From USASwimming.org, By: Mike Gustafson:
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a swimming coach in Compton, California named Louis Pecot. His complaint as a coach for 30+ years in the area was that, despite earlier claims from someone featured on this website, there was swimming in Compton – at least when he was growing up. I interviewed him about his background growing up in South Central LA as well as future challenges he foresees in the area. Here is Part One (of two) of our interview.
What’s your background in swimming/coaching?
Growing up in Compton, I was down the street from the pool in the summertime. It was a seasonal pool. It was run by LA County South Aquatics. At the time, my mom brought my sisters and me in the summertime. In the ‘60s, nuclear families were common. I don’t know what people think of Compton now. But back then, moms and dads stayed together then. I wasn’t the only family. 90% of the families were black. It was common for black familes to be in the park and the pool. They had basketball and the gym, but the pool my mom felt was safe. Lifeguards would watch us. We all learned to swim at a young age.
What got me into it is they had the beach junior lifeguards when I was 11 years old. It didn’t cost anything. So the beach junior lifeguards had a bus that would pick us up. This is for me how I stuck with swimming. They had the test for junior lifeguards at my pool. They don’t do that anymore. They had the staff test all the kids who could do the 100 freestyle. I did it in 1:58. These days, 11-year-olds have to do it in a 1:50. But I wasn’t a year round swimmer, I did what I did. I made it into the program. The standard was two minutes at the time.
My little sister made it in too, the following year. They had a bus that picked us up. They brought us to Hermosa Beach in 1973. It didn’t cost anything – that was the big deal. The LA county pools – one of the reasons we could go to swim lessons, the big deal was to learn to swim free. Recreational swim you have to pay a quarter. But learn to swim was free, so we went every day in the summer. The junior guard program was all day at the beach. I’d hop the bus, and we’d go up to Hermosa Beach. We’d do buoy swims, runs, we’d be there all day. I’d never miss a day. All that was a huge part of my childhood.
When I read the article [about Marcellus Wiley learning to swim], and [he says], “Compton didn’t have pools,” I said, “I don’t know where this guy was.” There’s access to the pools in Compton.
The other thing I don’t think anyone knows is there were a lot of divers. When I was coming up, we didn’t have video games. We used to tumble on the ground. We were gymnasts, competing against each other in the park. And that transferred over into the diving boards. The problem I see with all of this, there was no organized effort to channel these folks in the high school swim team, if there were any high school swim teams that existed.
What were some obstacles facing you in the early going as a young coach?
In 1988, in Inglewood, some of the high school age kids were really fast. They hit high school and they tell me they had a pool out there. I had no idea they had a pool in Morningside High School. I go over there, and they have a pool. It’s like a stadium. And no one knew about it. It’s a fabulous pool. I applied to be the swim coach, and I got the job. They gave me a key to the pool, and I’m like, “Great.”
But it was an up hill battle because no one was into swimming. The school wasn’t behind it. I’m like a lone ranger out there. It’s always met with resistance. The good thing was, at Morningside, the athletic director was sympathetic to what I was doing. A guy named Frank Scott. We didn’t have any starting blocks, so I made one out of wood. I brought it to the woodshop and said, “Can you guys make these?” And Frank Scott gave me 60 bucks to buy the wood. And the woodshop made the blocks, and we tied them down in some kind of way, and we started using them.
This is another thing that happens in the ‘hood. When I coached the water polo team, the Fremont Pool had only one water polo goal. I said, “Where’s the other one?” I found the other one in its original packaging, from 1978. Never been used. Other teams didn't want to come to that neighborhood to compete. When I got the schedule, I said, “Oh we got a home game, this is good.” Fremont is a rough neighborhood. When I mentioned it to the manager, he said, “Oh we’re not going to have the game here.” He says, “Oh, we’re going to move it over to Banning.” And I’m like, “Why would you do that?” The other team didn’t want to come to our neighborhood. That one killed me. You’re just going to move our game because they don’t want to come to our neighborhood?
After that, I was soul searching.
So what happened then?
In 1993, I was coaching for 12 years or so. We were swimming in other leagues, year-round leagues. Not USA leagues though. Novice leagues. I got a bunch of coaches together. I said, “You know what guys? We know how to run swim meets. Let’s start our own league.” It made sense. There were teams all around. Everyone was into it. It was awesome. So I wrote up the bylaws. And we called it, “The South Central Swim League.” The first year, we had 180 swimmers. This was in Feb. 1994, and we had the championship at Morningside High School. These were all minority swimmers. I taught all my swimmers’ parents how to run a meet, the paperwork. We had our championship, and it was awesome. Then we did it again.
Unfortunately the league fell apart last year. Hopefully it will start up again because it was a good thing, but we’ll see.
Next week is part two of our interview, including what Coach Pecot believes are the major obstacles facing minority swimming in South Central LA. If you have a diversity swimming story, emailTrials.Tribulations.firstname.lastname@example.org.