Stingrays coach Holder works to get more Blacks involved in swimming

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Physically demanding. Mentally draining.

Those are a couple of sentiments that Pittsburgh Stingrays coach Hosea Holder offers about the sport that he fell in love with over four decades ago.

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HOSEA HOLDER (CENTER w/CAP) AND PITTSBURGH STING RAYS SWIM TEAM (Courier Photo/Erin Perry)

“When you swim, air leaves the body quickly,” Holder said. “It’s such a tough sport that a number of athletes think they can all do at first. But they find out, just as quickly, that is not the case.”

Holder, a 1955 graduate of Westinghouse High School, moved here from Birmingham, Ala. as a young boy. He said his first interest in swimming came when he would go to the Hill District’s Ammon Recreation Center pool and see it filled.

“It was quite fascinating to see that tank full of folks up there,” he said.

A former member of the 3rd infantry division, 35th armor, Holder served in the military for six years. As a part of his tour, he served in Frankfurt, Germany. He loved how they coveted his beloved sport.

“That country wanted to implement a swimming facility for every 50,000 people,” Holder said. “They had amazing places to swim in Germany. It was amazing to see that culture.”

After leaving the military, Holder officially began his coaching career in 1965. And for the past 47 years, it’s been his life’s work to educate and coach the area’s youth.

But it came at a cost.

During a time in which racism was prevalent, Holder reflected on how tough it was to be a Black man that was heavily involved in a sport that was predominantly White.

“There were times in which rich Europeans had to intervene in situations that my White counterparts wouldn’t allow my kids to compete,” he said. “That was a tough thing to deal with because I knew my kids had what it took to be dominant.”

Today, he coaches the Pittsburgh Stingrays, a competitive youth swimming team that houses youth in four age groups: 10 and under, 11-12 years, 13-14 years, and 15-18 years.

They compete under USA Swimming, which is the national governing body for the sport. Regionally, the Stingrays contend as a part of Allegheny Mountain Swimming which administers competition in parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.

Holder is proud to have coached for regional All-Stars, that during the 60s and 70s, competed in as far as Montreal, Quebec for nationally qualifying meets.

The All-Stars had a hand in the development of Nate Clark—a South Hills high product, who as a member of Ohio State in1962, was the first Black to score a point in an NCAA final.

“That was truly a golden time for our organization,” he added.

But the current state of the economy doesn’t make it easy for kids, namely in the African-American community, to participate.

“It’s so expensive to cover pool time these days.” he said.

Previously, the Stingrays used Duquesne University as their practice venue—which according to Holder—costs upward of $15,000 per indoor swimming season and $1,700 for outdoor. The team is currently in the process of finding a new indoor venue.

This summer, they’ve competed at Citiparks’ Highland Park pool.

The cost per family for children to participate is usually somewhere between $500-$600, annually.

In addition to the high financial costs, and unlike many sports, swimming has a 12-month season. The training hours aren’t ordinary. During the summer, practice runs from 9-11a.m. and for the rest of the year it goes from 5-8 in the evening.

“It takes many commitments to be able to achieve in this sport,” Holder said. “Finances, time, physical, and mental. It is truly a huge commitment.”

(Malik Vincent can be reached at mvincent@newpittsburghcourier.com or on Twitter @malikvincent.)

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