Pake’s Pack laughing all the way to state

Published 5:43 pm Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Washington swim coach Spencer Pake has been named the Coastal Conference Coach of the Year seven out of the nine seasons he has been with the Pam Pack. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

It’s late December and one of the best coaches in the area has a Santa hat perched atop his head and is laughing with his players as he patrols the sideline.
The late, great Vince Lombardi would not be pleased.
As your eyes navigate down beyond the Santa hat you can see the coach is not decked out in the latest three-piece suit made by the trendiest of designers. Just a Nike shirt and some pants.
Rick Pitino would not approve.
When his team comes up big the coach doesn’t even consider trying to hide his elation and is quick to tell his players they’ve done a great job.
Joe Torre would stoically disagree.
The coach has been the leader of the Washington swim team for nine years and has presided over seven Coastal Conference team championships, three Coastal Conference Players of the Year, 24 individual/relay regional titles, one state champion and has been named the Coastal Conference Coach of the Year seven times.
Who could argue with that?
Nope. With his relaxed, fun-first attitude Spencer Pake does not fit the traditional profile of a widely successful coach, but his record book does.
This week the Pam Pack will bring an estimated 20 athletes to Friday’s NCHSAA 3-A state meet, which is almost the size of his entire roster when he took over the program in 2004.
Since then, Pake, a former Pam Pack swimmer himself, has doubled the program’s size and success. Last year Washington hit an all-time high as the boys’ and girls’ team won conference titles before the girls went on to place a school-best fourth at state led by Emily Pfeiffer, who won the Pam Pack’s first-ever state championship by grabbing gold in the 100-yard breaststroke.
A critical element to Pake’s success is that he injects fun into his practices and sincerely cares about his players, but does not let the line get blurry between friend and coach.
“I do think about keeping it fun and making them want to come back,” Pake said. “It’s tough having to practice every night at 6 p.m. It takes dedication. These kids have homework and jobs. I want to make it worth their while. That’s just the whole climate and culture of this team. That’s what we’re built on.”
That bond is formed early as Pake also coaches the Washington Whitecaps, a summer league swim team for young children as well as teens.
Pake, who serves as the assistant principal at Chocowinity Primary, develops their talent and fosters sturdy relationships with the swimmers from an early age. As a result, by the time the athletes get to high school they aren’t just swimming for a varsity coach, but someone who they’ve known since they were children.
Being a “players’ coach” can be a tough line to walk but somehow Pake does it to perfection.
“They know when we can play and when it’s time not to joke around. That’s the tone we try and set here,” Pake said. “They know I love to laugh and laugh with them, but they also know when it’s time to get down to work that we’re going to get down to work.”
The chemistry surrounding the Pack swim teams over years has always been top-notch and as a result his players give top-notch efforts.
An athlete will work extremely hard if he or she is afraid they might lose playing time or be forced to run extra laps at practice. However, players that don’t want to disappoint a coach that has put his faith them will always try harder. There’s no doubt the Pack swimmers want to win for Pake as much as themselves, which has led to overwhelming success.
Even the late, great Vince Lombardi would agree with that.