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Published: Tuesday, 5/15/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

St. Francis coach leaves program to head west

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Keith Kennedy, left, coached the Knights for 12 years. New coach Tony Kurth swam for St. Francis and the University of Michigan. Keith Kennedy, left, coached the Knights for 12 years. New coach Tony Kurth swam for St. Francis and the University of Michigan.
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Longtime, highly successful St. Francis de Sales swimming coach Keith Kennedy, who has always dreamed of living near the ocean, has decided to leave the program to spend more time in the sun.

Kennedy spent 12 seasons as head of the Knights' program and his teams won 11 district titles. He also coached 110 All Americans and his teams placed in the top 10 at the state meet in each of his seasons.

Kennedy resigned to take the position of chief executive officer of San Clemente Aquatics in Southern California. The facility is just three miles from the Pacific Ocean.

"It was a very difficult decision because of all the relationships I've built with the kids, the parents, and the staff at St. Francis," Kennedy said. "A big part of the decision was that my dream has always been to coach outside, year-round. St. Francis has a very nice pool and great facilities but there are no windows. I think about the myriad amount of time I spend at the pool, and I never saw the sunlight on so many sunny days."

Kennedy, who grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, said he always wanted to live near the ocean in either California or Florida.

After swimming at the University of Cincinnati he took his first coaching position in Portland, Maine. He came to Toledo in 2000.

That same year Kennedy also took over as director of the Greater Toledo Aquatic Club, which is based at the natatorium at St Francis. Under Kennedy's direction, the GTAC team grew from a little over 100 members to over 230 competitive swimmers.

Since 2002, the club has been awarded either a bronze or silver medal each year from USA Swimming's National Club of Excellence Program.

Kennedy's St. Francis teams never won a state title but the Knights finished in the top three the last three seasons, including second place finishes in 2010 and in 2011.

However, 18 swimmers captured individual state titles while dozens of others placed in the top three.

"I had so many great kids," Kennedy said.

Many have gone on to have excellent collegiate careers.

Roman Willets, who won a state title in the 200 freestyle in 2009, will be a captain at the University of Michigan this year.

In 2011, Michael DiSalle (100 freestyle) and Rowan Williams (500 freestyle) each won state titles. Both are now swimming at Ohio State.

Dan Miller, who joined with DiSalle to help the Knights win the 200 and 400-yard freestyle relays in 2011, is a freshman at Michigan.

Three seniors from Kennedy's final team, D.J. MacDonald, Matt Zimmerman, and Dan DiSalle also will swim for Ohio State. Dan DiSalle captured titles in 50 free and 100 free in March.

"We've had a lot of other kids that maybe are not as fast but added a lot to the team as far as morale and leadership," Kennedy said.

On the girls' side in the GTAC, Kennedy worked with many swimmers who attended St. Ursula and Notre Dame academies.

Katie Carroll, who won multiple state titles in 2002 and 2003 for Notre Dame Academy, went on to become an All-American at the University of Notre Dame.

Susan Johnson, who also won a state title for Notre Dame in 2002, holds multiple school records at Wisconsin.

Ellen Johnson, who captured state titles in 2003 at Notre Dame, helped establish school records in college at Notre Dame.

Kennedy said those swimmers and their accomplishments are among a "handful of things" that he is proud off about the program.

At the GTAC, Kennedy initiated a comprehensive program to serve youngsters of all ages and abilities, with emphasis on training children with disabilities. He established the GTAC Disability Open, which is in its ninth year.

In 2004, one of Kennedy's swimmers, Beth Riggle, won a Gold Medal at the Paralympics in Athens.

Kennedy, 38, said he is proud of the academic successes his swimmers have achieved.

"We were able to keep the tradition alive and do it with integrity," Kennedy said. "We did our talking in the pool."

A former Knight swimmer will be taking over the program.

Tony Kurth, a 1999 St. Francis graduate, will also serve as coach of the GTAC.

Kurth set several state records as a senior. He helped lead the Knights' polo team to four state titles.

Kurth swam for the University of Michigan where he set a then-record as part of the 400-yard freestyle relay team in 2002.

For the past nine years he has coached at Cranbrook-Kingswood High School in Michigan, serving as head coach the last three seasons.

"It is a great opportunity for me to come back to St. Francis and give back to a program that was very instrumental in launching my successful swimming career," Kurth said. "St. Francis has a rich tradition and historical success that I am pleased to be part of."

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com, 419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.



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