As family patriarch, Ed Macko had one rule for his three children when they were growing up: Play any sport you want, but you have to swim until you’re 18.
It’s certainly paid off, for both the Macko family and Archbishop Ryan, where Ed has been the girls swimming coach since 1998. The sport itself has always been a family affair, as Macko’s three children — son Nick and daughters Melanie and Sarah — all have swum for him at the high school level.
Sarah, who graduated from Ryan in 2006 after serving as a swim captain under her father, has come full circle in recent years. After graduating from Penn State in 2010, she soon returned to Philadelphia and latched onto the Ryan girls program as an assistant specializing in distance swimming. She joined an already winning Ryan swim tradition; since Ed has come on board, he has won 10 Catholic League championships, four district titles, two national Catholic titles and has accumulated more than 150 wins at the school, where he has also served as a teacher since 1974.
The Mackos are a family that has spent most of their lives in and around the water. In addition to their swimming experience at the high school level, all three of Ed’s children have served as lifeguards on the beach in North Wildwood. Since Sarah has swum her entire life (“It feels like I’ve been swimming since before I could walk,” she quipped) under Ed’s watch, their coaching relationship has fallen into place rather easily, with Sarah being the yin to Ed’s yang, or vice versa. During team practices, they routinely split the pool in half, indicating a mutual level of coaching trust.
“I’d describe her as more of the enforcer,” Ed said in between team pictures at the Alberta Morris Pool across the street from the school on Feb. 20, a few days after Ryan’s first-place finish at the Catholic League Championships.
“I’m definitely the bad cop in the good cop, bad cop scenario,” Sarah said with a laugh. “But I think they can definitely relate to me as a former swimmer here, so the girls can come to me if they have a problem that they don’t feel comfortable sharing with my dad.”
Ed’s dedication and commitment to the school’s swim program have been steadfast over the years. He has established a standard of excellence that is passed down from one class to the next. Both coaches stressed that strong senior leadership is imperative, as the mental and physical commitments the sport requires can be extremely taxing.
After seeing how much Ed and Sarah put into the program, it’s usually not too difficult to talk the upperclassmen into becoming leaders, Friday 5:30 a.m. practices and all.
“They’re more than just coaches to us,” said senior co-captain Nora Jackson. “Sarah knows what we have to do to succeed; she’s been through it, so she knows exactly how to push us.”
“They work really well together,” added fellow senior Danielle Petsis. “Ed is more soft spoken, but he knows how to get things done. His inspirational speeches in the locker room are enough to make you cry. He’s a father figure to us, and Sarah’s our big sister. They’ve had so much success over the years. The legacy of Ryan swimming has become a legacy of winning, largely because of them.”
To show how big of an impact the Mackos have had on the program, one needs to look no further than this year. Ryan had a whopping 13 All-Catholic selections, more than any other team in the league. Following the Ryan swimming philosophy of “Nobody swims alone,” this year’s squad has adopted traditions from past teams, namely if you aren’t in the pool, then you need to be cheering for your teammate who is.
“If I see a girl on the side of the deck who’s not standing up and cheering for her teammates, believe me, she’ll hear about,” Sarah Macko said. “We all support each other.”
Ryan draws a lot of its talent from the Catholic Youth Swim Organization (CYSO), which serves as a grade school feeder program. In other words, kids in various area elementary schools grow as disciplined swimmers through CYSO, so that by the time they get to the Mackos (or another coaching staff at another school), they’re ready for the rigors of what is essentially a year-round commitment.
Ryan has been able to sustain success due to the overall depth of its teams, opting for a handful of very good swimmers in each event as opposed to just one All-Star swimmer across the board. In addition to the 13 All-Catholic selections, the team’s depth shines through when examining total results from the league champs events. In 21 events, Ryan accrued 662 team points; the next closest squad, Archbishop Wood, had 377 points.
“Think of it like pieces in a puzzle,” Sarah said. “Every piece counts toward the end result.”
Ed Macko, while fully aware of his success in the sport over the years, is modest when discussing his own personal accomplishments.
“Everything we do here is a repeat of what we’ve done for 15 years,” he said. “We haven’t let go of things we do as a team over the years, which I think adds to the pride and mystique of what our program has become. People ask me how we do it, and I say it’s a combination of camaraderie and discipline. Both Sarah and I understand why the traditions are the way they are, and we don’t let the girls forget it.”
One day, the time will come for Ed to walk away, and maybe he’ll pass his head-coaching whistle down to his youngest daughter. But that time is not now, as the father-daughter combo is still having too much fun together at the pool, the way it always has been.
“Watching it all as a coach, I 100 percent wouldn’t want to stand on the deck next to anyone else,” Sarah said. ••
Sports Editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or firstname.lastname@example.org