Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Jennifer Weaver has been the head boys and girls swimming coach at Collins Hill since being hired at the Suwanee school 11 years ago.
Jennifer Weaver has been Collins Hill's swimming and diving coach since she came to the school 11 years ago. She led the boys team to state titles in 2004 and 2005, joining Brookwood and Parkview in a string of Gwinnett dominance at the state meet.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ...," Weaver talks to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including moving to the South for her senior year of high school, learning from some coaching greats in Gwinnett and swimmer that made a major impact on her life.
CT: Did you grow up in the metro Atlanta area or somewhere else?
JW: Somewhere else. I was born in Dublin, Ohio, and we moved around quite a bit while I was in middle school and high school.
CT: What stops did you make?
JW: We were in New Berlin, Wis., Kansas City, Kan., and then I moved here my senior year, to Alpharetta. I went to Chattahoochee High School.
CT: You'd been primarily in the Midwest and then came down to Atlanta. Was it a big change?
JW: (Nodding emphatically) I felt very claustrophobic. Now I love it, but I felt very claustrophobic when I came down here. Because being from Kansas, it's a lot of wide-open spaces and not a lot of trees. It just felt like the trees were caving in on me.
CT: You swam at Chattahoochee? What kind of state was its program in at the time?
JW: Yes. It was their second year being open and we were state champs that year.
CT: Where did you go to college?
JW: I went to the University of Missouri and then I ended up graduating from Georgia Southern.
CT: Did you swim both places?
JW: I swam at Mizzou. I did not swim when I got to Georgia Southern.
CT: How many years were you at Missouri?
CT: Why did you transfer?
JW: I hung up my goggles due to injury. So because of that I needed to come home.
CT: What injury did you have?
JW: I fell on a pool deck and have a degenerated disc in my back.
CT: Where was your first job out of college?
JW: At Collins Hill. I've been there 11 years. I haven't been anywhere else.
CT: What do you teach?
JW: This year I'm teaching advanced algebra and trig. So I have seniors and juniors.
CT: When did you become the head swimming coach at Collins Hill?
JW: My first year.
CT: Had you been a coach prior to that?
JW: I had coached a summer league team and with my coach from the University of Missouri. I coached over at Country Club of the South for a couple of years. That was really my first coaching position by myself. But I had never coached a high school team or anything like that. So it was trial by error. And a lot of questions for my fellow coaches in Gwinnett. Greg Puckett (at Brookwood) was very helpful. Rick Creed (then at Parkview) was very helpful. Paul Callis (at Shiloh).
CT: Obviously, the state of swimming in Gwinnett is good.
JW: I walked into a gold mine.
CT: What was the state of it when you started at Collins Hill?
JW: I've seen growth over the last decade, but I mean I walked into a well-established program. The school had been open a few years and they had a booster club that was set up. Mr. Clody was very helpful -- he was our president at the time. Bill and Emily Clody. We have an invitational that's named after them. We had a lot of community help.
Michael Hollub, who was an assistant coach at the time, was very helpful with lineups and stuff like that. He knew the kids previously.
I wasn't shy to ask for help.
CT: You've coached both the boys and the girls since you got here. Do they require a different coaching style or with swimming is the clock everybody's motivator?
JW: Definitely the clock is everyone's motivator. But how you talk to them and your demeanor toward them is different.
CT: How many swimmers do you have this year?
CT: How do you keep track of them all?
CT: Is 84 an average number for a Gwinnett school or is Collins Hill among the larger teams?
JW: We're right there as one of the largest. We do have tryouts now. We did, at one point, have 120-plus kids on the team. Due to limitations on pool space and pool time, it wasn't benefiting our program to carry that number. So we decided to have a tryout process a couple years ago.
CT: On the boys side, it's been a Gwinnett school winning since they started handing out a AAAAA state trophy. Are there teams that can compete and break that stranglehold?
JW: There's always the Cobb teams. We have the Cobb-Gwinnett challenge in December. We do maybe a mini-taper for that week. But for the most part, our county meet for the boys side, it's like a preview to the state championship.
CT: Divers here get just two days of practice a week. That's not the case in a lot of other parts of the country is it, where they practice just as many days as the swimmers?
JW: At my high school in Kansas -- I was there for three years, my freshman through junior years at Blue Valley North -- we actually had diving practice during swim practices. They would dive in between the swimmers. They would have to time it just right before they would do their dives. And hopefully they would miss me. We only had six lanes. It was like "Frogger."
CT: What events did you primarily swim?
JW: I swam the mile. The 1,000 in college. The 500. And in high school, I swam the 100 fly, 500, 200.
CT: Is there a stroke that's harder than others to teach?
JW: For me, at the beginning of my college career, it was the breaststroke. It was my worst stroke. It was like death to me. And I really took it upon myself to study it over the years and it's actually kind of become the opposite and become one of my favorites. Breaststroke is very technical in the timing and everything.
CT: Gwinnett has no shortage of great swimmers come through, but who has impressed you, for whatever reasons, the most?
JW: The program that Greg Puckett has put together. He's the one I ask my questions, maybe steal some ideas from in talking to him (smiling). Year after year, I don't know where he grows his swimmers, but I would like to have the same fertilizer.
But all the Gwinnett coaches are very close. We all are happy for each other because I feel like we've developed such a strong core in Gwinnett that if one of us wins, we kind of all back each other.
We also have a well-established SwimAtlanta program that Chris Davis runs. We're very lucky to have him be behind us and support us. In turn, we support him.
We also have a very good summer league program. I do coach for Richland, which feeds into Collins Hill.
But we have a lot of outside things that go on. We just started the Eagles water polo club. I met Brian Collins, who is a water polo player, we started this two years ago. This past year, we were state runners-up. Our first year, we went undefeated and were state champion. So the water polo thing has been excellent. Another source to get some of the kids that aren't USS swimmers in the water and in shape before the season starts.
CT: Do you have any interest in playing water polo?
JW: I get in with them. It's an excellent workout (laughing). They make me be the referee a lot. And I'm the organizer. Brian Collins is our head coach and he does all the plans. I get the kids where they're supposed to be. I've enjoyed it because it's such a change and so different from swimming. You almost instantly fall in love with it.
CT: There's been so many good swimmers come through the county, including Olympic caliber athletes like Amanda Weir and Eric Shanteau. But there's another one, Marin (Morrison), that made a real impact. What do you remember most about her?
JW: I was very lucky in that I got to meet Marin. If somebody just said the name "Marin," the thing that comes to my mind is her smile. She always had a smile on her face. But the thing I learned from her -- I always loved swimming -- but I never knew how you could find so much inner strength from the sport.
We write "M"s on our arms every single meet. We hold a special team meeting for me to tell Marin's story. She's very close to all of our hearts. We have an award that we give out every year in dedication to her memory.
CT: With the freshmen coming in, does it seem like (the story) sinks in with them?
JW: Definitely. No. 1, because it's still emotional for me. In addition to telling them her story and her strength, I show them a couple videos. She still holds our records and when they walk the halls, they see her record awards and they know what kind of swimmer she was. Then you show them the video of her swimming the 100 fly with one arm and one leg. The question is always asked, "Why can't you swim a 100 fly with two arms and two legs?" So we don't have a lot of problems with people. She took care of that for me. People not wanting to swim events or waiting on the wall during practice.
She's dearly missed. She's talked about every meet.
CT: What do you do with your time other than swimming and water polo? Do you get away from the pool occasionally?
JW: Surprisingly, yes. And it's funny because when I get a chance to get away from the pool, I go down to Destin and the ocean.