That’s The Right Chemistry: Steve Pasquale’s Story

Article originally appeared in Talawanda Tribune’s Print Magazine Changing Perspectives, May 2019

That’s The Right Chemistry: Steve Pasquale’s Story
Early Mornings. Intense Nerves. Trial. Error. And the long journey that brought him to THS.

By Patrick Geshan

Steve Pasquale has found the chemistry needed for swim and dive success at Talawanda. The established head coach has won a conference championship every year at the helm of the program. And now through a decade of coaching, that magic formula is something Pasquale solved through his own victories and failures, a few important role models, and a long grind called swim season.

“Steve,” as all his athletes like to call him, was born in Woodbury, New Jersey — a suburb of Philadelphia nestled on the I-95 corridor. Pasquale lived there until age two, when his parents decided to move north of the big city because the traffic was so bad from the south. “My dad would drive this road where there was so many accidents to work, so we moved to the other side of the city to Landsdale, Pennsylvania where the drive to Philly was safer.” He joked: “It’s like Oxford’s relationship to Cincinnati, except when you drive from Landsdale to Philly it’s all urban, not farm fields.”

It was in Landsdale where Pasquale’s swimming career started. And like the athletes he coaches, it all began at a young age.

“I started swimming lessons when I was six or seven, and I just kept moving up,” he said. “Eventually, I mastered all the levels, so my swim coach recommended I try out for the swim team.” His first big memory in the pool occured at age eight, when Pasquale earned a third place finish in the backstroke at the league championship meet.

“I think that performance was when I really realized that this was something I could do and excel at,” Pasquale said. “That meet is where my confidence in the pool really began.”

That swimming career continued on when Pasquale enrolled at North Penn High School in his hometown. Lucky for him, the school’s biggest sport was swimming.

“There were 860 people in my class. Just imagine all of THS being one grade, and that was what high school was like for me,” he said.

Pasquale barely made the swim team his freshman year, working his tail off during the spring and summer club seasons. He was part of a team that won state titles his sophomore, junior, and senior years. But it was a grind.

“I know a lot of people complain about swim practices today,” he said. “And I know because I went through it too.”

His average high school day in season would start at 5 a.m., where Pasquale’s team would start practice at 5:45 in the morning before school. Then, the team would go to school, and afterward, it was back to the pool for more swimming during the afternoon. “We would practice for two more hours after school, and then lift and do abs on certain days of the week. I wouldn’t get home until 6 p.m.,” he said. “So we basically had two-a-days during the school year while in-season.”

Even the coach knows.

“Swim practices suck,” he said with a chuckle.

But all the time paid off in the end. To Pasquale, it built a foundation based on hard work and the rewards that come with it. And that kid who barely made the team his freshman year turned into a valuable asset for North Penn’s swimmers. “My senior year, I swam in four events in the state meet, and I got the career most improved award for the work I put in during my high school years,” he said.

The lesson it taught him? “If you work hard in anything, benefits are going to come. I’m the person I am today because of swimming. It taught me about discipline and commitment, and putting your heart into something,” he said.

Pasquale describes his high school self in three words. “I was dedicated, motivated, and goofy,” he blurted with a smile. “My teammates and I would shave our heads before big meets, so I would do crazy stuff.”

They would dye their hair all sorts of colors, and try some interesting hairdos before taking it completely off.

“One time I shaved the full top of my head but left the sides with hairs on them, kind of like someone that is balding,” he said. “Those are the moments that make high school fun.”

He calls the most influential figure in his life during high school his swim coach, Bill Bartle. “A lot of the coaching stuff I do today is modeled off what he did. Bill always believed in the value of hard work, and that’s what really makes me buy into it, too.”

Bartle now serves as North Penn’s athletic director, and Pasquale and his class of former teammates was inducted into the North Penn Athletic Hall of Fame a few years ago. “That was a special moment, and it was great to see everyone again,” he said.

When it came time for college, Pasquale got some offers, but decided on Franklin and Marshall, a school smaller than the size of North Penn. The reputable geology department and rising swim team were what sold him. Plus, it’s location in the Appalachian foothills just an hour and a half West of Philly kept him close, but gave some space in The State of Independence. “I knew I could make an impact on the team right away even as a freshman,” he said. “Those immediate contributions I could make were important to me.”

The team won its first ever conference championship during Pasquale’s freshman year, a memory he is extremely proud of. “I knew that the mix of a great geology department and a strong swim team would be a good fit for me,” he added.

When it came time to talk about the future, Pasquale was at a crossroads toward the end of college. “Geology was my passion, but I just didn’t really want to do research the rest of my life,” he said. “The best parts of my week as an upperclassmen were when I was a lab assistant for younger classes. I just liked the interaction with students.”

