North Whidbey Aquatic Club coach Frank Comerford, left, instructs several of his team members at practice last week. (Photo by Jim Waller/Whidbey News-Times)

North Whidbey Aquatic Club coach Frank Comerford, left, instructs several of his team members at practice last week. (Photo by Jim Waller/Whidbey News-Times)

New aquatic club coach wants swimmers to enjoy sport

For new North Whidbey Aquatic Club coach Frank Comerford, it’s all about the fun.

“We will teach technique while focusing on fun and learning about the sport,” he said.

The club included nearly 125 members in its youth and masters programs in 2012, but mismanagement, miscommunication and continual coaching turnover — coupled with the closing of John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool for a year — dropped the enrollment to about 30.

Comerford aims to reverse the trend.

“We are looking to grow,” he said. “Right now we are trying to establish the framework.

“We want the community to know that swimming is more than a competitive sport; it’s a life-long sport.”

Those wishing to tryout for the club can stop by the pool at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 27. New members can test the waters for free for the first week to see if the club is for them.

Tryouts are tentatively set for the third Thursday of each month, Comerford said.

In addition to increasing the enrollment of the club, Comerford would like to reintroduce the adult masters program.

Comerford comes to Oak Harbor with 50 years of coaching experience; he started when he led a team while in the Air Force in California in 1967.

He turned to swimming in high school after an injury ended his football career, and he fell in love with the sport.

Comerford said he “always had a passion for coaching,” so that was a logical step after his competitive days were over. He is now certified as a “distinguished professional coach” by the American Swimming Coaches Association.

He attended college in Canada, earning a degree from the University of Calgary and establishing dual citizenship.

Comerford helped start a swim club in Calgary which has grown to one of the largest in the country.

The Air Force and his jobs took him all over the world, and during his travels he has coached overseas, throughout Canada and in at least seven states.

He has developed numerous nationally-ranked swimmers.

Among his stops were stints in Olympic and Victoria, which led him to seek the North Whidbey job when it came open.

“I like the area, the mountains and water,” he said.

The North Whidbey Aquatic Club was sponsored by the parks and recreation district in the past, but it is now a private club, Comerford said.

The park district, however, is still invested, he noted, and wants to work together to “come up with a good product.”

The City of Oak Harbor has also been helpful, Comerford added, and with everyone working together, the group has established a “win-win type of situation” for all.

Comerford’s coaching philosophy follows the ideas stressed in the “Long Term Athlete Development” program established in Europe.

“The program keeps pressure off young kids,” he said. “I want the community to enjoy the sport and take it as hard as they like.

“First, we will teach them how to swim. Once they get comfortable, then we will introduce competition.”

As the swimmers’ skill levels increase, then the level of competition will increase, he said. They will start by taking part in meets around the Pacific Northwest and the Vancouver, B.C., area.

He hopes to eventually take his team to meets all over North America.

Because the North Whidbey Aquatic Club is private, it will use fundraisers to help with expenses. The first fundraising event is a swimathon scheduled for July 20.

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