Donna Skorupinski may be retiring, but her spirit of teaching will continue to live on.
Skorupinski has served as the head coach for the Blue Marlins – a summer swim team out of the White Oak Conference Center serving area kids ages 4-18 – for the past 19 years. She will be stepping down from the volunteer position after this season, which kicked off last weekend.
“She’s leaving behind a legacy,” said Waltrip High School senior Andrew Malcolm, who serves as Skorupinski’s junior assistant coach.
Skorupinski has always harbored a passion for swimming. She made her way through college at the University of Houston teaching swim lessons. She also has coached at St. Thomas High School and the Duschene Academy for six years, serving as the head coach at each school for the past two years.
Skorupinski began helping to coach the Blue Marlins after her son joined the club in 1998.
“It’s really like a family, and this is just such a huge group of wonderful people,” Skorupinski said. “Swimming is a sport where your whole family can be there and can participate in one place at one time. Everybody’s watching out for each other.”
For nearly two decades, she has imparted wisdom about swimming, hard work and leadership to her pupils and coaches with the Blue Marlins. Skorupinski also has been instrumental in helping the club grow to its membership to more than 250 swimmers as of this year.
During the Blue Marlins summer season, which lasts from early May through June, there’s almost no break for Skorupinski and her swimmers. They practice every weekday leading up to meets each weekend.
“From (time trials) in mid-April through the end of June, we pretty much don’t sleep,” she said with a laugh.
But Skorupinski wouldn’t have it any other way. Several other coaches have come and gone during her tenure as head coach of the Blue Marlins, but she still teaches.
Skorupinski cherishes each relationship she’s cultivated with the Blue Marlins, which has sprouted a tree of relationships.
She said multiple former swimmers she coached now bring their own children to the Blue Marlins. She calls them her “grand-swimmers.”
“You see them develop into adults and good swimmers, then kids and teenagers with good character,” said Skorupinski, adding that many of her recent Blue Marlins swimmers have followed her to St. Thomas when they reach high school. “Across the board, just seeing them grow from that little 4-year-old that cried every day because they didn’t want to swim into college age and seeing them come back to us is awesome.”
Leaving a legacy
Skorupinski’s impact over the years has gone deeper than the pool. Blue Marlins president Mary Beth Whitt said working with her has been an “inspiring experience,” because Skorupinski instills her passion for swimming into pupils of all skill levels and gives them hope for the future through encouragement.
Whitt’s twins joined the Blue Marlins at age 4 and could not swim at all. Thanks to Skorupinski, now they can.
Beyond just leading swimmers, Whitt said, Skorupinski also leads people. She has helped mold coaches such as Malcolm.
“He was working on breast stroke technique with a swimmer and he was frustrated with a problem in the swimmer’s stroke. He looked to Donna for help,” Whitt said. “I heard Donna tell Andrew, ‘Don’t give up, never give up, keep trying different things until it works. Think about how you can teach it differently so that he gets it.’ That has been the underlying message I have always heard from Donna: Never give up on yourself.”
Malcolm, who is part of Waltrip’s swim team, echoed the sentiment. He said Skorupinski began helping him learn to swim when he was 4 and has been a big part of his swimming career ever since.
Since becoming her junior assistant coach, Malcolm said Skorupinski has continued to play a vital role in his growth.
“She’s been very helpful teaching me how to coach and gives me workouts, drills and exercises that help me be the best that I can be,” he said. “What stands out is her teaching me that sometimes you have to get a kid out of the pool so they can do the stroke correctly in the pool.”
Since stepping into the Blue Marlins’ head-coaching role, every step Skorupinski has taken has been aimed at instilling passion in the pool and values outside it. Among her influences is helping the older and younger swimmers form mentor-mentee bonds.
One of Skorupinski’s favorite memories includes a then-8-year-old swimmer (now a freshman at St. Thomas) who went to an all-star event but was the only swimmer to not be introduced or have his name called. She recalled the boy’s mother telling her he vowed on the ride home to “go back to the finals in every event, and they’re going to have to call my name!”
Fast forward a few years, and that boy was a state finalist in two events this past season at St. Thomas. Journeys like that, Skorupinski said, are the reason she’ll cherish her memories with the Blue Marlins.
“It’s incredible seeing that look in their eye when they just get it. It’s the best feeling,” she said. “They grow so much in every way possible, and I think it’s just a positive experience for them with all they learn.”