Keith Schertle, Loyola Blakefield
by Nelson Coffin
Keith Schertle learned from the best swimming coaches in the area, and put that knowledge to good use.
The long-time Loyola Blakefield coach, who is now an assistant to head coach Nick Breschi at the Towson school, took a little bit from legendary coaches Arthur “Reds” Hucht and Murray Stephens to find his own path to success — and a lot of it.
“I swam for Reds,” Schertle said about being a member of high-caliber teams at his alma mater, Calvert Hall College High School. “And I worked for Murray (at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club). I can’t say that I took more from Reds than I did Murray, but in his heyday, no one was better than Reds. And then Murray was killing it (at NBAC and Loyola). I took what I liked from each of them.”
What all three coaches have in common is winning, with Schertle claiming four Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference titles in the past decade and 16 in a row dating back to 1996 before the streak was snapped by McDonogh School in 2012.
The Dons would go on to add a three-peat under Schertle from 2013-2015 before he stepped down and then he returned briefly in the 2018 campaign after a sudden coaching change.
Schertle, who said that they “dusted the old guy off and brought him back for one more season,” was pleased with his team’s effort while bowing, 280-274, to the champion Eagles.
“We didn’t lose — McDonogh won,” he said, noting that the six-point differential between the teams was one of the closest he could remember in the season-ending championship meet. “We swam well and they swam well. If we didn’t swim 100 percent best times, it was pretty darn close. We had some swimmers who cut two seconds off their best times and still lost by .08 of a second. There’s not much you can do about that.”
That attitude, even in defeat, showed why VSN’s Boys Swimming Coach of the Decade has been able to stay on top for so long and why stars swimmers, such as VSN’s No. 1 Boys Swimmer of the Decade Cole Buese, greatly benefitted from Schertle’s tutelage.
“Keith was more than a coach for the guys on the team,” Buese said. “He had an easy-going, always calm demeanor, which was needed in the lives of 20 or so high school boys. As I said, I swam both high school and club swimming (for Loyola Blakefield Aquatics), and while swimming is always an individual sport on some level, Keith’s focus was always the success of the team — in the pool, but also in other aspects of our lives, whether that be academics, our families or our roles in the community.”
Schertle said that his father, Kenneth Schertle, who coached a variety of youth sports in the Parkville area of Baltimore County, was an example of how to keep his emotions on an even keel and to have his teams ready for any eventuality.
“My dad’s teams were always well prepared,” Schertle said. “And if they won, the celebration was for the kids and their parents while he would hide.”
Schertle said that his growth as a coach included the ability to know his swimmers’ limits.
When he swam for Hucht and later coached with Stephens, five morning practices, in addition to as many afternoon sessions and two weekend workouts were simply the sport’s standard regimen.
However, Schertle eventually embraced the less-is-more philosophy, cutting morning practices to twice a week to complement shorter afternoon sessions and having Sundays off.
“I’ve found that having two morning practices are just the right amount,” Schertle said. “It’s also about coaching them about good nutrition and getting enough rest — and high school boys need more sleep. Having a lot of practices tells the kids that this is the most important thing that they do, and coaches want a kid who likes to swim. But I think a little more time away from the pool is better for them.”
He said an average practice lasts from 75-to-90 minutes with 4,000 yards the goal.
“Not every kid has to swim 6,000, 7,000 or 8,000 yards,” Schertle said. “The longest distance in a high school meet is 500 yards, so 4,000 yards should be enough.”
Schertle said that if there is any kind of season this year, he will still be able to assist current Loyola coach Nick Breschi, a member of several championship teams under Schertle before graduating in 2013.
“I had the forethought to retire before it was suggested to me,” Schertle said. “So, yes, I’ll be assisting Nick. But when if it comes time for them to tell me to get off the pool deck, I’ll go.”
McDonogh coach Scott Ward said that finally getting the best of Loyola took some doing.
“Keith set the bar high for us,” Ward said. “We’re really strong now because of Loyola. Loyola is the reason we kept elevating because they were the best.”
Schertle said that dealing with being a runner-up to Ward for the past three years has not been that difficult because the Eagles “earned” their lofty status.
“Would I prefer that Loyola keep winning,?” he asked. “Sure I would. But Scott has done a great job and built a great program at McDonogh.”