Water polo coach Bob Churchhangs up fins for classroom, books

Born to swim.

That could describe Bob Church, who took a childhood love of the sport and vested it back on Husky water polo players for the past 16 years. Last week, Church retired from coaching the sport, at least for a while, as he returns to college to enter the nursing profession.

“I’ve always liked being close to the sport. Coaching was a way to stay with it,” Church said.

A 1983 SHHS graduate, Church played on the first Husky water polo team coached by Doug Peargin.

“I’d been swimming since age 11. I played the No. 4-5 position and was an outside driver,” Church said. “In those days, we played Lebanon, Corvallis, Albany. We won districts and made the state playoffs all four years. We had a good swim team–lots of speed and big guys–so we were a physical team.”

After graduation, Church spent a couple years as a water polo referee and in 1985, took over the boys program. He spent two years coaching one team before taking over both squads.

“I’ve been a lot of fun,” Church said. “In the early days it was more about the competition. Now, I’m more into the kids and their personal goals. How can they improve their individual water polo skills and become better persons?”

Win or lose, Church said people need to understand that high school athletes are truly “student-athletes” and that being a student comes first in his book.

“I think our program has been a draw for really good kids,” Church said. “They set good examples, they are hard workers. We’ve had some super smart kids over the years. They make it so much easier to get your point across.”

Watching young persons develop character and leadership skills over their four years in the program is also rewarding, Church said.

“When they come in as freshmen, there are times you wonder if they’ll ever make it. Then, each year they grow in leadership and by the time they are seniors, they are willing to do what you ask of them and also give that back to the new kids,” Church said.

When he thinks about his years at the helm of the program, Church said he doesn’t think primarily of wins or losses.

“I think about all the great kids we’ve seen come through here,” he said. “We’ve had some tremendous athletes. In the early years, we played in a very competitive league. It was very, very difficult to make state because our league was so tough.”

The trust and encouragement Church has received over the years from parents, the school district and his employers has meant a lot to Church.

“My employers always did what they could to help work around our water polo schedules,” Church said. “That wasn’t always easy and I appreciate that.”

Church, at age 35, will begin a new phase of his life, settling into classroom work.

“I’m going to start with core program classes and then try to get into the nursing program at LBCC,” Church said.

Away from the pool, Church enjoys archery hunting and fishing.

“I also have a couple cows, chickens, and I like to garden. I like getting my hands in the dirt and being outside,” Church said.

SHHS athletic director Larry Johnson praised Church as a person who “does everything we talk about in terms of giving back to the community what you receive. He has more than done that with his commitment to kids and the community.”

Donna Short’s son and daughter have both played on water polo teams coached by Church.

“What I appreciate most about Bob is that he really cares about the kids,” Short said. “He spent so much time with them in addition to the love of the game which he instilled in them.”