The Thurgood Marshall HS swim and dive team is making a fierce comeback under new leadership

MISSOURI CITY, Texas — After years of low participation and a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, Fort Bend ISD’s Thurgood Marshall High School swim and dive team is back and bigger than ever.

Under a new head coach, Kellyn Burke, the team, made up mostly of black student-athletes, has dashed its goal of doubling enrollment and continues to break records and make school history.

It was destiny for Burke to coach the team. She originally came to the school last year to be their new English teacher for their early college program, but when their athletic director and principal learned that Burke was a former competitive swimmer, they knew they had found the Buffs’ new head coach .

“I saw that fire in Ms. Burke when it comes to swimming because if you have a passion for it, you can pass that passion on to your students,” said Dr. Ogechi Uwaga-Sanders, Principal of Thurgood Marshall High School. “Leadership is important, and finding someone who is inspired is the first step. I knew that with her energy and love for swimming, she would be able to find students who might be reluctant.”

Before Coach Burke took over in 2021, the school never had more than five student-athletes on its team and was on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When they revived their program last fall with the help of assistant coach KJ Mateo, they didn’t anticipate the turnout they had.

“I had no intention of becoming a coach this year. I just wanted to focus on teaching and getting used to the school, but once I learned about the history of the team, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Burke said. “We tripled what was my goal for the year, which was 25 to start with. Now we’re down to 35 for this semester. It was an incredible turn of events.”

That’s not the only record the team broke this year. Kamryn Sterling is the first Marshall High School student-athlete to win Fort Bend ISD’s Swim & Dive Female Scholar Champion honors after being nominated by Coach Burke.

“I usually study art. I work in the fields of theatre, art and dance. When my mom and sister told me that Coach Burke was new and she was going to take the team from the bottom up, they told me she was going to teach the basics and I didn’t even have to know how to swim or anything. I trust the water now and feel so relaxed every time I step in. The water calms me. Every time I’m in the pool, I know I can have fun and I know it’s exactly where I need to be,” Sterling said.

Coach Burke says what makes their team unique is its diversity. She hopes to grow her team even more each year. After seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey five years ago, she hopes her team will pass on those essential skills that could help others survive a natural disaster or even a trip to the beach.

“I am very competitive and very eager to take us to a higher level. But if I can make everyone feel safe in the water, our goal is just to get them to a point where they can teach others to swim,” Coach Burke said.

The team will host an upcoming Swim-A-Thon and is accepting donations through Fort Bend ISD’s RevTrack. For more information about the water buffalo visit their website TwitterInstagram or by email to

For stories about Houston’s diverse communities, follow Rosie Nguyen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Thurgood Marshall HS swim and dive team is making a fierce comeback under new leadership

Dais Johnston

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