In the middle of a room full of current and former swimmers alike, coaches, parents and general swim supporters at Valencia Hills Clubhouse on Sunday afternoon stood the man, the myth and the legend: Hart swim head coach, Steve Neale.
Grinning from ear-to-ear, the Hart swim coach of 35 years was swarmed by wave after wave of eager people that wanted to share how much he meant to them with his time at Hart.
Among them was former Hart swimmer and now assistant coach Anne Tysver.
“He was an awesome coach and brought a lot of the fun to the sport,” Tysver said. “It was exciting to swim under him for four years and now I get to coach alongside him. He brings so much excitement to the sport and adds a lot of humor to things. He just gets the kids excited about swimming. He’s a well-known name and he’s going to be deeply missed.”
Serving as the Hart boys and girls swim coach since 1984, Neale has churned out plenty of elite swimmers with the likes of two-time world record holder and four-time Olympic medalist Anthony Ervin.
Touching and influencing the lives of many Santa Clarita Valley swimmers, Neale has been a staple in the community for decades as former Hart swimmer Wilson Bellows, who swam under him for four years (2008-11) attests.
“When I was a freshman, I sucked,” Bellows said. “By the time I was a senior I became one of the fastest guys on the team. He’s probably an icon. When people think of swimming in this valley they think of Neale.”
Hart swimmer junior Ryan Sevidal, who was part of the 2019 Hart boys swim team that won the Foothill League regular-season title, has spent the past three years under the tutelage of Neale and was with him on his final trip up to the CIF-Southern Section State meet held at Clovis West High School on May 10 and 11.
“He made everyone from Hart swim his family,” Sevidal said. “To have 30 years worth of family to build upon is just amazing. It’s going to be completely different without him. Hopefully, we have the same amount of hype going into next year. A lot of seniors are leaving too, but we will try to carry it on.”
Elevating the level of swim in the Foothill League and Santa Clarita Valley for over three and a half decades, Neale has created champion swimmers, led title-winning teams and molded young men and women alike into accomplished student-athletes.
Neale’s charm, smile and upbeat attitude will all be sorely missed.
“Hart swim will never be the same without him because he basically rallied us through everything and that’s history,” Sevidal said. “He started Hart swim so now that he’s gone it feels like an essential part will be gone from Hart.”