Kim Phillips, center, was surprised by students, from left, Nick Morgan, Alex Fox, Morgan Crueger, Laura Donaldson and Ben Johnson. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Ask McNary High School swimming coach Kim Phillips what her hopes are for her swimming teams at the beginning of any season and it’s likely you’ll get the same response: “I hope they have fun and remember how much fun they had 20 years from now.”

Winning races, meets, and district titles is always a secondary goal, but there have been lots of victories in each category.

“The most rewarding thing is seeing kids with a smile on their face because they’ve done something that they’ve worked for,” said Phillips, who was honored in January with the Service to Education Award at the Keizer First Citizen banquet.

The unspoken aspect of that mission to have fun is what it can do for a young athlete over the course of a lifetime. Fun keeps them coming back to physical activities like the swimming and golf that Phillips coaches. Fun motivates them to set attainable goals. The fun of achieving those goals means they never to rest on their laurels and continue to aim higher.

“She has given so many students over the years confidence in not just swimming, but in life as a result of her encouragement to those who didn’t think they could do what she was challenging them to do,” said Linda Baker, a McNary English teacher who presented the award to Phillips. Baker was honored with the award in 2011.

Phillips started teaching and coaching Celtic students 31 years ago. She retired from the physical education classroom last spring, but continues to coach the McNary swimming teams.

From a young age, and under the influence of her father who was an educator, Phillips wanted to teach. In truth, though, she got her start as a coach.

“When I was in ninth grade I taught my classmates the trampoline. By the time I was a senior, I was teaching them swimming as a student aide because that is what I was doing outside of school and the teacher didn’t know how to teach it,” Phillips said.

She credits mentors Russ Morris and Julie Zetterberg with being great sounding boards as she developed her approach to the classroom and teaching. Phillips has seen thousands of kids through her classroom and her teams, but the most difficult aspects have always been the ones she couldn’t control.

“There were girls that swam for me that were pregnant, but there are lots of instances when the kids are contending with things outside the classroom or the pool. Not everything is black and white even though you want it to be. You have to change,” Phillips said.

She’s been buoyed through the tough times by the successes of those who stick with swimming. Many still text her their times as they move into collegiate swimming. Later this year, former Celt Amber Boucher, who was once on Phillips’ swimming team, will participate in the sport’s Olympic Trials.

She tries to make sure her students and athletes are having fun by remembering that there are times to be silly as well as serious. Years ago, she instituted Cookie Friday as a way to lure kids to practice, but it’s since morphed into a Friday of fun when the kids play games, or meet after practice for team dinners like a spaghetti feed.

“I hope they take away my enthusiasm for the sport and the activities that they participate in. I hope they take away responsibility and they learn how to treat other respectfully,” Phillips said.

In return, Phillips’s students have taught her just as much.

“They’ve taught me patience. They’ve taught me to keep my eyes open as far as trying new things and being creative. I’ve become more spontaneous because they helped me see the possibilities of being that way,” she said.

Phillips lives in Salem with her husband Ken and has two daughters, Kristen and Katie.