Bill Rollinger, affectionately nicknamed “coach,” has been teaching swimming for over 35 years — and he does not plan to stop anytime soon.
Rollinger, originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, started his swimming career as a teenager, when he joined his high school’s swimming and water polo teams. His affection for the sport grew as he studied at Slippery Rock University, where he continued swimming at the collegiate level. He moved through jobs as a lifeguard and swim instructor before becoming a physical education teacher in Jamestown 35 years ago.
After retirement, he continued to teach and swim at Chautauqua’s Turner Community Center, and now gives swim lessons.
When he coached high school swimming, Rollinger successfully led his team to become one of the top-rated swimming teams in New York state. His own accolades also landed him in the Erie County Aquatic Hall of Fame as well as the Chautauqua Athletic Hall of Fame.
“Jamestown High School; we were always rated one of the top high school swimming teams in New York state,” Rollinger said.
Jamestown High School is in Section VI of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association — during his time as coach, Rollinger led Jamestown to win three sectional titles; 11 Erie County, New York, championships; and four Lake Shore League championships.
While teaching swimming and water polo in Jamestown, on top of teaching physical education classes, Rollinger was the assistant coach for several other area sports teams during his decades-long career. Within his schedule, Rollinger found time to be an assistant line coach for Lincoln Junior High School’s football team, and was assistant wrestling coach, assistant track coach and head tennis coach at JHS.
But he never let his passion for swimming waver, and after leaving a 30-year coaching career, he had a record of 312-34 with the JHS boys swim team. Though he retired from his teaching posts five years after retiring from coaching at JHS, Rollinger took on private clients for swim lessons, and he began to lead an adult swimming master class, called “Rollinger’s Ducks,” at Turner Community Center.
Entering his seventh season at Chautauqua, Rollinger offers the Ducks class for experienced swimmers and triathletes between 34 and 75 years old. Rollinger said the class allows former high school and college swimmers to remain active in the sport.
Rollinger has not lost his coaching spark over time, sending one woman, Cheryl Burns, to compete in the 2018 World Grand Final Age-Group Triathlon in Queensland, Australia, placing fourth at the age of 57.
In his first official year as an employee of the Institution teaching swim classes, Rollinger does not get paid to teach the Ducks — he does so out of love for sharing the health benefits of swimming.
“I’m still teaching,” Rollinger said. “I believe everybody should learn to swim, and swimming for adults is a very great thing for longevity of life. Running is good, but that’s hard on the ankles and knees and hips. Swimming is not. Swimming is a lifetime sport and we should have more people doing it. Not only do you feel well physically, but you do mentally, too.”
Rollinger believes that his time swimming at Chautauqua was what led to him being hired by the Institution. He said he has been swimming at Turner Community Center four days a week for seven years to maintain his health.
This season, Rollinger looks forward to the future, continuing to teach swimmers, young and old alike. He plans to stay as long as he can, working high school swim camps in the off-season and continuing to return in the summers.