their Diversity Inclusion Award last year; the award is presented to the person or group who has positively heightened the awareness of inclusion efforts through various modes and media resulting in the increase and successful participation of currently underrepresented groups in the sport.
The Pittsburgh Stingrays are led by Coach Hosea Holder and Assistant Coach Norman Gregory. Coach Holder is in his 47th year of coaching with a proven track record for helping young swimmers develop good stroke technique, great work habits and a postive attitude that translates to success in the pool and becoming outstanding young people who contribute to the community.
The organization provides a year-round competitive swim program to a diverse community of young swimmers. We believe that all children should have access to Olympic/National caliber coaching and training/technique. The groups believes that respect, discipline and diversity are the foundations for team and life.
PUM: Coach what is the significant part of the Stingrays?
COACH HOLDER: The significant part of the Stingrays is that we do not reject any individual that comes and wants to try out we specialize in helping to develop children who are non-swimmers up to competitive swimmers.
PUM: What are you proud of after coaching for over 47 years?
COACH HOLDER: I started my coaching career in December of 1965, and some of my proudest accomplishments has been when we had a ten and under young lady who made the all-star team and went to Montreal for a triangular meet between Pittsburgh, Montreal and our local swim committee called the AMA Allegheny Mountain Association at that time, and she broke the records for the 50 breast stroke and 100 breast stroke up there.
PUM: Through the years you’ve trained a lot of kids, what have you learned about swimming, especially for African American youth.
COACH HOLDER: It’s a great motivator on helping to develop their bodies as well as their minds without putting damage to them as some of your other contact sports. It is a skill that they can maintain for the rest of their lives.
PUM: Why was swimming a sport that interest you?
PUM: Why was swimming a sport that interest you?
COACH HOLDER: When my dad moved us to Pittsburgh in May of 1945, across the street from where we were living was an outdoor Olympic size pool that was run by the Department of Parks and Recreation City of Pittsburgh. You know coming from the south to see all those kids in the pool swimming that was the motivation that took me over the edge that I wanted to learn to do that and I wanted to learn to do it the best that it could be done. I was later willing to practice to become the most efficient and competent swimmer, I was not the strongest or fastest, but I was willing to practice, when I got to Jr. High School I went out for the swim team and with my skills I made the swim team, 3 years in Jr. High and 3 years in High School.
PUM: What was your motivation to train other kids?
COACH HOLDER: I always worked as a lifeguard in the summer, then when I was in the service there was 2 years that I was in Germany, the motivation was when I came back and saw that European heritage children were swimming so much better than our kids, and I asked the two guys I was working with how come we don’t have a swim team and his remark was “When they get better they go on to good enough teams, and I replied, “if you have a good enough team why would they want to leave?” So that was my motivation being in an old pool, built in 1914-1917, not laid out like modern pools I started a team there at the request of the director of the facility. And it took me a while before I got any African American kids and the first ones was my own kids.
PUM: What was the team back in the day?
COACH HOLDER: Well when I first started out, it was under the Department of recreation city of Pittsburgh, and we use to use the Schenley pool for training.
PUM: What are your thoughts about being able to bring Cullen Jones to Pittsburgh on behalf of the Stingrays on February 8th?
COACH HOLDER: I am excited; I hope that our Black Community will be excited. When a young man has accomplished that much too almost being a statistic to becoming and Olympic winner. With Cullen starting his “make a splash” program because of the fact that 58 percent of the drownings are African Americans and I have always been one that has been a swimming enthusiast and always tried to motivate the community that this is the sport that children should be in more so than contact sports. All you have is clean kids smelling like chlorine.
(pictured: Cullen Jones with members of the Stingrays)
COACH HOLDER: In this part of the US, its basketball and football that African Americans want to do. Number one it’s easier and number two it’s not that expensive. Swimming is usually done at a time frame like now, when they are eating dinner, as it relates to training. Also they are behind walls when they are training, and they don’t get the exposure like football or basketball. The children cannot see the value in swimming in terms of a way to earn money like basketball and football contracts being offered where they are constantly bombarded by millions of dollars.
PUM: You believe learning how to swim is critical.
COACH HOLDER: I talk to a number of African American parents and the first thing they say is it costs a lot of money, and I say with our program your child is being trained and given the opportunity to compete against the elite-for merely the costs of a package of cigarettes a day.
PUM: Are you seeing any changes are we moving in the right direction?
