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Destiny Leads to Dynasty
Hart Swim Coach Steve Neale Planned for Career with CIA
July, 2009 - Issue #57
Coach Steve Neale
Coach Steve Neale
Despite the yearly graduations of star players, despite a bull's-eye on its back, despite playing in a sports-crazy valley, the Valencia High softball team pulled off an incredible feat this spring. The Vikings won a share of a ninth consecutive league championship.

That's longevity.

It's also 19 league titles shy of the Hart High girls swim team's current streak.

Since 1982, no Hart female swimmer has experienced what it feels like to finish in second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth place. Meanwhile, the Indians boys swimmers, league champions as well this year, are on a streak of 67 consecutive dual meet league wins.

That's more than just longevity; that's a dynasty.

That's what Steve Neale, Hart's head swim coach since 1984, has built.
"Coach Neale has created an amazing tradition at Hart," says Hart senior Jordan Danny, who won the Division I breaststroke title this season. "Everyone wants to keep it going.

"He motivates us and pushes us and he makes us care about representing our school."

Neale has been the face of the Indians swimming program literally since the start.

When the school formed its first-ever swim team in 1970, Neale was the captain. As a freshman at Cal State Northridge the following year, he was asked by the Old Orchard I community homeowner's association to start a youth swimming program. It's the same swimming program that continues to develop the swimmers who go on to swim for Hart.

It was supposed to just be a summer job.

"There weren't too many people around here who knew much about swimming back then," Neale says. "They had some pools and they wanted me to get the kids involved."
After finishing college, Neale started his high school coaching career with three seasons as an assistant at Hart, followed by three years as the girls swim coach at Saugus High.

It was supposed to just be an after-school job.

"People just kept calling me and giving me jobs and I kept saying, 'Sure, why not?"' Neale says. "It was just something I did while I was taking my MBA courses. I had job training all lined up for the CIA. I was on my way to Langley, Virginia for advanced training. I had a teaching credential at the time but that was plan B or maybe even C."

He had every intention of going to Virginia and never wearing a whistle again.

Luckily for hundreds of Hart swimmers, Simi Valley High swooped in just in time.

"Their principal called me up and offered me a job right over the phone," Neale says. "He said he wanted me to teach there and to be their head coach. I just said, 'OK, I'll do it.'"

One year later he got offered the head job at Hart.

"It's been really fulfilling and it's made me happy," Neale says. "It's funny to think about how very different my life would have turned out if it had not been for one phone call."

It's hard to argue with his decision. The championships speak for themselves.
They key is the way Neale reaches out to and motivates each individual swimmer.

Elite athletes are given the freedom to train and compete with club teams where they can be properly pushed. But they're also given responsibilities to keep them connected.

Danny, who will go on to swim the breaststroke for USC next season, for example, was asked to give lessons to the Indians' JV breaststroke swimmers throughout the season.

As for the not-quite-college-bound swimmers, they are treated with the same importance. League titles aren't won with first-place finishers alone. It takes a deep team filled with both sung and unsung heroes - a fact Neale successfully gets his swimmers to buy into.

"In age-group swimming, they want to do everything well and everybody becomes a rival," Neale says. "On our team, everybody specializes. Everybody has a role. From the top swimmer all the way down, everybody cheers for each other. There's no rivalry. Everybody is motivated to do everything they can not to let anybody down."

Letdowns by Hart teammates have been a rarity. Especially this season.
This year's Hart boys, unbeaten in the regular season, finished 11th in
Division I.

Hart's girls finished second in Division I. Champions in Division II the year before, the team would have likely repeated as CIF title winners if it had stayed in the same division.

Most importantly, they did what Neale's teams always do - dominate locally.

"It was a great season," Danny says. "For the seniors on this team, it was the perfect way to end our time swimming for Hart. I think I can speak for every girl and every boy here when I say that we did it for Coach Neale. Every time we swim, we swim for him."
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