“The club was originally started as the Kingsport American Legion Swim Club and through the years, the club has expanded and contracted,” coach Chris Coraggio said. “We employed three full-time, professional coaches and depending on the month, we have anywhere from 120, 150 kids in the water.”
The year-round club has two main sites, in Kingsport and Johnson City. Swimmers range from 6 years old to college age, and the club welcomes all skill levels.
“I took over as the head coach in 2002 and the program has expanded greatly since then. The first practice I went to, we had 47 kids,” he said.
Coraggio arrived in Johnson City as a highly successful assistant and head coach in the college ranks. After graduating from Notre Dame and earning a master’s degree from Ohio University, he served as an assistant at Drury College, helping the team win six national titles.
He became the head coach at NCAA Division II Northern Michigan, where his team won the conference in four consecutive years and he was voted Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference coach of the year from 1999-2001. Coraggio tutored one national champion, an Olympic Trials qualifier, 15 All-Americans and 17 Academic All-Americans.
“My job is to get our swimmers to the point where they don't need me anymore,” he said. ”But I also tell them that I’ll be there if they do.”
Coraggio said one of his main goals when he got to Johnson City was to expand the coaching staff.
“I’ve been here for 17.5 years and coming from the college environment, this has been very satisfying,” he said. “Getting three full-time coaches and getting them professionally certified gave assurance to the parents that they were going to get some of the best coaching around and that their kids would succeed.”
Being involved with a program for so long and seeing it expand has had outstanding moments, but Coraggio said that not one instance stands out specifically.
“I’ve coached plenty of All-Americans, all-state and Olympic Trials qualifiers, but every day I go to the pool, there’s a new favorite moment,” he said. “One reason I love coaching is I love seeing that light bulb come on when a kid finally figures out a stroke or something like that. It’s one of those satisfying moments.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Coraggio has been having team videoconferences via Zoom and trying to keep the kids engaged. Posted on the BSC website under the “Barracuda Strong” tab, there are workouts, inspirational quotes, a team challenge and learning modules to help sharpen mental strength.
“One of the main things with swimming and in any sport is building confidence,” Coraggio said. “We started ‘Barracuda Strong’ because we want to keep the kids’ confidence high even though they can’t be in the pool right now. And when we do return to the water, they can be stronger mentally.”
The summer swimming schedule has been heavily affected by the pandemic with all USA Swimming events being canceled through May 31.
“It’s been tough on the kids, but hopefully we’ll be able to get back into the water soon,” he said. “Swim meets bring together a lot of people in a very small area for an extended amount of time and that’s something we’re trying to avoid right now.”