Mark Bucat paces the sides of the August G. Brown Swimming Pool hollering instruction aided by hand signals and body language.
Chants of "Reach," "Rotate," "Go" echo throughout the building in rhythm with the fluid strokes of his swimmers in the water.
The swimmers, members of the Juneau-Douglas High School team, respond to Bucat's chants by slowly, but noticeably, picking up the pace of their strokes.
This is the what the fan saw while watching last week's Juneau Invitational, where the Crimson Bears swam their way to overwhelming wins in the last regular-season meet of the season.
Next weekend, the Juneau boys and girls squads will embark on a quest for the Southeast titles at the Region V Swimming Meet in Sitka where, for most, a whole year of training is on the line.
And this is where Bucat comes in. For the past two years, he has spent uncountable hours instructing and motivating the Crimson Bear swimmers under the direction of head coach John Wray. He took over for former assistant coach Jan Rumble, who left after the 1999 season.
"Jan and I worked hand in hand with the Masters program and a couple years ago she couldn't assist with the high school team anymore and talked to John (Wray) about me," Bucat said. "John writes the season plan, but I'm well versed in all the drills. I like to take one specific aspect of each stroke and implement it with each swimmer."
"This guy (Bucat) deserves a lot of credit with the training," Wray said after the Juneau Invitational. "We work well together. He genuinely cares about the kids although they may not know that when he's yelling at them."
Bucat has also worked with Juneau's Glacier Swim Club since 1995 and, between that and the high school team, Bucat says he finds little time for much else.
"Most of my friends work jobs where they make money and have nice cars and houses and that kind of stuff," Bucat said. "I just spend a lot of time here at the pool -- sometimes up to 11 hours a day. I don't have the toys. I just have lots of pictures of champion swimmers on my walls."
Bucat got his start swimming for the Crimson Bears during his high school days, where he qualified for state in the 50-yard freestyle his senior year. But he admits that swimming did not come easy for him.
"I was one of those kids who had to work hard," Bucat said. "I was a lower-end to middle-of-the-road swimmer. I started swimming late -- my freshman year -- and I had a lot of catch-up to do. But nothing can substitute for hard work."
Bucat says that being just an average swimmer himself has helped him in coaching, where he hints that he sees himself in some of the kids.
"This sport humbled me from the beginning," Bucat said. "These kids don't get enough credit. My biggest satisfaction comes from seeing the middle of the road kids and to see my motivation and energy rub off on them."
Bucat graduated from JDHS in 1987 and shortly afterwards joined the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served during the Gulf War.
Although Bucat has not served in the Marines since 1992, his military background is evident in his training methods where he can sometimes resemble a drill sergeant motivating his troops.
"The kids know I'm motivated and psyched up," Bucat said. "And when they see that, they're going to be motivated and psyched up."
"He's a softy at heart. He just doesn't like to let it show," Crimson Bear girls swim team captain Annie Fox said. "He just knows our potential and likes to see us look good."
But everything comes down to a genuine love of swimming for Bucat and that overture resounds in almost everything he says.
"This is not a job for the money," Bucat said. "You gotta have a love of the sport and love for the kids."
In the future, Bucat sees himself as a head coach of a big swim program somewhere. He says he has had offers from some of the smaller Southeast schools, but turned down the offers to stay with his alma mater.
"We have the best parent support group," Bucat said. "It's phenomenal and that's why I've stayed here so long -- because of the outside help."
Jeff Kasper can be reached at email@example.com
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