• AUSTIN AWAITS The 2nd Annual AOAP gathering drew aquatics professionals seeking education and networking opportunities. The show returns to Austin on Feb. 24-27, 2014.
    AUSTIN AWAITS The 2nd Annual AOAP gathering drew aquatics professionals seeking education and networking opportunities. The show returns to Austin on Feb. 24-27, 2014.

The 2013 AOAP Conference & Expo attracted more attendees and exhibitors than last year, as well as strong support for its educational program.

The new trade group — the Association of Aquatic Professionals — hosted its event at the Renaissance Austin Hotel in Texas on March 3-6. Only in its second year, the show boasted 84 booths displaying the wares of aquatic product manufacturers and organizations, while last year there were 69, said Juliene Hefter, AOAP executive director/CEO. And there were 278 registrants compared with 223 last year. She added that the Starfish Aquatics Institute’s Leadership Conference and Instructor Trainer Development Course, held in conjunction with the AOAP event, brought 443 attendees and vendors to the venue.

“There’s been an outpouring of support for [the AOAP event],” Hefter said. “There is truly a passion for aquatics and the partnerships that are made.” She noted that organizers aimed to provide a welcoming environment for exhibitors and attendees. “We want them to feel wanted and like family, and to offer the best education.”

The seminar slate of 50 sessions covered a multitude of topics, such as “Teaching Differently to Boys and Girls,” “Breaking the Scanning Habit,” “Solving the Diversity Puzzle,” “Sustaining Your Aquatic Facility in Today’s Market” and “Practical Training Tools for Lifeguards: Improve Attitude, Attentiveness & Action.”

Keynoter Gregg Catalano, M.Ed., LCDC, LMFT, kicked things off on Sunday with a talk titled “SuperCharged for Life: Living a Happier, Healthier and More Energized Life!”

“All of the presentations were good, but the keynote speaker was so good, I went to his other sessions, too,” said Kerstin Severin, aquatic services manager for the town of Herndon, Va. “It was my first time at an AOAP show, and I got some good ideas.”

Jincey Yemaya, aquatics director for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, was another enthusiastic attendee. She said budget cuts had made it impossible to go to such events in recent times. “I’m so happy to be back with my people!” she said.

Echoing that sentiment was Carrie Parmer, an aquatics professional from Powell, Wyo. “You find like-minded people here,” she explained. “With business being down, this sort of event perks you up.”

Other chances to network came in the form of a golf tournament and two evening “socials” — a dinner on Sunday at Estancia Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse, and an excursion on Tuesday, when buses took participants from the hotel to Downtown 6th Street, a popular nighttime destination.

The AOAP gathering also got high marks from Shawn DeRosa, director of aquatics at Pennsylvania State University and leader of two seminars himself. “I’m excited,” he said. “There are more people here than last year; it’s upbeat. All the speakers are volunteering their time and expertise. It’s a great second year.”

Perhaps retired aquatics professional Walter C. Johnson summed it up best. The former COO of the National Recreation and Park Association noted that national leaders have gravitated to this new trade group, and he praised its educational offerings. “AOAP is the only game in town,” Johnson said. “Its future is bright.”