By Brandon HENSLEY
Summer may be long gone, but kids all over the Southland are still having fun in the water thanks to the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena’s aquatics program.
On a recent Saturday, the club held a swim meet between Pasadena’s Blue Rays and the Stingrays of Sylmar. The meet involved kids ages 6 to 14 and the competitions were divided up into age groups and gender.
Events consisted of swimming each stroke 50 yards, or two laps, although kids 6 and under did 25 yards. It didn’t matter who won. What mattered, according to Blue Rays Coach James Granados, was seeing the improvement everyone has made in their capabilities.
“A lot of these kids have just learned how to swim,” said Granados. “[They] started out in the swim lesson program with me, and they’ve gotten to the point where they’ve made it onto a swim team competitively.”
Grandados, 28, has been the aquatics director for three years at the Pasadena club. He swam at Monrovia High School, in college and even on the state level. He is a trained lifeguard and a former EMT.
Saturday’s meet was special for him because he was able to coach against his first swim coach, Mike Baham, who heads the El Cariso pool in Sylmar. Baham coached Granados when he was nine on club teams in Monrovia, and in high school. Granados said it had been about six years since he last saw Baham, but Baham got Granados’ phone number this year and called him to set up a meet.
“I felt a little bit humbled,” Granados said. “It’s interesting; I never thought I’d be coaching against my first swim coach. It was overwhelming.”
Granados said Baham taught mental toughness on his teams; that if they had enough focus, they could pull through. “That was his encouragement; it’s all in your head,” Granados said.
But Granados said that was a sidebar to the main point of the day — seeing the kids getting better. “Some of these kids used to be afraid to jump in the deep end and now they’re competing on the swim team. That’s what’s cool about it,” said Granados.
What might also be cool is how Granados can apply Baham’s teachings to his own swim students. “We’re able to give kids a great experience in a team environment,” said Phil Albanese, club chief information officer. “James is a great aquatics coach and we hope he never leaves.”
Granados and Albanese both said that most of the kids who are club members or on the swim team — of which there are around 20 – are from the Pasadena/Altadena area, and even some from L.A., but numbers from the Foothills are growing.
Members from La Cañada aren’t “that big, we’re increasing our numbers, maybe 10 or 15 kids, but from the La Crescenta/ Sunland area it’s a lot more,” said Albanese. “It’s bigger in the summertime.”
“We have a lot of families that live in the Sunland/La Crescenta area that drop off their kids in the summer because they work at JPL and Caltech.”
The Blue Rays are a year-round swim team, and with Granados at the helm, the desire from families to join in on the action may soon be increasing.
“We have a lot of kids in the Pasadena area that are only members of the Blue Rays swim team because of the swim competition that they get to be in. Normally they’re not club members at all, they just want to be members of the Blue Rays,” said Albanese.