Written by Amanda Mullen Thursday, 03 July 2014 00:00
To say swimming is in Anne Sullivan’s blood is an understatement. Not only does Sullivan coach the boys’ and girls’ swimming teams at Garden City High School, but she also teaches swimming five days a week at Richmond Hill High School in Queens. She has been teaching for 18 years and coaching for even longer, as she puts it “for more than half my life.”
Sullivan is a previous student and 1972 graduate of Garden City High School, and she began her swimming career at the Garden City pool. When asked why she chose swimming to invest her life in, she accredited her father, who was also a swimmer. He introduced her to the sport, enabling her to discover her love and talent for it. It’s this dedication that found Anne Sullivan becoming the recent recipient of the Community Achievement Award at the Pineapple Ball, Garden City’s premiere business and social event.
When asked what she enjoys about coaching, Sullivan is fairly straightforward.
“I like the challenge that’s put before me. What I like about it is that the kids want to swim for me, and when they come I have variability. Some kids prefer to be in the year-round program, while others don’t.” Sullivan explained that the younger kids begin swimming in the 7th grade, giving them 3 to 4 years to “break out into their own” and hone their skills.
“I like watching that growth,” she said. Sullivan had similar feelings regarding her Queens students, some of whom have never been in water prior to taking her classes. “Some of them will buck you or tell you they aren’t getting in the pool. But eventually you see the progress.”
Addressing the difficulties of being a swim coach, Sullivan stated that training can be an issue due to the absence of a pool at the high school. The children practice three mornings a week at Adelphi
University to make up for this. With all of the swim meets and practices being away, this can mean early mornings and late nights for the students. “Sometimes we may not get home until 10,” Sulivan said. “And the kids need to balance their studies with their athletics.”
Balance can be a difficult thing to achieve with such long days. However, Sullivan boasts of impressive grades, especially on the girls’ team. In fact, the team was acknowledged for having one of the highest averaged GPAs in the country. In addition, Sullivan claims that her swimmers are also musically and artistically inclined, proving to be a well-rounded and hardworking group. The schedule can be rough on the coach as well. “It makes my day a lot longer,” she said. “But I make it work. I’m in it for the kids.”
Sullivan’s job doesn’t end with swimming either. As a coach, she finds that she must teach her kids non-swimming related lessons, which aid them as a team member and will also prepare them for the future. “I give them structure,” she stated. “I give them a sense of responsibility. I expect them to get themselves up if they want to be a part of the team. And if they get sick, I don’t want to hear from parents. They call me.” Sullivan assures that her swimmers are punctual as well, an important quality in any area of life. Furthermore, she makes sure that the kids learn that there will be good and bad days, in swimming and in life. “It’s only going to get harder as you get older,” she said. “And it’s alright. Losing makes you a better person.”
Among some of the proudest moments in Sullivan’s career are the 103 consecutive meets she’s won in the girls’ season, an impressive feat for any sports coach. She has also seen multiple swimmers on her team take state championships including one girl, a freestyler, who won the championship for three consecutive years. Additionally, Sullivan mentioned a competition in which the boys’ swim team defeated the Long Beach High School team.
The team was coached by Woody Davis, a reigning champion who coached Sullivan during her own swimming days. “A lot of people don’t know the respect I had for Woody Davis,” Sullivan told me. It is for this reason defeating her former coach was such an eye opener.
But out of every facet of her career, Sullivan stated that she is most proud of her swimmers. “It takes a lot of courage,” she stated. “And they want to improve. They look at some of the others who swim year round, and they may not be as good yet. But they still want to be on the team. I’m proud of that because it takes a lot.” She added that she is pleased the team has been able to stay so good for 20 years.
We can only hope that the teams’ legacy continues for many more.