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Coach Doug Fonder’s roots in coaching run deep. As a youngster, he worked as a ball boy for the Green Bay Packers during the iconic Vince Lombardi Era. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, the chance to observe one of the greatest coaches in history had a lasting impact on him. Fonder recalls, “Just the fact that I had the opportunity to be around a person like Vince Lombardi and learn what he did first-hand. I think it had a lot to do with the future of what I do in coaching.”
Fonder went on to play football at the University of Miami in Coral Gables where his career was cut short by an injury during his junior year. As fate would have it, he was offered a job managing a pool and coaching swimming. He had never coached before, but the challenge and opportunity to work with young athletes immediately had him hooked. Fonder has been coaching ever since–a total of 45 years!
Coach Fonder founded his first team, the Quantico Devil Dolphins in 1972. He went on to purchase the Briarwood Swim and Racquet club out of bankruptcy in 1979. Fonder worked to turn it into one of the most successful tennis and swim facilities in Virginia. In 1988, he moved to Roanoke to work as the Executive Director of Sports and ended up starting his own swim team, the Virginia Gators. Fonder explained, “My own kids were swimmers and there really wasn’t much swimming going on, so I started a program and rented facilities.” In 1991, he formed a non-profit corporation and built his own pool. The team has grown to great success, with over 400 swimmers and three additional sites in Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, Lynchburg. Currently, the team has four swimmers qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials, including Fonder’s son, Khalil. In March, the Gators swept all the victories at the Dolfin Junior Nationals Cup: women’s, men’s and overall.
In 2010, Coach Fonder worked with coaches all over the country to found the National Age Group Association (NASA) to offer unique meet opportunities and support young swimmers. Fonder says, “We believe the development of the swimmers should be more documented and researched to see what makes a great senior swimmer. So we formed this group with a lot of club coaches who have worked in this process for years.” In 2011, Fonder created the International Swim Coaches Association (ISCA) to further develop age group coaches. ISCA supports the special job these coaches have in molding solid swimmers. Fonder explains, “A club coach starts with the rock and have to make a diamond. It’s a much different process that they have to go through than a college coach.”
With 45 years experience as an accomplished swim coach, Coach Fonder has an impressive list of accolades. He’s coached swimmers at the last 12 consecutive Olympic Trials, including Olympic medalists Jeff Rouse and Greg Burgess. He’s been elected Virginia Coach of the Year ten times and has been awarded YMCA National Swim Coach of the Year twice. Although he’s very proud of his swimmers who have gone on to swim in college or the Olympics, Fonder explains that his greatest accomplishment is in helping kids become well-rounded adults. “They have to become successful people in life, and we have a hand in helping them.”
Despite having almost five decades of experience, Coach Fonder’s philosophy is to continue to evolve and learn from others. He believes that a good coach never gets comfortable. Fonder says he’s “always trying to see what might be out there to make him better, and I’ll do that until I stop coaching.”