New pool at Thomas Jefferson gets visit from old friend Ryan Fagan

Friday, January 31, 2020 | 5:14 PM

Thomas Jefferson’s new state-of-the-art pool had a distinguished visitor Jan. 21 when the Jaguars met Peters Township in a nonsection meet.

Former TJ diving standout Ryan Fagan, an assistant coach at Peters Township, was in attendance, along with a large crowd.

Fagan competed at TJ from 1999-2001 and was a three-time WPIAL diving champion and an All-American. From 2001-06, he attended and dove for Indiana.

He helped spur the Hoosiers to a Big Ten title and, more significantly, was a finalist at the 2004 Olympic Trials.

TJ, coached by John Penn, finally has an indoor pool it can call home following a long wait.

Penn and Fagan, a diver for the Jaguars when Penn was an assistant, were on opposite sides at the recent meet. Regardless, they maintained their longtime friendship and mutual respect.

“I was very excited about coaching against John because it is always good to see him,” Fagan said. “I have a ton of great memories competing for TJ and working with John. I’m very happy for him to have this beautiful pool, and the community’s thrilled with the new building and pool since TJ didn’t have a home pool.

“John has been a coach I’ve always looked up to. I’m happy I can share my passion of diving with students just like he gave us the opportunity to compete.”

Penn is a 1977 TJ graduate and has a long, distinguished affiliation to the Jaguars swimming and diving program.

“It’s great seeing Ryan and what he has been able to do coaching divers in Western Pennsylvania,” Penn said. “He was a key athlete on our first team in 1999, and seeing the success he has had through the years is great. He’s always had a great attitude and motivates the athletes to succeed.

“Ryan was our diving coach for several years, and at the same time, his wife (Michelle) was our head swim coach. Michelle was a very good swimmer at Indiana. Ryan had a great career at TJ, winning WPIAL championships and posting incredible diving scores. The fact that he came very close to making the USA Olympic diving team speaks for itself.”

TJ’s coach when Fagan competed was Bill White.

Penn, who is retired after a 38-year career as a quality manager for Eastman Chemical in Jefferson Hills, said Fagan had an impact not only at TJ but throughout the area.

“All the surrounding teams saw how well Ryan did in diving, and his success opened the doors for more athletes to take up diving,” Penn said. “And when Ryan was our diving coach, he was able to recruit more athletes and share diving (techniques) with them.”

Penn, who is assisted by Brian Peters, played baseball and swam for various clubs during his athletic career years ago.

“I started coaching in the summer at Jefferson Swim Club when my kids swam there,” Penn said, “before their high school days in the pool.”

The Indians had been looking forward to their visit to the TJ aquatic center since the start of the season.

“This meet had been circled on our calendars as we were looking forward to the brand new diving boards at a great facility,” Fagan said. “We’ve been practicing some harder dives with higher degree of difficulty as we get closer to the WPIAL championships.”

The meet was a season highlight for the home team.

“Swimming a fast team like Peters pushes our athletes to swim faster,” Penn said. ”We had 50 recorded time drops in either events, relays or portions of our relays. Mackenzie Meyers qualified for WPIALs in her third event, the 200 IM (along with the 200 free and 500 free.)

“Hallie Findlan dropped both of her 50 and 100 free qualifying times, and three relays had nice time drops. We missed two other qualification times by 0.5 seconds.”

Fagan has been coaching for the past four years at Peters Township, whose head coach is Mike Myers.

“My basic philosophy is to help student-athletes reach their full potential and have fun with a hard-working group of divers,” Fagan said. “I never care how much experience a diver has, but I love seeing them push past their comfort zone, make corrections and succeeding. My goal is to create a positive learning environment and give divers an opportunity to grow as young men and women.”

As for his ultra-successful stint as a diver at TJ, Fagan is thankful, and grateful

“I loved diving for TJ and representing the school,” he said. “The athletic department always supported us. It was a little different not having a pool, but the school did create a varsity team in my junior and seniors years, so it was nice having teammates and trying a few swimming events and relays.”

Fagan earned a business management degree at IU and is employed as a sales executive for his family’s business, Fagan Sanitary Supply.

“My parents started the company, and I joined them after I graduated from Indiana,” Fagan said. “We have been in business for 17 years, and our offices are within the West Jefferson Hills School District, in West Elizabeth. We help schools, businesses and health care maximize their cleaning resources to keep a healthy, clean environment.

“My wife and I met at IU. She was a swimmer. After we graduated, she was TJ’s head coach with JP as the assistant, and I was diving coach from 2006-10. We wanted to give back to the sport we both love, and TJ needed some coaches at that time.

“We were excited to see TJ’s pool opened and to have more aquatic opportunities for students; it was an exciting evening.”

Fagan is a PT assistant in the winter months. His devotion to diving is a year-round activity.

“I mainly coach with Peters Township but have assisted when needed with Pittsburgh Diving Club, and I do hold diving clinics in the South Hills,” he said. “When USC opens their new pool with a diving well, we may be able to hold more local clinics to get more athletes introduced to diving.”

Meanwhile, Fagan and the Indians have their thoughts on a more immediate prize.

“Our team is doing very well,” Fagan said. “We have several difficult dual meets coming up, and as a team the section title is always a goal while we keep our eyes on WPIAL championships, too.”

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