Leslie Donavan, president/CEO, Starfish Aquatics Institute
SAI Leslie Donavan, president/CEO, Starfish Aquatics Institute

A global aquatics safety and training organization is undergoing a makeover.

Starfish Aquatics Institute (SAI), based in Lincolnshire, Ill. has shed one of its original core offerings, StarGuard. Developed by the organization’s founder Jill White, Starfish has provided the lifeguard training and certification program since its inception in 1999. After nearly 20 years, however, it has been spun off to become its own entity.

Four years ago, Starfish announced it was partnering with Innovative Attraction Management (IAM) to create StarGuard ELITE for aquatic training and safety initiatives at waterparks and resorts. The program was designed to offer operators high level, cost-effective risk-management services. Features include audit reviews for both lifeguards and dispatch positions, aquatic incident investigation support, litigation support, annual pre-season park inspection and in-service training session, StarGuard Instructor and Instructor Trainer sessions, experiential, and objective-based training.

Now, all three entities — SAI, IAM and StarGuard ELITE — will operate independently. As part of this change, StarGuard ELITE now will offer the entire StarGuard program.

“The entity has been around for four years, but the entity has now purchased all of StarGuard and will be responsible for the lifeguard training and certification program going forward,” explained Starfish President/CEO Leslie Donavan. “The reception has been 100% positive. The folks at StarGuard ELITE are fantastic, and we are certain everybody will be extremely happy.”

Starfish’s decision to part with the program was in many ways influenced by an overlap of efforts. In terms of administration, training and technological advances, people were performing many of the same functions.

“It just grew to a point where it needed to stand on its own,” said Wess Long, who once served as the director of operations during the early development stages of the comprehensive risk management program and will continue in the position of president of StarGuard ELITE.

StarGuard Elite is owned by a group of investors, including majority stakeholders and two of the organization's founders, Mike Friscia and James Harhi.

Despite the official change, StarGuard ELITE will continue to operate without interruption and clients will not be impacted, Donavan explained. To ensure a smooth transition, SAI, under White’s guidance, will assist with operations for the next two years. White then serves as a consultant to StarGuard ELITE through 2022, while the company continues to operate from its Orlando headquarters.

“We are trying to grow and develop the program so that it’s the most client-focused objective program that we can offer,” Long said. “We’ve been an industry leader for the last four years, and we are going to continue driving innovation.”

By shedding the program, Donavan said, Starfish will be able to focus on its other programs and develop new ones, including its recently launched nonprofit, the Starfish Center for Aquatic Safety Research, Education and Leadership, as well as a new education platform called Splash EDU.

“We have always been constrained with getting these programs out there, because StarGuard has always been so time-consuming," she said. "Now we are in a fantastic position to expand our existing programs.”