November 27, 2013

Tradition Of Togetherness

By Lauren Leary
Special to GoHolyCross.com

The balcony of the Holy Cross swimming pool may be difficult to access, but after climbing the several stairs and once seated in the pool-length fan section, there are many things that are immediately obvious to even the most distracted eye.

The routine of Holy Cross swim & dive meets has been a tradition long before any of the current team members had even heard of the school on Mount St. James. What begins as a slow trickle of purple-and-white-clad athletes onto the pool deck quickly evolves into a cluster of stretching behind the starting blocks and swimmers cringing as they jump into the frigid, lane-divided pool for their warm-up. Toward the opposite end of the pool deck, divers plunge into the smaller, yet just as cold diving well. Once warm-up has finished, however, is when the real tradition of the Holy Cross swim & dive program surfaces. 

Barry Parenteau is in the thick of his 39th season coaching the men and women of the Crusader swim & dive program. His late father, Paul, began coaching in 1965. The legacy of his family at Holy Cross has almost reached 50 years, and according to coach Parenteau, his passion for swimming has not dwindled in the slightest. Parenteau has been a very large part of the close-knit community that has formed around the swim & dive team, and much of his commitment to the program is driven by a sense of pride and tradition.

"I've always said that the minute I'm just going through the motions, I'm done," Parenteau said. "I'm as excited this year as I've ever been. Each team is different, each team bonds together. When you're swimming over four miles a day and you go on a training trip (this year to Key Largo) and swim over six miles a day, you create a bond that's different than a lot of other sports."

This "bond" that Parenteau refers to is apparent at every Holy Cross swim & dive meet. While the balcony still bustles with moving parents and fans of the team members, below on the pool deck the athletes huddle into a tight circle around their coach. Parenteau yells out, "Touch the one you love," and each of the athletes immediately place a shoulder on the teammate in front of or beside them. Coach Parenteau gives a speech that is inaudible to the fans above and begins to recite the "Hail Mary." The rest of the team joins in after the first few words. Looking down upon this scene from the balcony, it is clear that there is a strong connection between the teammates below. There is respect for one another in the way that they follow the captains' commands following the prayer to begin a team cheer, and there is respect for traditions that began with Crusaders who have come before them.

Recently graduated swimmer, John Vatalaro ('13), vividly remembers this scene. "Gathered as a team before the prayer, coach always reminded us to never take anything for granted, to never squander an opportunity," Vatalaro said. "Those precious moments and that advice will stick with me for the rest of my life."  

Former diver, Richie Pellegrini ('13), agrees with Vatalaro's sentiments, adding, "I will never forget the advice he would give to us before every meet: praying the Hail Mary, and telling us to treat every day, every swim, every dive like it is your last because you never know what may happen. In an instant, you can lose what you love, so never take anything for granted."

Beyond the tradition of the speech and prayer at the beginning of each meet, as each beep signifies the start of a new race, the tone on the pool deck traditionally begins to shift to a more fun but still determined feel. As Parenteau makes his way around the pool deck, stopping to speak to each of his athletes, they all seem to melt from nervousness into smiling and relaxed.

"Barry made swimming fun by always cracking jokes and telling stories," said Clare Reidy ('13). "You never knew what type of Barry witticism you were going to get when you walked onto the pool deck."

Mike Toner ('63), a member of the men's swim & dive team from 1959-1963 (before there was a coach), agrees with the sentiment that Parenteau's easygoing mentality greatly facilitates the closeness of his athletes.

"My first experience of Barry as a coach was the First Alumni Swim Meet," Toner said. "After the meet was over we all got together for something to eat. It was then that I saw first-hand the magic that is Barry Parenteau. I was amazed at how close he was to his team even though they had graduated. Team members stayed in touch with him over the years. How many coaches can say that?"

There is no doubt that Parenteau is always the first to crack a joke, but Pellegrini also refers to how the coach interacts with his athletes in more serious situations. "He was a father figure who I could always go to for advice or to just talk to. He really treats the team like his family. He and his wife Dale put so much into the program and the athletes."

The closeness of the swim & dive program is no secret to those in the Holy Cross community, as well as those in the swimming world outside of the HC community. Parenteau attributes the sense of family his athletes feel with one another to the type of student-athlete that the school and team attract.

"Holy Cross has been recognized by the NCAA for our academics and we pride ourselves on our graduation rate," Parenteau said. "I'm working with kids, who when they leave here, I know they're going to go out there and make a difference in this world. Not only am I dealing with athletes, but I know they're going to go out there and make a difference, and they definitely make a difference on me."

The team completes community service together throughout the year, as well as other team-bonding experiences (such as hiking Purgatory Chasm and their annual training trip to different tropical locations), to help broaden the interests of the athletes and help the athletes build personal connections with one another.

The team's unique connection is not lost on other teams in the Patriot League as well. "Other teams notice there's something different going on with the Holy Cross kids," Parenteau said. "Our kids are at [The Patriot League] Championship smiling, doing fast times. My biggest joy is when a kid looks at the clock, looks at their lane and then looks back at the clock to really believe that's the time they swam."

The overall enthusiasm his athletes have for the sport, Parenteau says stems from both personal and team growth.  "They really support each other and care about each other. I get no greater joy when they turn around and look at me and smile and fist pump in the air."

As alumni from the Holy Cross swim & dive team look back at their time on The Hill, many of their memories involve coach Parenteau. Former swimmer Maggie Beaudouin ('12), feels a sense of pride in having belonged to the program. "When I think back on my greatest accomplishments at Holy Cross they all include Barry and my teammates," she said. "I think this speaks to not only the kind of coach Barry is, but to the close-knit team he has built."

As the traditions continue to grow on The Hill and new team members are given a chance to swim and dive for coach Parenteau, there is certainty that the legacy of the Parenteaus and the closeness of the team will evolve as well. For each Hail Mary that is said at the beginning of every meet and every time a member of his team cracks a smile, coach Parenteau feels a sense of accomplishment. That is the mentality that members of the Holy Cross swim & dive program have and will continue to remember most about their time on The Hill.