- Cleburne Independent School District
CHS Head Swim Coach is Also a UIL State Record Holder
When Cleburne Head Coach Mary Beck escorts four Jackets into Saturday’s 5A Boys State Swim Meet, she will be navigating familiar water--as a former state champion whose record still stands.
This is Beck’s first year to lead the Cleburne High School swim program after serving as an assistant coach in 2019-20. Beck, who grew up swimming, remains the UIL state record holder in the girls 200-yard individual medley, which she set in 2008. That finish time of 1:56:45 also set a new national high school record.
Beck’s gold-medal finish in the same event in 2007 is also listed among the top ten times in the UIL record book. The achievements earned her state and national accolades—and press coverage—from a multitude of national swim publications to Sports Illustrated. She was honored in 2007 and 2008 as Swimming World Magazine’s Female High School Swimmer of the Year.
Following graduation from Austin’s Westlake High School, she swam one year in the women’s program at The University of California-Berkley, before joining the women’s team at Louisiana State University. Beck is utilizing those years of competitive swimming in her new role of head coach, backed by her classroom experience, including two years as a biology teacher at CHS.
Born in Alaska, with the early part of her childhood spent in Colorado, Beck took her first laps at age four in the local swimming pool.
“I loved it from that first summer,” she said. “I begin swimming competitively year-round when I was seven. My mother is also a swimmer. When she was a student at the University of Minnesota, she was a walk-on, and set a school record.”
“We moved to Austin when I was in the eighth grade, but I didn’t swim at Westlake my freshman year because the schedule conflicted with my participation in USA Swimming,” Beck said. “But I decided to compete on the high school team as a sophomore and junior to have that experience.”
Westlake won the 5A state meet both those years, and was also honored as the National High School Swim Team of the Year. Beck was a gold medalist in four events both those seasons, competing on the 200-yard and 400-yard medley relay teams and, individually, in the 100 backstroke and what would become her “signature” 200-yard IM.
After her high school days, Beck says she rarely thought about her standing state record, describing her finish time of 1:56 “something.” But she credits high school swimming for opening a lane to college opportunities.
“I felt, even as a freshman, that swimming would allow me the opportunity to look at a bunch of schools, and provide the freedom with finances to look at colleges across the country,” she said. “Looking back, I am so grateful that I was able to go on to swim at the college level. I didn’t appreciate it then, as much as I do now.”
“I was a good academic student, but all my classes weren’t AP,” Beck said. “Swimming opened doors for me to swim at Cal-Berkley. But even coming from Austin, Berkley was a bit ‘out there’ for me—it just wasn’t a good fit.”
Beck’s move to the women’s program at LSU also aligned with her father’s—and his family’s—Tiger heritage. Her competitive swimming days ended when she moved back to Texas, graduating from Texas Tech University. While a career in education was always her goal, she majored in criminology and natural resources management, accompanied by an alternative teaching certification.
In her first year in teaching, she wanted to serve in a classroom on the Texas coast, landing a position with Rockport ISD. She came to Cleburne from Rio Vista ISD.
Beck says thoughts of her high school years come back more frequently now that she is coaching the Jackets. She describes the opportunity as a good fit.
Senior swimmer Matt Harman, who will be among those competing for the black and gold at Saturday’s State meet, says Beck has established a solid bond with the team.
“Her technicality is so effective,” Harman said. “She has a great perspective. When she asks you to try a new or different technique or way of doing things to help you improve, she can show you the evidence behind her suggestion. She can prove to me that what she is recommending will be effective. She is good at fine-tuning and a great motivator.”
“With Coach Beck’s background in the sport of swimming, she knows what we are capable of,” he said. “She’s seen it in us, and has experienced it herself. We listen to her.”
Cleburne ISD Athletic Director Jeri Larrison-Hall says Beck brings a lot to the table in her level of experience as a competitor, and in her love of the sport.
“We are very fortunate to have Mary on our coaching staff at CHS,” Hall said. “Last year, as I sat watching the State swim meet and flipping through the program, I saw her name—and did a double-take. I knew that she swam in high school and college, but I had no idea she was a state record holder.”
“Mary brings an entirely different level of passion and knowledge for swimming, and it is a huge benefit for our swimmers and coaching staff,” Hall said. “She has a winning mindset as a result of her personal successes. Coach Beck, in her first year as head coach, is clearly instilling that same mindset in swimmers here at CHS. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for our program.”
Beck brings her years as a state and national competitor, coupled with the knowledge she has gained as an educator, to the pool each day. She puts in her own laps at 5:30 each morning, preceding the arrival of team members for their 6 a.m. practice.
“I feel those experiences are a strength as a coach,” Beck said. “I have seen multiple coaching styles and training techniques. I feel I know what works—and what doesn’t—not only in coaching, but also teaching.”
“Teaching has helped me, as a coach,” she said. “When you present a lesson or a new concept, and you see it’s not working, with the whole class or one student, you come back and explain it in a different way. Swimming is also a very individual sport, and you must approach it that way. It’s exciting growing young adults through swimming.”
Beck will be making a second trip to State on March 2, when she accompanies Samara Harman, who will be competing in the 500-yard freestyle at the girls 5A contest. The meet date has been changed twice due to the weather.
“We have a hard-working, resilient group of kids,” Beck said. “They have dealt with the impact of COVID on their season, their meets and the way things are being conducted this year. Last week’s weather effected their practice schedule, and a place to practice. They have gone through things I never did as a high school swimmer, yet they never stop doing all they can to be competitive and do their best. I am so proud of them for that.”
Beck thinks this perseverance and resilience will put her swimmers in a class all their own as they compete at State.
“They will handle the procedural changes, along with the date changes, better than most,” she said. “They are so used to overcoming obstacles. They are more prepared for change—even more than they know.”
“I want State to be a positive experience,” she said. “I want each one going to feel better for it. They can carry the lessons and experiences they learn from this on through to the rest of their lives. I want them to go out and do the best they can and see what happens. My end goal is for them to be good people, to learn and improve. For me, that’s a successful swim meet.”
On Saturday, Matthew Harman, Jaxon Coates, Ryan Head and Parker Pritchard will be competing in the 200-yard medley relay, following their first place finish at the Region 2 meet. As Region 2 gold medal individual qualifiers, Coates will be racing in the 500-yard freestyle and Harman will compete in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard breaststroke. Prelims will begin at 10 a.m. with the finals starting at 5 p.m. The meet will take place at the North East ISD Bill Walker Pool and Josh Davis Natatorium in San Antonio.