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Louis Sam Fruia is retiring as aquatics coordinator from UISD


Posted Date: 05/20/2024

Louis Sam Fruia is retiring as aquatics coordinator from UISD

While his mother worked in the hotel industry, Louis Sam Fruia grew up by the pool and learned everything he could from the lifeguards.

“I became friends with the lifeguards and they showed me things around the pool, how to maintain them and they showed me how to swim,” he said. “I knew from an early age I would be in aquatics but I didn’t know what role I would be in.”

Fruia is retiring from the United Independent School District as the Aquatics Coordinator of The Carroll E. Summers Jr. Aquatic Center. He leaves behind the beautiful, giant natatorium as his legacy.

He knows the 49,000-square feet swimming complex inside and out because he designed it from the perspective of every role he has played in the world of swimming. Championship swimmer, lifeguard, water safety instructor, coach and administrator.

Fruia, 68, is retiring because he said he needs to give back to his family at this time. He wants to give to them what they gave to him all those years he pursued his aquatics career.

“I have a sign by my office that says life is fun by the pool. And that’s exactly the way I have felt. This has never been a job. This has been a passion. And swimming has taken me all over the world,” he said.

“And so I am leaving it behind and I am a little sad about that but I have some obligation to the family, to give back to them whatever time I have left. And reciprocate what they gave to me for all those years in aquatics that I pursued my career.”

The natatorium holds a competitive 50-meter, eight-lane pool, an adaptive four-lane pool for children with special needs and an area for competitive diving. The grandstand seating can support 850 spectators and a 15-feet deck space can provide deck seating for 700 participants and coaches.

And since it opened in 2021, the center has provided more than 5,000 children within Laredo with water safety skills and a competitive environment. 

In his ninth year at UISD, he caps off an impressive career - 27 years working in schools and this is his 45th year in aquatics. He has launched three aquatic centers - in Brownsville, Conroe and Laredo.

When Fruia was recruited from Conroe, where he met UISD officials who were touring his facility there, he was asked if he would be interested in coming to Laredo to build something similar.

“My first question is what is it that you have in mind,” he said.

“They told me they wanted to create a facility that was going to attract a regional championship meet and provide enough room for their high school teams,” Fruia said.

When Fruia handed over his detailed notes and observations, he was told that he had made the architect’s job very easy.

“I was very much from the ground floor involved in building this facility,” Fruia said.

Achieving far more

The butterfly was his best stroke. It requires great strength, grace and absolute timing.

It is a metaphor for his life.

He started in Brownsville as a lifeguard, later becoming a water safety instructor. He loved aquatics so much, he wanted to become a coach.

“I realized in order to be a coach at the high school level, I would need to become a teacher so I became a teacher and once involved with coaching for 18 years I wanted to become an administrator and be involved with aquatics centers like this,” Fruia said.

Swimming has been part of his soul from his early beginnings. Aside from growing up by the pool, he was told by a doctor when he was young and suffering from double pneumonia to take up swimming to strengthen his lungs.

He was a championship swimmer in high school. At Austin College, where he was team captain, he also set several records and was a national qualifier. He also worked with college athletes at the University of Iowa, a Division 1 School, and they were in the top 10 in the nation.

“I had the opportunity to see what it would be like to climb the top of the mountain - the competitive mountain,” Fruia said. “I had the great pleasure of working with outstanding coaches who taught me about creating that championship environment and the importance of doing that … so I had some really good mentors along the way.”

He also was hired by the U.S. State Department to head to South America in 1985 to prepare coaches who were training athletes for the Olympics.

“The interview over the phone was really something,” he said with a chuckle. “The state department asked me a series of questions and they asked me to speak to them in Spanish, and when I did, they said, ‘Ok, you’re hired’,” he said, laughing.

As a family man, he and his wife raised four daughters, all of whom loved swimming.

He introduced the oldest one to the pool when she was 2-days-old. One daughter signed on to swim at the University of Minnesota.

Justin Meza, head swimming and diving coach at Alexander High School since 2015, and a close friend of Fruia, said that Fruia talks of his family often. He remembered that Fruia and his wife liked to stay in haunted hotels and share their stories with friends. He will always recall Fruia as a family man but will also remember him as an extremely passionate person when it comes to aquatics.

