By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Chuck Batchelor has had a lot of chances to interview for college jobs. But rather than move on, the long-time Bluefish coach chose instead to help swimmers move onto college and into life, and it’s a role he enjoys. He still takes great pride in Olympian Elizabeth Beisel and all the other swimmers he sends to trials, but the coach’s heart is in watching young people develop into great adults through swimming, as he explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. You have great success getting kids into college swimming programs – and scholarships – how does that work?
Chuck: Well, it’s a priority. The whole college process is a priority. In the end, that’s what a lot of this is all about, creating opportunities for their future, which a lot of times involves college.
2. So you meet with them at some point in high school?
Chuck: I spend a lot of time at the end of their junior year, in the spring time, I meet with all the juniors and their parents. I have them go pie in the sky as far as what they hope, and then I give them my two cents on the programs and coaches, and how that particular student-athlete will fit in.
3. The fit – how important is that?
Chuck: There are tons of great programs, but not every great program is a good fit for all great athletes. It is absolutely about the fit. It’s not just a hard worker that needs that kind of program. Chemistry has a lot to do with it. We got a kid at UNC and he’s lighting it up. My goal is for all the kids to get faster when they go to college. I am going to do the best job I can and help them put themselves in a position to succeed.
4. Beisel got the program some good attention, but did the team come from nowhere?
Chuck: My first feeling to that is we kind of popped onto the scene in 2005, 2006, and then in Irvine that summer. All this great stuff happened and our kids did really well, and then of course Elizabeth made the Olympic team. Jack Bauerle asked me, “Where’d you guys come from? Did you do a lot of kicking this year?” So it’s (laughs) one of those things where you do what’s best, you do what you know is right, and then the results come at some point.
5. You went to Peddie, what was that like at that time?
Chuck: I roomed with Nelson Diebel – which was by my choice. He taught me so much just by being around him, understanding how his mind worked. I tried to share that with my athletes, and I have continued to learn from great coaches I trained for since then. I have learned, and continue to learn and apply lessons, from Chris Martin (Peddie), UNC’s coach Frank Comfort (now retired), (now the Baylor swim club director/head coach) Dan Flack, (UNC Coach) Rich DeSelms who was the head assistant coach and I swam under him my senior year at UNC, and so many others that I haven’t mentioned. Dan in particular is a much different coach now and I have learned from him as he has learned along the way – and that has been awesome.
6. Were you a good swimmer?
Chuck: I didn’t break a NAG record and then the day after I turned 14 I did break a 12-year-age group record! I was big and I did work hard at a young age. Again, I had tremendous coaches and mentors at that time who shaped me.
7. So you swam at North Carolina?
Chuck: I was a partial scholarship athlete at UNC – a 400 IMer, did the two fly, the two back. I literally could not (laughs) swim anything else. I was a decent ACC swimmer – I think I won consoles a couple of years in a row. I never made NCAAs, or Olympics Trials, but I knew a lot of people who did and learned a lot from them.
8. Why stay at Bluefish?
Chuck: It’s a lot of things. One, I have been all over the country, all over the world even, and even though I liked all the places, I like the northeast more. When I leave and come back, it feels like home. I like the people, and I “get” the people. And the way I am works here – I can be effective with my style. One of the people I admire most is (Germantown coach Dick) Shoulberg; I have always looked at the fact that he stayed at the same place and admired that. I didn’t want to be someone who jumps at the next thing, because I didn’t want to miss out on the next thing here. There were a few times that I was very tempted, but in the end, I thought it out, and staying worked for me.
9. What about the battles one has to face in your position – would being a college coach, though there are certainly differently battles, be more appealing?
Chuck: You know, probably in some ways, but maybe not in others. I definitely, whenever I have an obstacle, there is a part of me that thinks, “Yeah, I want to move away and avoid it,” but there is a big part of me, that when we face a challenge, makes me want to run right at it. Swimming in the northeast is a pretty interesting situation. There is not a whole lot of sharing. Myself and a few other coaches are trying to change that – that if you are better, it’s going to make me better, and that will bring you up. There is a little bit of an old guard. I am sure that is everywhere, too. But there is definitely a part of me that likes trying to do things that other people say cannot be done.
