Northeast Times

A family affair

— Ed and Sarah Macko, Arch­bish­op Ry­an’s fath­er-daugh­ter coach­ing duo, have found suc­cess in the pool.

Sarah and Ed Macko hold up swim team trophies and awards at the Arch­bish­op Ry­an prac­tice swim­ming pool. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

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 em­or­rone@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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