“He is the most passionate but not just about competitive swimming but about aquatics … learning to competitive swim to competitive diving to running a facility the size of the natatorium,” Meza said. “What do you want to know? I have answers,” Meza said in describing Fruia.

“It is amazing how much he has learned throughout the years, and he is willing to share,” Meza added.

He gives a lot of credit to Fruia for the powerhouse that the Alexander swim team has become.

Under Meza, Alexander has won 11 district titles and won five regional championships. Meza has also sent 20 swimmers to state qualifiers.

“There is a lot of success in the Alexander program, and I definitely will say it was not by myself but definitely the team and taking Coach Fruia’s knowledge. It was a team effort for sure. He has always been a big part of that,” Meza said.

In the meantime, UIL has once again awarded UISD the 6A Regional swimming and diving championship meet for the next two years.

A kind mentor

The district wants to thank Fruia for his work with the natatorium. But he has done so much more. He has created a swimming community in Laredo, he has trained the staff and kept them up to UIL standards and he has been a kind mentor to many, said Mary Rodriguez, LBJ High School head swimming and diving coach and English teacher.

“I applied with the district in 2016 as a lifeguard. He took me under his wing and taught me a lot of the strategies I know now as a coach,” she said. “He is a teacher and never stops being a teacher even though he is out of the classroom. He makes sure that if you want to learn, he is willing to teach. That’s how he became my mentor. I grew exponentially as a coach, thanks to him.”

She said that a lot of people find him intimidating initially. “When he is coaching, he does yell a lot, but he is down to earth and humble and he is a coach through and through,” she said.

“He is the sweetest, most helpful person and he cares about all the kids. He introduced the second grade program. That was one of his biggest goals, and now we have this program and we teach every second grader in the district,” Rodriguez said. “I think people would be surprised to know just how much he cares about the community, about the programs, about the district.”

And the natatorium is now “the place to go to where competitive swimming is concerned,” she added. Fruia has brought water polo tournaments as well, according to Rodriguez. Located in South Texas Region 8, the natatorium hosts teams from the Valley, San Antonio and all of Laredo.

“It’s clean, fast and because we have hosted those tournaments, they know we’re up to the task,” Rodriguez said.

She recalled that when she was on the swim team at United High School in 2011, there were about 10 members on the swim team. Today, all four high schools have strong, competitive programs. Her team has 30 swimmers and two divers.

Coach Claudia De la Cruz, head swim and diving coach for United South High School, said he could be tough but he was also a wonderful mentor.

“Coach Fruia’s leadership wasn’t about being in charge of us as high school coaches or our school teams or his title, but, rather, the impact he makes on guiding us to greater heights that define his legacy,” she said.

“His unwavering dedication as a coach and leader inspired and motivated the student-athletes of United South High School by encouraging them to have a vision, strive for their best and always embrace the journey with courage, and determination so they would never regret their accomplishments,” she added.

Fruia and his wife plan to return to Brownsville where two of their daughters live. But they will miss Laredo.

“Laredo is such a beautiful city, and my wife and I had such a beautiful time here. I am going to miss it a lot,” he said. “Working with the staff and the ISD has been a tremendous pleasure. It reminds me of my home in Brownsville but it has its own flavor and culture that is unique.”

Always a teacher, he has messages he wants to leave behind for the coaches, staff and students.

“The most important thing I could leave behind hopefully is to have instilled in them the idea of creating the championship environment,” Fruia said. “When I took on a job, whether it was Brownsville, Conroe or Laredo, my whole goal was to create an environment where kids were going to first have fun and secondly, because we’re part of an educational institution, they were going to learn things and then finally provide an environment for the coaches who came here with competitive athletes to not have to worry about anything but coaching their kids.”

He has a strong message for students, too.

“I would tell them to have fun, listen to your coach, learn as much as you can and explore the talents that the Lord has given to you to the best of your abilities,” he said.

 

 

 

Sam Fruia3.jpg

Louis Sam Fruia talks to students at the pool

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