BREMERTON — For nearly 40 years Olympic Aquatic Club of Bremerton produced national and elite level swimmers and taught thousands of Kitsap children the importance of swimming safety.
That ended when the club, which operated out of the pool at Olympic High School, merged with the Poulsbo Piranhas Swim Team on Dec. 1.
For countless youth swimmers, OAC was their second home.
From early morning and afternoon practices, perfecting kick turns and dive starts to traveling to King County Aquatics Center in Federal Way for state and regional meets and traveling around the country, the club was the most significant part of their young lives.
OAC’s longest-tenured coach, Bonnie Burmaster, retired in 2009 but was still heartbroken to hear of the club’s demise. At one point she coached 40 children, and the club had well over 100 swimmers.
“I’m very sad,” she said. “We poured our heart and soul into that thing. I stayed there longer than anyone else. I loved the team.
“It’s because we were a family,” she continued. “We did so much together, and it’s the only way I can describe it. We were just a swim team. As a coach from the 1980s, I was heartbroken. We all got along, and there was no bickering and fighting. It was a dream job.”
Area swimmers who grew up with an OAC logo on their swim cap likely would disagree OAC was just another swim team.
Donella Adrian was the first OAC swimmer to go beyond regional meets when she qualified for the U.S. Junior Nationals in the late 1990s. Her younger brother, Justin Adrian, remembers it was a big deal for everyone involved in the club.
“There was a big celebration for her,” Justin said. “She got to go to California. That’s two stages below Olympic Trials. It’s a huge, huge deal. It ramped up everything around here.”
Donella Adrian went on to swim collegiately at Arizona and University of Puget Sound.
More swimmers followed, including Justin who earned a scholarship to the University of Washington, Adam Matthew, Adrian Haydu, and Tara and Dana Kirk who won numerous U.S. National titles.
It was Tara who became the first swimmer from Bremerton to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in 2000. Four years later she and Dana were the first sisters in USA Swimming history to swim at the same Olympics in Athens 2004. The pair also had tremendously successful collegiate careers at Stanford University.
Patti Matthew, who coached alongside Burmaster and saw all three of her children swim for OAC, said OAC’s legacy will live on.
“We had three Olympians, numerous trials (swimmers) that swam on our club at one point,” she said.
One of its most famous alums is Nathan Adrian, who Burmaster coached as a youth. Nathan has gone on to win multiple Olympic, World and NCAA championships and set the bar for Kitsap swimmers for years to come.
Former OAC coach Marilyn Grindrod, who is now coaching the Bremerton YMCA Swim Team, also coached with Burmaster during her 27-year tenure.
“It’s bittersweet for me,” Grindrod said of OAC’s merger. “It took a lot of time to develop that structure (from entry level, development, and senior level) and we gave at all levels. We had that structure when we were in charge at OAC. I’m sad OAC got gobbled up.”
The good news for current OAC swimmers is they were able to join other area clubs including Bremerton YMCA, Bainbridge Island Swim Club, and of course Poulsbo.
For Burmaster and other coaches, to see the youth continue to swim was important.
“If you do what’s sincere and wanting kids to succeed and provide an environment it all works out,” she said. “It all works out because it’s from your heart.
“I can say that I’m glad kids are still swimming and in the end, that’s the most important.
“All I can say now is, it was a great team.”