Brother-sister duo work together helping Phelps Luck swim team to progress, have fun

Siblings share a pool passion

August 02, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Brooks Whiteford scurried around the Phelps Luck pool, talking to a seemingly endless mix of swimmers, parents, coaches and officials. Wearing an eye-catching tie-dyed red T-shirt, the Phelps Luck head swim coach worked especially hard to keep his swimmers aware of what was happening and ready for their next race.

But on this hot Saturday morning during the All-City Championship Meet, Whiteford could not do it alone. The 20-year-old Columbia resident found his assistant coach and went over some lineup changes. Then he gave her a hug. Assistant coach Brittany Whiteford did not seem mind at all.

This is Whiteford's fourth summer coaching the Phelps Luck Snappers - third as head coach - in the 14-team Columbia Neighborhood Swim League. His sister, Brittany, 18, has coached with him all four seasons. Both have a deep connection with Phelps Luck - they swam with the Snappers for a combined 28 seasons - and a passion for the sport that is contagious in the community.

"They bring so much enthusiasm and caring, wanting to have a good time with everybody, making it a family atmosphere," said Julie Uhl, who has two daughters on the Snappers and serves as a team manager. "They grew up in swimming, and they've just continued on through swimming. They know what it's like to be a swimmer."

Brooks was 5 1/2 and Brittany was 4 when their mother signed them up in the CNSL. Both quickly fell in love with the sport to different degrees. Brooks began swimming year-round at the age of 7 and competed at that level until eighth grade.

He swam for the Calvert Hall varsity team for two years before deciding to play drums in the school band. However, Brooks continued in the summer league, competing with the Snappers until he reached the age limit of 18. Brooks is a computer science major entering his junior year at St. Mary's College.

Brittany - called "Britty" by nearly everyone associated with the CNSL - has been a swimmer/coach the past four seasons. She also swam year-round from the age of 6 through her recent graduation from the Garrison Forest School, but, like her brother, stayed with Phelps Luck in the summer until reaching her age limit this year. She is getting ready to start her freshman year at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Both applied for paid coaching positions before the 2003 season. The Columbia Association Aquatics Department hires coaches and usually doesn't assign siblings to work together. But Cindy Neat, CNSL's assistant supervisor, said the department felt confident the strong relationship would let them peacefully co-exist in a job that requires long hours during the six-week summer season.

"We've been a good team all along," said Brooks. "It would be a miserable job if we were constantly bickering with each other. There's teams out there where the coaches don't get along, and it's not a good situation to be in for the swimmers or the coaches because it reflects upon the team in a negative way."

Both served as assistant coaches under Lauren Wilson the first year before Brooks took over as the head coach in 2004. The pair split the coaching duties based on their strengths. Adrian Gibbs, who just graduated from Centennial, is the team's other assistant coach.

"They are 18 months apart, but they always have been close," said Zulma Whiteford, their mother. "I think it helps them a lot coaching. They know each other so well. They know their strengths and weaknesses very well. They were different, but even though their interest in swimming was at a different degree, they both loved it. I think that's what led them to be able to coach together now."

Brittany's competitive career officially ended during Saturday's All-City Championship Meet, which ended the CNSL season. There was no dramatic moment. She completed the butterfly event late in the morning, climbed out of the pool, hugged her mother and ran over to help some of Phelps Luck relay teams get ready for races.

At first, Brittany and Brooks had to deal with some people who questioned whether the teenagers could be effective coaches - especially since they swam on the team. But Brittany wasn't worried.

"I knew the team well because I swam with them ... but a few of the new families wondered," Brittany said. "Just doing our job was the only way to get around it. That was the best way to do it. I was comfortable from the first day, and we both had enough confidence in each other."

Brother and sister have outgoing personalities and pushed hard to make the swim season fun. Brooks moonlights as a disc jockey and made sure music was a part of the practices.

"We tell our kids all the time [that] it's about having fun," Gibbs said. "We all enjoy what we do."

Brooks and Brittany teach the basics and then let the swimmers enjoy the season. And despite the team's 0-5 record this summer, they were proud to see the swimmers get better every week. That progress was evident Saturday, as the Snappers finished fifth in the 14-team event.

"I love it, and I wouldn't have it any other way," said Brittany of coaching the team with her brother. "Brooks and I are such a good team. We're such a tag team, and we've always been really close. I guess that kind of sums it up."

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