EAST PROVIDENCE — A group of about two dozen middle schoolers from around the city recently completed an introductory swim program held at the Boys and Girls Club of East Providence where …
EAST PROVIDENCE — A group of about two dozen middle schoolers from around the city recently completed an introductory swim program held at the Boys and Girls Club of East Providence where experienced athletes instructed their peers on the basics of the activity.
Rumford resident and area swim coach Tony Fonseca, himself a superb swimmer at the youth, high school and collegiate levels, oversaw the program, which took place with classes spread out over four Saturdays with members of the club's Tidal Waves competitive team providing instruction to their middle school-aged mates.
Fonseca said the local endeavor was inspired by the "Pass It On" program started at his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., where he was a four-year contributor to the Irish men's program.
According to the Notre Dame website, "Pass It On" was an initiative created by its Student Welfare and Development division, a part of the athletics department. It actually began with Irish basketball then branched out to other sports. Student-athletes use their training in their respective sports to teach youngsters about "leadership based on principles of respect, kindness, honesty and hard work."
Fonseca said Pass It On came to his attention when a current Notre Dame swimmer Cason Wilburn, a fifth-year senior for the Irish, used his sport to provide introductory lessons to middle school students in South Bend. Wilburn had immediate success when one of the beginners from the first Pass It On swim program there tried out and made the high school team.
Chris Lavendier, Director of RIDE Initiatives at the Boys and Girls Club of East Providence, coordinated events here.
Lavendier wrote of "Pass It On" in the club's monthly newsletter for November, "Our Tidal Waves swimmers received community service hours by running the lessons, and our students learn how to get comfortable with the water, how to breathe, how to kick, and how to float! In case you were wondering, being like dry spaghetti is the key to floating.
"This is the feedback we got from a parent: 'My son enjoyed it from start to finish, he loved the words of encouragement, inspiration, self confidence. The instructor was phenomenal and each and every one of them kids did a very good job.'"
Wilburn, who learned how to swim at the Boys and Girls Club of Virginia Beach, Va., also had an active role in the local program. He met with the participants at the start via Zoom and sent along Pass It On-branded Notre Dame t-shirts to each.
Fonseca said the goals of the program locally were simply to have youngsters to engage with each other in a different learning environment.
With that in mind, administrators at Martin and Riverside Middle Schools were asked to find students who did not know how to swim that wanted to take part. For the experienced swimming mentors, especially, they also literally passed on their knowledge of the sport to their mates. The program concluded with a mini-meet with the newbees showing off the strokes they had learned.
"It really was incredible on every level," said Fonseca. "It was peers teaching peers...you had parents crying on the pool deck watching their kids swim for the first time. That was pretty powerful and it was powerful for the kids as well."
He continued, "We're a community swim team and part of being a team in the community for our kids is passing on their love of swimming. And the beauty of the curriculum is that we're not trying to create the next Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky (both all-time great United States Olympic swimmers).
"For (Tidal Waves) kids, it's about teaching responsibility and leadership. For the beginners, it's a life safety issue...We're not trying to get them ready for the Olympics. We're trying to get them ready for a pool party."
Fonseca and Tidal Waves head coach Bob Hassan, who also helms the East Providence High School boys' and girls' swim teams, plan to hold at least one if not two "Pass It On" swim programs next calendar year. Fonseca said the first is likely to take place in May.
The youth instructors for the initial program were: Khloe Amaral, Bethany Bernard, Charlie Boline, Ryan Boline, Bevin Boutin-Gammon, Ryan Branch, Kaylee Collins, Lindsey Dana, Cassandra Dulude, Laina Fonseca, Sadie Gilfillan, Andrew Gilliatt, Caroline Gilliatt, Connor Krawczyk, Stella Loucks, Helen Messitt, Logan Pinheiro, Maura Roche, Ada Sobota-Walden, Jamison Sydney and Lucas Zonfrillo.