So when he was considering graduate school, a professor at Franklin and Marshall recommended a place called Miami in Oxford, Ohio. Pasquale’s other options were Oregon, Oregon State, Iowa, Iowa State, and Idaho.

“My professor had a student out here doing research so that’s how I learned about it,” he said. “I heard about the strong geology department, and at that point, education was something I wanted to pursue, and obviously they have a good program for that here as well.”

In 2003, Pasquale came out to Oxford for a visit.

“I was sold on the college town idea. I just liked that vibe that Oxford was so tied to the college. Plus, the professors I talked to were really cool and supportive,” he said.

In 2009, Pasquale earned his Masters in both Geology and Education at Miami, which gave him a teaching license. He student taught at Talawanda during his time at Miami, earning him an “in” on a conveniently-timed job opening. Talawanda High School needed a science teacher and a head swim and dive coach.

His then-girlfriend Carly, from the Dayton, Ohio area, told Pasquale to go after it.

“I really liked Oxford, and with Carly from Dayton wanting to stay close, it really made it an easy decision to apply,” he said.

Steve Pasquale was named a science teacher and Talawanda’s new Head Swim and Dive Coach right out of graduate school in 2009. And that first season was crazy.

“It was my first year teaching, I was the head coach of the swim team, I just got married, and my first daughter was born all at the same time,” Pasquale said.

That first year contained plenty of trial and error, modeled off what Pasquale’s coaches did in High School and College. “I just trusted in what they did with me and did it with my kids,” he said. “Our taper was super hard that year, and to be honest, I really didn’t know how it was going to turn out.”

He remembers the nerves at sectionals that year. “I can’t describe how nervous I was. We worked a whole season for this meet, and I was genuinely unsure of how they were going to do,” he said. “You want them to have a good time, and I didn’t want to be the one that ruined it.”

That meet turned out pretty well, with plenty of Talawanda swimmers advancing to the next round the weekend after winning another conference championship. “I felt really good about what I did and it gave me so much confidence going into the future years of coaching.”

And it was that first season that really taught Pasquale what coaching means. And how he implements those lessons learned in the long days of high school and college into today’s swim teams.

“My greatest fear is letting the kids down, because they work so hard,” he proclaimed. “Usually when I’m angry after a bad meet, I’m not mad at the kids. I’m always asking myself: What did I not do right?”

But “bad” meets are few and far between for a Talawanda squad that has claimed 13 straight conference titles. What’s the magic?

“It’s definitely our summer program,” Pasquale blurted out. “I start coaching these kids at 5, 6, 7 years old. We build relationships. We win championships together. We work hard together,” he said.

That summer program is the Oxford Seahorses, the summer club swim team out of Oxford where kids aged 6-17 compete in meets as one unit, trying to win the championship together. “It’s really cool, because a 6 year old race has as much weight as a 16 or 17 year old race,” Pasquale said.

Last summer, the Seahorses won their first conference championship in 6 years.

“When we get that pipeline started early, it gets kids excited for high school,” Pasquale said. “If you swim in Oxford during the summer, your definitely going to Talawanda. So it’s an early start, and the kids know what’s coming their way when they reach freshman year.”

This past high school season, Pasquale coached six freshman who swam for him since age 8. He began coaching senior Rory Adryan at age 5.

“I’ve had him as both a coach and a teacher,” Adryan said. “There’s similar aspects to his style in both the class and pool. He’s so knowledgeable about both, and I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from him.”

Adryan’s first year swimming for the club team in Oxford was Pasquale’s first as a coach.

“He’s grown as a coach as I’ve grown up. He can adapt to different ages so well,” she said. “He’s such a great guy and I look up to him so much.”

But the best advice Pasquale can give to current high schoolers, whether they swim or not, is to just enjoy their time.

“I never worried about what the name of the college I was going to was,” he said. “It’s not about the name. It’s about the amount of opportunity available there. Not many people have heard of Franklin and Marshall. But it was a good opportunity, and it did so much for me.”

He quickly added: “People get so stressed out over their grades, what the future looks like, how they’re going to make a living,” he said. “College is stressful about that too. Go to prom. Go to Homecoming. Go to the games with your friends. Just enjoy it.”

And the man that can name every element on the periodic table and has solved the formula needed for swimming success at Talawanda is definitely enjoying it. All you have to do is walk in his classroom, where a big poster of the periodic table shares the same wall as all the championship trophies.

The chemistry of Steve Pasquale’s life.
Photo by Kei Brown