Easterday to retire after 34 years as swim coach

January 25, 2010

The walls of Kim Easterday’s poolside office are lined with memories collected over 34 years of coaching. Dozens of framed certificates note records in breaststroke, in butterfly, relay and more. Others are reminders of her 23-year career as lacrosse coach. All testify as to her well-earned title as Dean of Green Terror coaches – a title she’ll no doubt retain even after she relinquishes her stopwatch and clipboard when the swim season ends in February.

Color photography courtesy of David Sinclair.

Easterday can give you sound reasons for her decision to step down after more than three decades as men’s and women’s swim coach. And it’s hard to argue with any of them.

First of all, Easterday and husband Steve ’72 are grandparents now, and they’d like to have more time to spend with 21-month-old Sevanah, daughter of Greg ’02 and Mary Easterday ’04 Oravets who live in coastal New Jersey. Yes, that Mary: holder of four individual and five relay swimming records at McDaniel.

Son Matt ’04 is head swim coach at King’s College, four hours away in Wilkes Barre, Pa. They’d like to support and cheer him on – during the swimming season, that is. Youngest daughter Catie, a Communication major, graduated from McDaniel in 2009 and is a sales/leasing agent with Bozzuto management.

There are books to be read and the luxury of not having to be poolside by 6 a.m. during the late September through February season. Of course, being home before 6 p.m. will be a treat for both Easterdays.

Besides, the 1976 Denison University graduate reasons, she’s definitely not retiring. Easterday looks forward to having more time to develop her popular fitness classes – water jogging and water aerobics. She will still be aquatics director and continue to teach lifeguarding, water safety and other classes.

And, she is quick to point out, she will continue to cheer among the greatest fans of Green Terror teams.

“I love to teach, and teaching is like coaching,” says Easterday, who holds the college record for longest run as coach. “It is rewarding to watch someone put in the hard work and succeed – when they see that they can do it. We coach because we like coaching – helping kids attain their goals in sport and in life.”

Over the years, she developed many national level competitors who brought recognition to the college. She counts among her most rewarding moments watching Denise Frech compete and become the college’s first female to qualify at nationals in the early ’80s. Also among the high points of her coaching career are the seven women in the ’80s who were undefeated.

But her rewards and reminiscences aren’t filled just with champions. She will always remember the faces – the expression when someone who couldn’t swim qualifies. When a swimmer pushes beyond what they imagined they could do, and succeeds. Those moments – in teaching and in coaching – are just as rewarding.

And it is that philosophy that echoes in the lives and memories of the Green Terror athletes whose names have peppered her roster.

“You could count on Kim for advice, a pep talk or a hug,” says Susan Lapidus Spencer ’83, who chose McDaniel (then Western Maryland College) because, of the dozen or so swim coaches she and her parents met with, Easterday had “a special vibe” and the high school senior knew immediately she wanted to swim for the young coach.

Easterday, who co-captained the swim team during junior and senior years at Denison, had been hired immediately after graduating from college by Dick Clower ’50, now Professor Emeritus of Exercise Science and Physical Education, as Western Maryland’s lacrosse and swim coach.

It is a decision Clower has never regretted.

“Over the years, she has been dedicated not only to our aquatics program but to the kids, the students she coached,” Clower says. “I’ve always admired the relationship she has with the students and their families – I couldn’t describe it any better than to say they are like family.”

As a child she spent summer days at SpringLake pool, a short walk from her Timonium, Md., home. There she learned to swim and perfected the butterfly stroke that earned her a third-place medal in the National Junior Olympics and several records as an age-group swimmer in Maryland.

Despite what was inarguably an impressive resume, Easterday could not believe her good fortune at landing not one but two college coaching positions within months of her college graduation. Only a few years older than the athletes she coached, she threw everything she had into her work – and refined the coaching-mentoring style for which she has become known.

“She had a calm way of motivating, she was never harsh and was always encouraging,” says Spencer, a former distance freestyle and backstroke swimmer who remembers the many times the team gathered at the Easterday home – or the Easterdays “hung out” with the team in the dorm, especially over semester-break training sessions. “We were like a family. She helped us become better swimmers, but I truly felt she helped us become better people.”

More than two decades later, the same enthusiasm and personal touch led Mark Yankovich ’07 to enroll in McDaniel. Today the Lafayette College (Pa.) assistant swim coach credits Easterday with influencing his choice of profession.

“During my sophomore year I had to have a knee surgery that was very frustrating for me,” says Yankovich, who swam distance and breaststroke events. “If it was not for Kim being there for me and helping me rehab the knee that year, it would have been very hard to swim my last two seasons.

“She got me back in shape and by my senior year I was able to do breaststroke at championships with personal best times.”

Yankovich remembers training hard in Puerto Rico – and Easterday finding ways to keep up the team’s enthusiasm as well as morale. “Instead of running a normal loop, she let us run on the beach or asked the captains to write a workout to change things up,” he says.

A high point for Susan Spencer came when her children finally met the Easterdays at Spencer’s 2002 induction into the Green Terror Sports Hall of Fame.

“My children had heard all my fun stories of my years on the team, and I was so thrilled that they could come and meet Kim and Steve,” says Spencer, now the media and PR manager for the New Jersey firm, Barolin & Spencer Marketing Communications.

In fact, Easterday says it is time for a change.

“Change is hard but change is good at the same time,” she says, explaining that Jeff Hiestand, her assistant coach for the past nine years, will make a great head coach when he takes over next year. “Still, I will deeply miss the relationships with student athletes and their families.”

Her work earned the applause of colleagues as well.

“Kim has touched the lives of many student-athletes through the years and her program always reflected a great balance between athletics and academics,” says Jamie Smith, McDaniel athletic director. “We are grateful to Kim for her dedicated years of service to Green Terror athletics as a coach and mentor.”