Competing to save lives

Competing to save lives – National Pool and Waterpark Lifeguard Championship

Jim Wheeler

In the Summer of 1993, the National Pool and Waterpark Lifeguard Training Program developed a new lifeguard competition specifically designed for the pool and waterpark industry. The program focused on relevant skills and techniques; no non-lifeguarding (tug-o-war, swim relays) events were going to be part of this competition. The competition started in one region, was held in four regions in 1994 and has taken place in seven regions throughout the country for the past two summers.

This year, Jeff Ellis & Associates, Inc. of Houston, Texas sponsored the first National Pool and Waterpark Lifeguard Championship at White Water Resort in Branson, Missouri. The competition, an extension of the training program, was designed to improve lifeguard skills, motivate staff and develop bonds of friendship among lifeguard agencies. This past August, 140 of the best lifeguards in the nation from seven regions of the country came together to see who would become the first ever National Pool and Waterpark Lifeguard Champions.

Towards a Notional Championship

Lifeguard competitions are nothing new; these competitions have been occurring for as long as the well-seasoned aquatic professional can remember. The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) has held regional and national championships for years. The only catch has been that one must work for an “open water” agency to join the USLA and to compete. It was the goal of the National Pool and Waterpark Lifeguard Competition Program to provide quality regional events that would eventually lead to national championship event, and 1996 set the stage for new history in the aquatic industry.

Without the support of a few dedicated agencies during the summer of 1994 the event would not be where it is today. The Columbia (MD) Association, the City of Cape Coral (FL), the City of Austin (171) and Wild Water Adventures (CA) were the first regional championship pilot sites and contributed greatly to the success of the program. During the summer of 1995 the regional competition program was expanded to seven regions. Host sites for that year included:

* Northwest — Enchanted Parks-Wild Waves, Seattle (WA)

* Western — Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, Los Angeles (CA)

* Southwest — City of New Braunfels

* Midwest — White Water Branson (MO)

* Great Lakes–Kentucky Kingdom, Louisville (KY)

* Northeast–Columbia Association (MD), and

* Southern–White Water, Atlanta (GA)

These programs saw more than 600 lifeguards compete for regional titles and local bragging rights.

The success of the program in 1995 paved the way for big plans that were to occur in 1996. Regional competitions had grow to a point where there had to be a limit (12) placed on the number of competitors from each agency. The top three scoring men and women from each team would combine their points with team event points to determine regional champions. A winning regional team, and male and female individual event winners from each regional competition qualified for the National Championship, on August 9, 1996 at White Water Waterpark in Branson, Missouri. One hundred and forty lifeguards representing over 30 agencies converged for this big event.

Regional competition was fierce and, with a trip to a national championship on the line, the following play-by-play describes the events that occurred.

At Splash Town Waterpark in Houston (TX) seven teams competed for the Southwest Championship. In a very close contest, the home team beat out second place Six Flags Fiesta Texas by a narrow margin. The unofficial team from the City of New Braunfels, “Hill Country Lifeguards” came in third. After the competition, lifeguards were treated to a BBQ lunch and an afternoon at Splash Town.

The second annual Midwest Championship saw another close battle for the title. The City of St. Charles (MO) fought hard but was beat out by the host team from White Water by a mere point. The City of Overland Park (KS) was the third place team. Everyone had a great time, and the close final outcome will only feed the competitive fire in this region for years to come.

It was a hot day in Florida for the third annual Southern Regional Championship. Seven teams from the south converged on Florida State University for a full day of competition. The host team beat out the City of Tallahassee Lifeguards by just three points for the title. The third place team from the City of Gainesville proved to be tough competitors and fought hard for their finish. Afterward a BBQ lunch was provided at the Seminole Reservation waterfront camp with sand volleyball and informal lake synchronized swimming.

Unique Twist

Magic Waters Waterpark in Rockford (IL) was the host to the second annual Great Lakes Regional Championship. Eight teams from the US and from Paramount’s Wonderland in Canada gave this competition a truly unique twist. The self named “Dream Team” from host Magic Waters narrowly beat out a very good team from Holiday World in Santa Claus (IN). This was another case where a second place team lost by only one point. The competition, which started in the evening and continued into the next day, was broken up on the first evening by a social event at a sports club. Host Magic Waters did a great job of entertaining their guests.

The fourth annual Western Regional Championship was held in the new Wave Pool at Paramount’s Raging Waters in San Jose (CA). This competition has been going on for 10 years and adopted the NPWL competition format four years ago. Two-time defending champion Paramount’s Raging Waters fought hard but was beat out by hungry teams from the City of San Ramon and Six Flags Hurricane Harbor. Both San Ramon and Hurricane Harbor had many competitors in the top three places in most events, but in the end the City of San Ramon won by just a few points. Great sponsorships and a beautiful venue were the high points of this excellent competition. They play hard in the western region!

In its second year, the Northwest Regional Championship has become quite a competition. Four teams from around Washington took part in this very competitive event, held in memory of Betsy Ross. When the morning of hard competition was over, the host team from Enchanted Parks Wild Waves were the winners. The City of Fife Pools team was a close second with the City of Everett in third. This competition is known for its excellent competitor packets and awards.

