Q&A with new swim coach Jason Schmidt

Schmidt+runs+in+February+at+a+trail+run+at+the+base+of+Jebel+Jais%2C+a+mountain+in+the+United+Arab+Emirates+

Photos provided by Jason Schmidt

Schmidt runs in February at a trail run at the base of Jebel Jais, a mountain in the United Arab Emirates

This year, Bellaire welcomed a new swim and water polo coach, Jason Schmidt, after former coach Elaine Pangle retired. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Coach Schmidt.

Is this your first year teaching? Where did you teach or work before you came to Bellaire?

“This is not my first year teaching, but it’s my first year teaching in HISD. I was previously working and teaching in Dubai at an American IB school, and previous to that, I was at a couple of international British-curriculum-type schools. I grew up in Houston and went to Jersey Village High School which is in Cyfair ISD, and graduated in 1993. I went to Colorado for university and stayed in Colorado for about 12 years. I moved to Austin in 2004 and ended up getting a job in the Cayman Islands. I worked with a bunch of schools on the island to teach swimming as part of their PE curriculum because overseas, swimming is pretty heavily influenced in the PE curriculum. I also worked with the national team and we had swimmers swim for the Cayman Islands in every Olympics game since 2004.” 

“I didn’t want to come back to the US, and my wife said, ‘I’ve got friends in Dubai. Should we get jobs there?’ I said, ‘I don’t know where Dubai is, but yes, let’s go.’ So we went to Dubai and now, I’ve got two kids who are nine and eight. I moved back to the US, which is my home. Houston’s my city, and I’m kind of starting my life over.”

For which government did you work for in the Cayman Islands?

“It’s the British West Indies, so I worked for the government there. They have a division called the Ministry of Youth and Sport. They had a central pool and I was located at the pool. I didn’t have a teaching certificate at the time. When I went to Dubai, it was the first time I was placed into a school, teaching PE and swimming. Then, I worked my way up to aquatics director and I owned my own swim company over there. It’s been an interesting couple of years. I never would’ve thought in my wildest dreams that swim coaching would take me around the globe a couple of times.”

What made you decide to come to Bellaire?

“I’d been in Dubai for about 10 years and had been traveling since 2006 or 2007. I had gone down to Aruba and Jamaica and did a couple of camps. Turning 46, I’m getting older, and I wanted to come home. I missed Texas, and I kind of did my thing and it was time for a change. Luckily for me, Bellaire’s previous swim coach had either moved on or retired. I know they’re under construction right now, and there’s a new pool coming, so that’s very exciting. It was just a perfect fit.”

Schmidt participated in the Ironman Triathlon in 2007 and 2008. (Photos provided by Jason Schmidt)

Did you swim in high school and in college?

“I did. I swam all four years of varsity in high school. I actually took a scholarship to Denver. I swam on a scholarship for about two years at the Metro State College of Denver. I was a swimmer and I had to work really hard to be average. I loved being a team member and I loved being on relays. I probably swam the fastest in a group. I loved the work ethic, the challenge, the goal setting and everything about the athletic part. I was a pretty athletic kid – I played baseball and football, and I had to decide on a sport in high school, and I chose swimming. I then got into triathlon when I was in college, and I’ve actually done the Ironman in 2007, and I tried it again in 2008 but I had to pull out of the race. Ironman has pretty extensive events: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run. That was a big part of my life and a huge accomplishment. I’m still active today; I love trail running, cycling and swimming. I haven’t been swimming much because of COVID-19, but I’m pretty active and I try to live a healthy lifestyle.”

“I think sports are just a part of my life. It’s who I am and I enjoy doing it. It doesn’t feel like a job or a chore. I like the goal-setting part of it, and just the human body and how it reacts to exercise is something that I’m passionate about.” 

Do you teach any other classes at Bellaire?

“I’m certified to teach PE. I’m not sure how exactly that’s working with COVID-19, but once we get back on campus, maybe we’ll be able to do some more. I just finished my master’s in education.”

How has teaching online been, especially as a PE and swim coach?

“It’s definitely taking the IB learner profiles and extending them times 100. Being a risk-taker. We went to online learning on Feb. 6 in Dubai. We devised a program that was more in-home fitness such as biometrics, dry-land training, jumping rope and doing those movements that you need for all activities, so it wasn’t really swim-specific but it was general fitness. We also did nutrition, and there was no hope of us going back to school because of COVID-19 and the protocols we had to live with. We were actually on lock-down for four to five weeks and we had to apply for a permit to leave our homes. It was pretty crazy, so coming to Bellaire, it didn’t seem too out of the ordinary to do online school at home. We have an agenda that I post every day for class. I try to get the student involved through Google forms, activities, videos we watch of swimming or even stuff about life. Thinking outside of the box, being a risk-taker and being open-minded – putting all the IB learner profiles to use.”

Is it harder to get to know your team as a first-year teacher at Bellaire during online learning? How has team-bonding been for the swim team?

“I’m fortunate that I’ve done this in years past so I kind of know the drill. However, it’s still very new because I haven’t met any staff members. I have to meet all the swimmers online, so there’s that not real, not tangible side of it, but we’re getting along and we’re making the most of it. So team meeting wise, we’re on Teams and we do our best to try to get to know each other.”

Jason Schmidt stands at podium after Jebel Jais race. (Photos provided by Jason Schmidt )

Are you excited about anything in particular this year?

“Yes, there’s a lot of things to be excited about this year. I’m excited that we could potentially be back in the pool soon. USA swimming has strict guidelines as to how that is to be implemented, and we will follow those guidelines at Bellaire. We have a brand new pool coming, so there’s a lot of things to be excited for. I’m excited to meet the students and be face-to-face again and meet my colleagues and everyone at Bellaire.”

What are the plans for the swim team this year during this pandemic?

“We haven’t been given much information about that. I know other schools in the state of Texas are swimming, and UIL have their own guidelines, but they’ve let each district make their own protocols. At this point in time, HISD has said that we’re not swimming quite yet. I’m waiting on directions from them, but when we do go swimming, I envision the social distancing – possibly three or four swimmers in a lane – but again, I just have to wait and see what happens. I have a whole list of swim meets from September through state and obviously, we had to cancel some of them because we’re not currently swimming. St. Thomas, Strake Jesuit – all those schools are swimming, and we had swim meets planned with them, but we had to cancel.”