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Swim coach’s job still up in the air

Colleen Branigan, former assistant coach, is now acting as the interim head coach for the North Whidbey Aquatic Club. - Photo by Michelle Beahm/Whidbey News-Times
Colleen Branigan, former assistant coach, is now acting as the interim head coach for the North Whidbey Aquatic Club.
— image credit: Photo by Michelle Beahm/Whidbey News-Times

Bill Patterson’s status as the head coach of the North Whidbey Aquatic Club swim team remains up in the air.

A special meeting was held Thursday by the North Whidbey Parks and Recreation commissioners to discuss a recommendation by the executive director that Patterson’s contract be terminated.

The purpose of the meeting was to come to a resolution to either accept or reject the recommendation. At the end of the meeting, however, the parks board opted to defer a decision until after a second special meeting set for Monday, Aug. 18.

Executive Director Gino Wolfe said he made the decision to fire Patterson. He held a question-and-comment meeting for the parents of swim team members on Sunday.

“Gino has told us that he fired (Patterson), he alone has made that decision,” said Michael Black, the parent of a swimmer, during Thursday’s meeting. “He didn’t tell us that he recommended to the commission, but that he alone fired him, and he hopes you guys agree.”

Last year, the parks board commissioners passed a bylaw stating that all terminations of contracted employees must be approved by them, and the executive director can only make recommendations.

Reasons for Patterson’s termination were discussed by Wolfe and the board in a closed session. Details were not revealed, but parks board chairman Allan McDougall said. “It strictly deals with his performance as head coach, with swimmers.”

Though Black and others said they want to keep Patterson as coach, not everybody agreed.

One attendee, who refused to give her name, claimed attendance reports given at monthly meetings show that overall attendance at swim team practices dropped to about one-third of what it was before Patterson was hired as coach.

Teresa Warden-Wollas, a volunteer and the mother of a swim team member, said she believes Patterson was difficult to work with.

“He had all these brilliant ideas, and the follow-through was never there,” Warden-Wollas said. “He never followed through with a single thing.”

Efforts made by her and other volunteers to set up a booster club and run practice meets on weekends to ensure all the equipment worked properly were unsuccessful, she said.

Patterson, she said, was uncooperative.

“Every time I asked if I could have help with something, he would find somebody, and when we would then all collaborate and get together, he was late to a meeting,” she said.

“How do you expect to get something off the ground if you’re not respectful to your volunteers?”

Warden-Wollas said her son, who swam for more than four years, took his first break from the team this summer “because he straight up told me, ‘I don’t like Coach Patterson.’

“It might not be the time and place for him,” Warden-Wollace said.

“He might need to move on.”

Vanya Brown, another swim team parent, disagreed. Brown said she supports keeping Patterson as coach.

“We had a mentor here,” Brown said. “We had a coach who was bonded with our kids. That’s what we know; that’s what we think we are losing.”

Bill Walker, former executive director of the district, hired Patterson with the support of a hiring committee.

“I think people were really taken with Bill’s maturity, his calmness,” Walker said. “We perceived that he would be calm in the face of negativity. That he would create a new, more even-keeled culture on the team.”

Parks Board Commissioner Sean Merrill, who attended the meeting over the phone, said that, after giving the commissioners a “strategic plan” for improvement, Patterson would never explain how he planned to achieve those goals.

According to “conversations that had taken place in executive session,” Commissioner David Walton said, attempts were made by Wolfe to work with Patterson to improve his job performance.

Following public comments, Walton made a motion to defer a final decision on whether or not to terminate Patterson’s contract until 5:15 p.m. Monday.

The special meeting is for the public. It will be held at the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool in Oak Harbor.

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