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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL SWIMMING

McGettrick Can Show and Tell

May 07, 2000|LAUREN PETERSON

They call her coach.

The title is unofficial because North Hollywood High senior Greer McGettrick is still a champion swimmer.

Even so, the role suits her and the Huskies well.

McGettrick last year won a City title in the 100-yard breaststroke and placed fourth in the 200 individual medley.

This year, she has continued to compete in meets, but isn't in the pool during practices. Instead, she has been on deck, directing the Huskies in daily workouts at the East Valley YMCA in North Hollywood under the supervision of the official on-campus teacher and first-year coach, Norm Shifren.

"I just love swimming and I want to be a coach," McGettrick said. "This is something I've always wanted to do, and this was a good opportunity."

Early in the season Shifren realized the 17-year-old McGettrick, North Hollywood's best swimmer and a veteran of the Calabasas-based Combined Competitive Aquatics Team (CCAT), was more knowledgeable about the nuances of swim strokes than he was.

"I was the coach, but teaching strokes is kind of my weak point," Shifren said. "She was interested, and I thought, 'What the heck, I might as well make use of her.'

"I started watching her and listening to her, and thought, 'You know, she's going to make my job easier.' "

McGettrick has done that, and Shifren is grateful for the help.

"I have to be honest. She does most of the actually coaching during the workouts, and she does a great job," he said. "Any coach would be glad to have her. I have a lot of respect for her."

Just as importantly, McGettrick's teammates respect her as well.

"She's helped out a lot," senior Matt Hoggan said. "She's a good leader. She's good at what she does, so we all listen to her."

The result is improving times.

Hoggan, who swims the 100 breaststroke and 100 freestyle, as well as teammates Chris Tanaka (200 IM and 500 freestyle) and Emil Abramyan (50 freestyle), are expected to qualify along with McGettrick for the City Section preliminaries Wednesday at Belmont Plaza in Long Beach.

The list of preliminary entrants, which will include swimmers with the top 24 times from league finals, will not be available until Monday.

"They really do respect me. It's so awesome," McGettrick said. "And I respect them back. They work hard and a lot of them have improved so much since the beginning of the season."

Despite individual improvement, however, North Hollywood has struggled as a team. The squad has just 31 swimmers, only six seniors, and many beginning and recreational swimmers.

The boys' squad is 2-5, including a 1-4 mark in the East Valley League. The girls' team is 1-6 and winless in league competition.

"I don't even worry about records," McGettrick said. "We're just working on strokes and times. Last year, we had a bigger team and a faster team. But we lost a lot of people, so they're doing pretty well considering."

McGettrick has considered becoming a coach for several years. Her work with the Huskies only strengthened that desire. Being on deck also has provided her with a welcome respite from the water.

Although she doesn't swim with the Huskies during practices, McGettrick puts in thousands of yards in the water each day during morning and evening workouts with the CCAT club.

"This way, I get to use my energy for the team," she said. "I think I give them motivation for what they can accomplish."

*

Shifren, in his first year at North Hollywood, is a different kind of coach, to say the least.

More than 35 years ago, he took to the surf and found an effective form of soul-searching.

The result: Someone who may be the world's most unorthodox Orthodox Jewish rabbi.

"I have to be different," he said. "I guess between being a rabbi and being a surfer, I must be."

He has been featured in both roles many times, including in a 1993 edition of Surfer magazine, The Jerusalem Report magazine, and People magazine, on the spirituality page of the Oct. 12, 1998 edition.

Shifren, 49, a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher for 10 years, also shares his passions for surfing and spirituality with students when the opportunity arises.

He often shows videotapes of his surfing adventures in Hawaii, Mexico and Central America to students during lunch.

Discussions of surfing are common, and the sport as a mode of introspection and path to self-awareness is espoused.

"What I hope is to get students to work hard to overcome themselves and whatever their circumstances might be," said Shifren, who is fluent in five languages and teaches Spanish at North Hollywood.

"I try to give a little bit of myself, and I think I've had an impact on kids."

Certainly, surfing has had an impact on him.

"It's a major part of my life," said Shifren, who surfs at Venice Beach or other L.A. County sites every day.

"It's hard to explain. The ocean is God's greatest, most powerful creation, and the whole idea of being pulled along on a wave, riding a wave, it's a challenge. It's raw nature. It's powerful."

Shifren has a Web site at www.surfingrabbi.com, and is the author of an autobiographical book titled "Surfing Rabbi: A Kabbalistic Quest for Soul," which he expects to be published this year.

As director of Jewish Surfers International, Shifren produces a periodic newsletter called Surf & Soul, and leads a loosely organized group of about 10 surfers who refer to themselves as the "Surfing Synagogue." Members meet informally once or twice a month to discuss spiritual beliefs, and of course, to surf.

"I've been surfing a long time," he said. "It's the greatest thing in the world."

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