10. How do you know when a kid is going to swim in college, and at which level?
Chuck: It’s interesting because with Elizabeth, she was with us from 12 through high school, and I still have that relationship working with Coach (Gregg) Troy with her, and I am fortunate because I get to learn from Gregg. Very few kids will have that kind of talent to make it to that level, yet a million have a lot of talent. So what else is going on? I want to take the athlete as far as they can go. If that kid has the passion and wants to be their best, I have a duty to do right by them and help them realize that. Sometimes, the family themselves are the obstacle, so you have to work with them to make sure your swimmer can get all the benefits they can get. We all want what is best for each kid, it’s just that we all have to realize that we are coming from different directions and have different understandings on what it takes to be successful, and what goals they can reach.
11. Beisel is awesome, and you have had a lot of others – how much pride have you taken in seeing Brooke Zeiger excel (now at Minnesota on scholarship where her sister Blake also swims)?
Chuck: For Brooke Zeiger to get to go to China and Japan (for the U.S.) means so much to us. Her family is not affluent, and yet she was able to earn all these amazing opportunities – and make the most of them. She is just so mind-blowing amazing.
12. Did you think she’d go to Minnesota for college?
Chuck: I actually figured that would happen. (Minnesota Coach) Kelly (Kremer) and I are good friends. Brooke is a very focused, hard worker. Minnesota was a really good fit for her. She enjoyed her trips, and then made the decision I expected her to make. She’s very quiet, and this is a good place for her.
13. You come across as a lot of fun and having a lot of knowledge – but without arrogance – accurate?
Chuck: It’s funny because I think my parents raised me to be a confident person. I have always had a lot of confidence, that’s probably half of it in terms of convincing the athletes that I know what I am doing. I think every coach is somewhat this way. I really enjoy working with the athletes.
14. But it’s hard work isn’t it?
Chuck: You know there is some hard stuff you have to do, but it’s all worth it.
15. You have these college coaches who you now have tremendous working relationships with – what does that mean to you?
Chuck: It means I am fortunate to have even more incredible people in my life I can learn from. I definitely obviously recognized the benefits of relationships like that. A relationship with Gregg Troy is tremendous. I didn’t foster them because of that. The completely honest answer is I enjoy getting to know these people and work with them.
16. When I see you at meets the vans are waiting on you – what’s up with that?
Chuck: Funny story is that every time we go to meets, it does take me 20 minutes to get off the deck at the end of the first session. I have recognized that networking opportunity as important for my swimmers’ future.
17. So you’ll extend yourself to stick around and tout a swimmer to a college coach?
Chuck: I might have someone who is not being recruited as much as I think he or she deserves, and that is my chance to let a coach know about this person. If I can get that point across in that time, it is time well spent, and if that investment comes to fruition when they are hoping to set the course for the rest of their lives, well, then, it’s worth it. I see that time and those network opportunities as assets.
18. You are a heart on the sleeve person?
Chuck: One of the things I have come to recognize, is sincerity carries the day. Even when I am wrong – which is (laughs) often – it comes from the heart. It’s all I have, and if that’s not enough, so be it. I definitely got that from my father, for sure. He was in sales, but he had such integrity and he never made a hard sell. He’d explain what the equipment would do and could not do, and that was it.
19. How long can the U.S. stay on top and be so dominant in swimming?
Chuck: Is it sustainable? Maybe not in the end – though we are here for a while. The rest of the world is catching up, but then you see so many foreign athletes who want to train here, which also speaks to the U.S. level. One of the things we do have going for us that I don’t think will go anywhere in the future is that American bravado. It was funny I was talking to coaches from another country the other day and they thought even if the U.S. team were underprepared and undertrained, we could beat our chest and win – that’s an extreme example of our confidence and ability, but certainly no other countries could do that. And of course that being said, you always want to be properly trained and prepared for any meet so you can do your best and represent your club, college and country proudly.
20. Coaching U.S. teams, how cool is that?
Chuck: It feels awesome. With some of my experiences – getting to go to other parts of the world and be a part of team USA, it’s a series of really proud moments. You need to forget where your politics may lie because you get to be part of what clearly is the best swimming nation in the world, and you get to show up in Turkey or wherever wearing the flag. That’s really cool, and it broadens your perspective.