Kennett Area YMCA Swim Coach Makes a Splash at State Finals

Volunteer swim coach Kelly Burke poses with members of the Kennett Area YMCA Swimming team

The YMCA has always had a focus on swimming, and part of what’s built this strong legacy is talented coaches like Kelly Burk at the Kennett Area YMCA.

Burk reached a significant milestone this past spring by not only coaching her swimmers from Avon Grove High School to a state championship title but doing it immediately after having surgery for kidney stones.

A History of Swimming

You might say chlorinated pool water runs in Burk’s blood. A swimming coach for more than 20 years—both on the high school level and at the Kennett Area YMCA—she’s passionately committed to creating stellar swimmers and admirable young people.

“I love watching my teams’ growth and development as young adults and swimmers,” she says.

Her journey with the Avon Grove High School girls’ swim team began when she became the assistant coach in 2007, and later head coach in 2008. That same year she became the assistant coach of the Kennett Area YMCA teams, and eventually took over the reins as head coach in 2013.

Reaching New Heights

But it was in 2014 that Burk realized her Avon Grove team was special. “Our first goal was to win the Ches-Mont Swimming All League title for the first time in school history. We did, and placed third in the district meet.”

Goals for the following years were met and exceeded, culminating with the 2017 season, in which the Avon Grove team maintained an undefeated record, saw its third Ches-Mont win and placed second at the district meet, which qualified them for the state meet. Headed to the state competition, though, things weren’t looking great.

“The girls were exhausted from balancing swimming and school work, so I tried to make it as fun as possible for them,” Burk says. “Going into Districts, the girls were not fully rested, so we tried to be as supportive as we could during their taper in to States.”

The team was set to depart for States at Bucknell University in Lewisburg at 2 p.m. on March 17. But at 12:30 that morning, Burk awoke with severe pain. Her husband rushed her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with kidney stones so severed they required surgery.

Assistant coach Chic McKnelly accompanied the team to Bucknell as Burk was being wheeled into the operating room, and she was out of surgery by that evening. But not even that could stop Burk from rallying for her girls.

“I luckily was released at 6 p.m. and had my husband drive me up the next morning for their competition on Saturday and Sunday,” she says.

Much like the preceding few days, the competition itself was a nail-biter, coming down to the wire in the final swim against North Penn High School. “Even when you watch the video of the meet on PCN, the announcer didn’t think we’d be able to rise above North Penn until the very last event. I truly believe that the girls went up to Bucknell and swam their hearts out not only for themselves, but for Chic and I.”

That final push ended in victory for Avon Grove, and a special place in Burk’s heart as a coach.

“It was priceless to be able to see the girls’ expressions when they knew they won. It’s something I still get choked up about,” she says. “They have worked so hard over the last 10 years of their lives that it’s nice to see them rewarded for their hard work and dedication.”