The final Regional Championship of the year took place at the Columbia Association (MD). The Columbia Association has hosted the event in the past and has always provided championship venues and an excellent competitor experience. In the end, Darrien Lake (a first-year client) edged out the Columbia Association to win the Northeast Regional Title. Ocean Breeze came in a very close third.

Once the regional events were over and the water had calmed, it was time for the big event in Branson. Six team members from each regional winning team, as well as anyone else in the region that won an event, were eligible for the nationals. In the end there were 140 competitors entered the Championship.

Our event started the night before the competition when competitors were treated to an evening on the Branson Belle Showboat. A brief opening ceremony with welcomes by Silver Dollar City CEO Cary Summers and White Water Park Director Rick Root started the evening off. Competitors were treated to dinner and an excellent show. After dinner, judges and team captains met with Head Judge Tom Werts to discuss scoring and the rules of the game.

The competition started early in the morning. The first two events of the day were run simultaneously, the Multi Lifeguard Team Backboarding was held in a catch pool while the Integrated Team Problem Solving was held in the wave pool. All competitors not entered in these events were asked to act as guests in the wave pool while each regional team performed their problem solving. The Integrated Problem was a double drowning with an active and unresponsive victim. The first place team in this event was Six Flags Hurricane Harbor. Second Place went to Wild Waves, with the City of Tallahassee taking third.

The Stage Is Set

While crews from around the country were taking turns solving complex rescue problems, other teams were testing their skill at the Multi Lifeguard Team Backboarding event. After all the stabilizing and strapping was over, it was the City of Walnut Creek that came out ahead, winning by a full two points. Second place went to a very strong team from Ocean Breeze. Third place was captured by the Southern Regional team from Florida State University. After the two team events were completed the stage was set for individual and two-guard events.

The individual events were set up so that three competitors would be competing at one time. The three lanes used for the event made the head-to-head competition much more exciting than just watching a lifeguard get judged. With over 15 judges, each competitor was scored by at least five judges. A competitor’s high and low scores were discarded and the rest averaged to determine their final score. Time is only used in the E&A competition to break point ties.

The Shallow Water Unresponsive Victim event was first. The team from the Western Region stepped up to show they meant business in this event. In the Women’s competition, third place went to Stacey Hacker from the City of San Ramon. Second place went to her team mate, Susie Horn. Cindy Meade of the Florida State University showed the crowd early in the day why she would become the 1996 Women’s National Iron Guard by taking first place. In the Men’s event, Mark Alessi of the Darrien Lake team took third place. Second and First place were taken by Chris Ward of Six Flags Hurricane Harbor and David Kolda of the City of San Ramon respectively.

The Deep Water Unresponsive event was an excellent display of skill and talent. The third place finisher in the women’s event was Nichole Miller from the City of Gainesville, second place went to Melissa Jones from Darrien Lake. The First Place woman finisher, Celeste Phillips hails from Holiday World. The men’s competition was close, but in the end it was Brett Lewellyn from Florida State who took third. Second place went to Alex Chan from San Ramon. And the men’s national champion in the deep water event was Craig Neitzke of Darrien Lake.

The Duck Pluck event proved to be very competitive. When it was all over, Amy Doherty from the City of Overland Park was the third place women’s finisher. Second place went to the City of San Ramon’s Sheryl Dietzman and first place went to Ashliegh Harris of Paramount’s Raging Waters. The men’s competition in the Duck Pluck turned out to be very exciting. Travis Kenyow from the City of Fife was third and Dan Coperich of the Columbia Association took second. The big news of the day was that David Kolda from the City of San Ramon took first, making this his second event.

The Two-Guard Rescue is a test of team work and timing. This event may be done by any combination of men and women (two men, two women or co-ed) Jonathan Williams and Cindy Meade from Florida State University took third. Second place went to the duo from the City of San Ramon, Todd Mitchell and Melanie Nichols. The National Champions in this event, qualifying for the All America team were Ty Simpson and Paolo Reinaldo from Six Flags Fiesta Texas.

CPR went on during the morning and early afternoon; by the time it was over, the judges had their work cut out for them. Competition was fierce and saw all of the latest CPR protocols in use, competitors have definitely taken this event to the next level. The team of Lory Merrill and Gabrielle Sorrentino from Ocean

In the Summer of 1993, the National Pool and Waterpark Lifeguard Training Program developed a new lifeguard competition specifically designed for the pool and waterpark industry. The program focused on relevant skills and techniques no non-lifeguarding (tug-o-war, swim relays) events were going to be part of this competition. The competition started in one region, was held in four regions in 1994 and has taken place in seven regions throughout the country for the past two summers.

This year, Jeff Ellis & Associates, Inc. of Houston, Texas sponsored the first National Pool and Waterpark Lifeguard Championship at White Water Resort in Branson, Missouri. The competition, an extension of the training program, was designed to improve lifeguard skills, motivate staff and develop bonds of friendship among lifeguard agencies. This past August, 140 of the best lifeguards in the nation from seven regions of the country came together to see who would become the first ever National Pool and Waterpark Lifeguard Champions.

Towards a National Championship

Lifeguard competitions are nothing new; these competitions have been occurring for as long as the well-seasoned aquatic professional can remember. The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) has held regional and national championships for years. The only catch has been that one must work for an “open

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