Swim Instructors carry on Mickle’s legacy

William Smith learned to swim as an adult by taking lessons from Coach Andrew Mickles. Now he teaches local students how to swim.
Photo by Suzette Cook

Lincoln High School graduate Richard Adams was in 8th grade when he started taking swim classes from Coach Andrew Mickle back in 1968. He went on to swim at Albany State University.

Nurse Brenadette Harper remembers swimming with Adams at the Lincoln pool and also being inspired by Coach Mickle who urged her to swim competitively for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).

William Smith, 85, started taking swimming lessons as an adult at Mickle’s home pool 30 years ago when he moved to Gainesville from Alabama with his wife Minnie Smith and took a job delivering flowers for a local florist.

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For decades, these three swim instructors have taught summer classes for City of Gainesville programs and local schools. They’ve passed on their passion for swimming to thousands of kids ranging from kindergarten to high school age.

With the help of Minnie, who serves as chief wrangler and an extra set of eyes from the deck, the lessons start and end with a splash.

The weekday classes typically last an hour at the City’s municipal pool in east Gainesville named after the well-respected swimming coach who served as an educator and a volunteer throughout Alachua County and as the assistant swimming coach at Eastside High School. Mickle also taught swimming lessons at his home pool for more than 30 years before passing away in 2015 at the age of 93.

First things first. When Harper takes attendance via roll call, each student goes over to Ms. Minnie to take a spin in the shower before entering Andrew R. Mickle, Sr. Pool.

One side of the shallow end has a raised platform for the youngest students to stand on.

Photo by Suzette Cook (From left) Brenadette Harper, Minnie Smith, Richard Adams and William Smith help kids learn to swim.

“Let’s line up and get in the water,” Harper announces.

One by one the students climb down the pool ladder under Smith’s guidance and take their place. The tallest students head to one wall and the shortest to the other.

Adams, 69, is in the water up to his waist as he blows a whistle and says, “Everybody quiet.”

“Watch my hands,” he says with all eyes on him. “We’re going to take the water and get wet. How do we get wet? We throw it.”

He starts splashing and the students follow suit with dozens of arms moving and water showering the area.

Next up, it’s time to blow bubbles. Adams says, “Hold onto the rail and all you do is blow into the water, watch.” He lowers into the water and makes bubbles and the kids all join in.

Now Harper takes on the next part of the lesson.

“Everybody look at me. Did everybody get wet?” she says.

“Yeah,” the two dozen students reply in unison.

Harper blows the whistle and sends the next instructions.

Photo by Suzette Cook Swim instructor Brenadette Harper has been teaching local youth to swim for more than 50 years.

“Turn around, put both hands on the wall, feet on the bottom, arms straight, no talking,” she says.

“Now everybody take a deep breath and all the way under. Let’s do that three times. Hold onto the wall, hold onto the rail and one and two and three,” she counts.

“Everybody good?” she asks and then she gives the next direction.

“Everybody arms in front, arms straight, feet on the bottom, shoulders in the water.

“Y’all ready, put your face in the water and blow bubbles? One, two, three go!”

When they come up for air, Harper says, “Now stretch out your legs, arms straight, everybody kick, arms straight, keep kicking.”

Minnie says, “They are kicking up a storm over there,” as water goes every which way.

Now it gets a little more complicated.

“Kick, blow, take a breath, kick blow, take a breath, face in the water, blow, face in the water blow, face in the water, blow,” Harper announces.

And then comes the glide.

“What’s the glide position boys and girls?” Harper asks.

“Everybody arms up, feet together, arms straight, legs straight, feet together,” she said.

“When you swim, you are going to glide through the water,” she explains and says, “Watch boys and girls.”

Harper takes a deep breath and shows them a glide.

To prepare them, Harper has them practice holding their breath.

“Put your face in the water for one, two, three,” Harper says. Then it’s faces in the water for a count to five and then seven and finally 10 whole counts.

She shows them the glide again and how all of the steps come together.

The students put it all together and on Harper’s count they all glide with their arms stretched overhead as they push off the side of the pool.

Now it’s free time to play before the kids climb out of the pool and rinse off.

The teachers say they enjoy watching the kids make accomplishments during each lesson.

Smith’s favorite part about teaching is, “seeing the kids make progress from being scared to being confident.”

Richard Adams (red shirt) leads swim lessons at Andrew R. Mickle, Sr. Pool.

Adams said he wished swimming was still part of the Alachua County Public School physical education curriculum.

His goal as a teacher is, “To see kids learn to swim and be able to go out in the water and play with other kids.”

For Harper, 67, teaching swimming is a full-circle moment.

“I swam competitively and with AAU basically through what Mr. Mickle did,” she said, and she went on to take lifeguard training and worked at Lincoln Pool after graduating from P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.

“Here we are, 50 years later, and I have been teaching swim lessons just about every summer since then.”

According to Harper, Mickle brought his swim lessons from his home to the city pool in order to keep kids interested in the swimming facility.

“Once we started teaching lessons here with Mr. Mickle and with his fame, more interest came and the City put more time bringing more groups in.”

“There was City camp, family nights on Fridays,” Harper said. “There’s been a more revitalized interest in the pool.”

According to City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department (PRCA) Supervisor Scott Chase, the City had about 650 kids go through swim lessons in 2019, then that number dropped to 420 in 2021 but is back on the rise.

“We hope to be closer to that 650 number this year,” he said.

To learn more about the aquatics program at City of Gainesville pools, click here.

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