COACH HOLDER: Not in this area, when we go to the black history meet next month in DC, and we go into Cary, North Carolina for the black championship meet there are a ton of blacks. The mindset in this area --when you mention the fees we charge they think it’s too much, they don’t s see the value. I help them understand the long term goals of swimming which means an oportunity for a healthy mind and healthy body. The biggest part for blacks in this area is they believe swimming cost alot of money. I tell them that every time your child comes to practice it’s like putting money in the bank. When they apply for college, they don’t have to be a world class swimmer, there are scholarships out there and a lot of colleges are looking for African Americans with swimming experience. Their scholarship applications goes to the top when they have competitive swimming experience because they know that this person is not afraid of hard work because they have to have dedication, commitment and hard work to stay on team. We give everyone on our team personal attention.
PUM: Tell me about your practices?
COACH HOLDER: We are at the Thelma Lovett Y, its 2114 Centre ave. We have three groups, pre-teen, Jr. Team and senior kids; we have in our association developmental swimming, and its all time standards for stroke and distance. They are usually in the pool from 6:45p.m. to 8:15 p.m.
PUM: what are your hopes and dreams moving towards the future?
COACH HOLDER: I’m hoping to see an African American from this area standing on the starting block at the Olympics, the closest we had was Nate Clark; he was the first African American to make the nationals from this area.
PUM: How young should folks start to learn to swim and when kids can start to train competitively?
COACH HOLDER: When they are ten and under my theory is always been stroke technique and conditioning and let it be fun for them while they are doing this because it’s a long road to top, and if you do it slowly and they enjoy it, they are going to stay with it longer.
PUM: What is your legacy?
COACH HOLDER: Do you know Shirley Chisholm; well you know what her statement was? Giving back is like paying rent for the time that you are allowed to be on this planet. That is my philosophy giving back. When I help young kids, I never look for anything in return.
PUM: What a wonderful tribute to be honored by the USA Swimming Establishment for Diversity.
COACH HOLDER: I was totally speechless, at first I thought the guys were pulling my leg, I thought it was a joke because I had never been honored like that in my life and I was unaware that anyone that high up had taken an interest and looked at what I had done and put my name in as a nominee. It was the diversity that I had brought into swimming as long as I had been coaching. When I first started to coach I was denied a membership to our local committee, the Allegheny Mountain Association. Back in 1965, a remark was made "he is going to be bringing all those black kids from the hill district to swim." Some people with money helped me, a husband and wife told the group that they didn't care how many kids they bring from the hill if they know how to swim they are going to be able to compete. My own employer which was the city of Pittsburgh wouldn’t go to bat for me. My grandmother gave me a lot of encouragement she told me, anytime someone gives you a minus you take that minus and turn it into a plus for yourself and that has always stuck with me since I was a child as a 7 or 8 year old when I use to visit her. When I got my permit, my swimmers could now compete, because if you didn’t have an AU card at the time, you couldn’t’ compete in the meets. In 1954 I was working at a swimming pool that they had police working inside and out, the state had forced the city of Pittsburgh to integrate a swimming pool that they wouldn’t allow blacks to swim in. I went out to lunch with five white fellows and we went into this restaurant to get pizza, and they told the white guys they would serve them but they wouldn’t serve me, and they said then we don’t want to eat here if they didn't serve me, that was when I was 18 years old back in the 50’s.
PUM: What is the message you have learned through the adversity of discrimination?
COACH HOLDER: When people slam a door in your face you find a way to unlock that door that they have to accept what you have done, this is what my biggest thing was putting competitors into our league that was equal or better because they broke records, and believe me I got accused of giving kids pills when they broke records. They said because I was in an old pool that was 40 feet wide and 60 feet long that there was no way that he could have kids swimming that fast –he must be giving them pills they said. We had two hours of pool time and we practiced hard and my philosophy then and still is a yard per second, is still the same no matter what pool you are in.
PUM: What are your thoughts about the possibility of being able to use Shenley High School to practice if the alumni group is able to purchase and rebuild the building? That group would like to provide the swimming pool space to the Stingrays in the future.
COACH HOLDER: That would be a gift from heaven, because when we left the city of Pittsburgh when I retired, they made us change our name and we became gypsies. The only pool we used for a long period of time was at Schenley. This would be a great start to enhance the community and bring in African American kids and other children. It would be devastating to see the building being used as apartments and condos, that facility has so much potential for the development of youth in this town and in this city.
For More information: PittsburghStingrays.com
Cullen Jones will be at the Thelma Lovette YMCA from 6:00 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. on February 8th-Applications to enroll in the Pittsburgh Stingrays Program will be available.
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