The new starting blocks at Vineland High’s John Casadia Pool are the kind that are found at state championship-caliber meets. Each one costs thousands of dollars and has a special powder-coated paint to help resist rusting. (South Jersey Impact photo/Sully)

Staff Writer

Vineland High School’s swimming program’s past is littered with championships, trophies, banners, accolades. The school has built one of the storied programs in South Jersey swimming and has one of the sport’s legendary coaches — John Casadia — to its credit.
But having a bunch of banners hung up on the wall doesn’t guarantee any type of success in 2022, and current girls swimming coach Mike Schneider knows he and his staff, as well as the coaches for the boys team, have to keep putting all their effort in to continue Vineland’s proud tradition of churning out quality swim teams.
To that end, Schneider and the other coaches have led a years-long effort to rejuvenate the school’s pool area to make it fit for one of South Jersey’s leading programs. The cherry on top came prior to last season, when shiny, brand-new starting blocks were installed.
Now, to an average sports fan that might not seem like a big deal, but in the swimming world, it’s huge. The starting blocks are similar to the concept used by sprinters in the 100-meter dash. They give a swimmer a place to leap off into the water and get a great start in their race. The fancier versions have great traction and stability, as well as handles on the side for extra support as a swimmer leans over and prepares to dive in.
“The first time we asked about it was in the 2014-2015 season, and it was clear the money wasn’t there for it at that time, so we decided to wait and be patient. Last year, a couple of the braces underneath that hold the blocks started to break a little bit. We had another one where the anchors were starting to pull out. We asked about it again, and they gave us approval (to upgrade the blocks). We had been asking about it for a few years and were just biding our time until the funds were there. This time we put the request in and got approval pretty quickly,” Schneider explained. “The school district took care of the costs through their budget. I talked to our athletic director (Donnie Robbins) about it, he ran it up the chain and we were able to get approval for it.
“The primary difference with the new blocks are the side rails that allow swimmers to use their upper body to launch off the block, and also the wedges on the back — which just became legal in high school swimming in the past six years or so,” he added. “Those are the blocks you see at GCIT (Gloucester County Institute of Technology, where state championships are held) and a few other places where you have high level state tournament meets. When you have them at your own pool, it’s a big benefit to get the experience and familiarity of using them.”
There have been a number of upgrades going on at Vineland’s pool the past seven years. Prior to the 2014-2015 season the pool was drained and repainted, and through the years lights have been replaced and new filtration and dehumidification systems have been installed.
But the blocks are a huge upgrade — one that costs in the tens of thousands of dollars. The reason they are so expensive is because of the materials that are used to construct them. They have to be built to withstand an environment that is filled with humidity and moisture.
“The blocks were the original blocks from when the pool was built in 1974, and a lot of that other stuff was original and had been repaired a bunch of times. After a while, it just becomes time to replace everything. A lot of stuff got done, and the blocks were kind of the last original pieces that needed to be replaced. We were really excited to finally get approval on it,” Schneider said. “Having the support of the school district to make this kind of investment in your program and your athletes is really a great feeling. The girls were so excited. We kind of kept it a secret from them for awhile. Paul Faranachio, who is our director of facilities in the whole district, is very quick to pass credit out to everybody in his department but he was the end of the line in terms of people in central administration who needed to support this. We needed him to believe in this project in order to run it up to the people he had to go through to get approval, and Paul had a big part of this. Our team decided to dedicate our poster to Paul. He wasn’t the director of facilities when the other projects were done a few years ago — there was another guy named Wayne Weaver who was another big supporter of Vineland swimming in that position — but Paul was part of that team, and he and his department have been big supporters. The blocks were the final piece, so to speak.”
“We’re all, of course, very thankful and it’s something we have completely taken advantage of. It’s a tool we’ve been able to use to help us get better, to help us practice our diving techniques and it’s also elevated our performance in the pool,” said Kendall Rivers, a member of last winter’s Vineland swim team. “It’s something we couldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams. Being on this team for four years, I’ve seen a lot of changes and this is one of the most important ones. I started swimming in a summer league and we just had standard blocks. GCIT has blocks that are similar (to the ones we have now) and when I swam there I thought they were awesome. Finding out we were getting them was really exciting. Facing all the adversity with covid, our administrators and coaches have really helped us get into the pool and really take advantage of this really nice pool we have.”
Added teammate Angelina Mainero after a meet near the end of the season, “it feels like Christmas this year. It’s been awesome to come in here and get to use these blocks, and we’re really thankful they did this. In swimming, they make us feel important. We’ve had great support from the community that comes out and watches, and the school administration and coaches. These blocks are awesome. You really fly off these things.”
Each year there is only so much money to go around in any school’s budget, so Schneider said he, his staff and his athletes just had to be patient — and persistent.
“I know it takes a lot of preparation and funding, but the coaches were pretty persistent about getting the new blocks. They told us to just make do with what we had until they could put this all together. They were always pushing for it. They want us to have the best, and it’s good that (the blocks) are finally here. It was just in time for our senior year,” said Mainero, a 2022 graduate. “From my freshman year to now, our team was a lot smaller back then but to see all the new swimmers come in and the team grow in terms of more people, our pool getting improved and the competition level being raised, it’s really been awesome to be on this upswing the past four years. For me, personally, ending my career on a high note, and I’m excited to see what the next group of girls can do.”
The South Jersey swimming community is a tight-knit group, and Schneider said he gave updates to fellow coaches throughout the Cape-Atlantic League as the process was playing out.
“When I was in the design process I shared some text messages with Mark Jameson of Egg Harbor Township. He and I are kind of swim junkies and I was like, ‘Mark, I think we’re going to get the big blocks.’ So hopefully we can get EHT in here on our schedule. I’m pretty sure (Mainland coaches) Brian Booth and Mike Schiavo told their athletic director (Mike Gatley) about it when they got home from our pool this year,” Schneider said. “The reaction has been great (from other teams). People come in all the time and tell us how great the facility looks and that really means a lot to us. We take a lot of pride in that.”
Schneider said now that most of the major projects have been completed, anything new in the next couple of years will be more cosmetic than anything else.
“This was absolutely not a small investment. Everything that is installed around these indoor pool facilities is very expensive because you have to use materials that can withstand that kind of environment. All kinds of metals will rust in there. These blocks have a powder-coated frame that can protect them,” he said. “We’re always looking at a few things we’d like to get done, but nothing we’re really ready to push for yet. I’d like to continue adding any kind of homage to the history of our program. I’ve started to kick rocks a little bit on finding ways to display our individual state champions. But, in terms of major projects I think we’re pretty much finished.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; Follow South Jersey Impact at; on Twitter @sjimpact

Vineland girls swimming coach Mike Schneider said the most recent improvements to the pool area at the high school have been years in the making. (South Jersey Impact photo/Sully)