Dublin High School Teacher Noel Sollom-Brotherton Leads Dublin Green Gators to an Undefeated Season
It is often encouraging to follow the story of one of Dublin’s native sons. It is even more exciting when it is attached to an athletic accomplishment – not by him. But, by the team that he help to guide to greatness. Noel Sollom-Brotherton graduated from Dublin High School in 2005. On top of being an excellent student and leader, he also lettered as a competitive swimmer.
The 2015 season represented a pinnacle – an achievement that has never been achieved relative to capturing a team championship. How did this happen? As a youth, he competed with the Briarhill Cabana Club in Dublin, California. It was as much of his upbringing as attending school. Upon graduation from DHS, the urge to guide and to cultivate young swimmers never wavered. At the time, he had matriculated to Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA – a relatively small liberal arts institution. Mr. Sollom-Brotherton focused on a Studio Arts degree and attained this B.A in less than four years. The academic focus was centered on Painting, Sculpture and Photography – among other disciplines. His presence at this Division III University also provided him the opportunity to continue participating in competitive swimming. Subsequently, he attained his Single-Subject Teaching Credential from the University of Puget Sound. So, the question remained – which path to choose?
During his interim summers, Noel returned to Dublin and coached young swimmers. This primarily cemented his thought process that he would pursue a career in education. While he could have easily remained in the state of WA, his application to join the Dublin Unified School District was met with mutual interest and he commenced his career at DHS in the fall of 2011.
But the allegiance with the sport of swimming was never far behind and he committed himself to leading the Dublin Green Gators Swim Team – a City-led endeavor for close to eight years. As a member of the Tri-Valley Swim League, the Green Gators regularly competed against teams in the local area. While it has been a steady climb, the team experienced their first ever League championship in late July – completing a perfect 6-0 competition record in addition to a first place finish in the championship swim meet. We couldn’t resist the urge to gather Coach Noel’s thoughts on this accomplishment. And, we also wanted to harvest his thoughts as an educator.
OneDublin.org: The 2015 season represented a pinnacle – an achievement that has never been achieved relative to capturing a team championship. How did this happen?
Noel Sollom-Brotherton: “I think that credit for our performance this year really belongs in numerous hands. First, we are able to attract swimmers to our team year over year- many swim in the league every summer from ages 5 to 18. That consistency allows us to build skills according to our coaching philosophy. Returners know the ropes and can focus on getting better, not re-adjusting to new coaching styles. Further, the consistency in our parental involvement means that meets run smoothly and that our athletes know that they are expected to be at practice. Finally, our coaching staff has been excellent. We had no turnover for this year, which meant that all of us already knew every veteran team member, how to work with them, and what skills to develop with them. Personally, I can say that I have grown quite a bit since I started with the Gators at age 20- I have learned a lot from working with the DHS swim team, my assistant coaches there, as well as with coaches throughout the Tri-Valley at all competitive levels, and that has made a positive impact on the team.”
OneDublin.org: After seven years of service to the organization, you will be stepping aside from your primary responsibilities as Head Coach. However, we are sure you will depart with numerous positive memories. What will you take away from this experience?
Sollom-Brotherton: “This is a very difficult question. Swimming has always been a part of my life, and being able to work as a coach in the same community I grew up in has been a privilege. By far, the hardest thing to walk away from, are the kids on the team: they are enthusiastic, joyful, and hardworking. Their energy is infectious- working with them has always left me recharged for another year. Seeing them grow from little 7-8s to the students walking into my high school classroom has both humbled me and made me extraordinarily proud.”
OneDublin.org: While this City of Dublin program encourages all participants to have fun, there is also a competitive element. Describe how you and your staff have successfully developed a team culture that speaks to both sides of this equation.
Sollom-Brotherton: “An essential part of any competitive program, whether it is primarily recreational or highly competitive, is building skills. At the Gators, I have encouraged this type of growth mentality. Whether its learning how to do a flip turn for the first time or learning an excellent work ethic, our team members are actively encouraged to grow, not just to win. Swimming is a very individual sport even though it is scored as a team. Working one-on-one with each of our individual gators to get them to learn the next skill or take the next step is the primary task for me and my coaches. To make winning the primary goal for a swimmer can actually inhibit performance. That type of mindset focuses energy on what is not in the athlete’s control: the other team, the other swimmers, the expectations of peers or family. I like to believe that focusing on personal awareness and development makes better athletes while also enhancing the chance of winning.”
OneDublin.org: In August, you will embark upon your fifth year as an English teacher at DHS. For those that are generally unfamiliar with the adoption of Common Core, please share how this concept has modified your approach to teaching and/or how you have modified your class time with students.
Sollom-Brotherton: “I have been very fortunate when it comes to the timing of Common Core implementation. The district I worked with during my student-teaching practicum was well ahead of the ball game in terms of its implementation. In many ways, Common Core is a cultural shift, and I didn’t have to shift to anything: that’s just the way it’s always been for me. Above all, Common Core is about putting student learning in the spotlight. It’s not enough to say, “well, I taught it, they just couldn’t learn it.” That kind of thinking betrays a mentality that relegates teachers to mere “sorters” of students who come to the classroom with inherent limits on their ability to learn and grow. I think, and I believe Common Core agrees, that all students are capable of learning and growing. To make that happen is difficult work, but is also leaps and bounds better than merely sorting kids. To put all that in practical terms, it means giving my kids many opportunities to perform a new skill or demonstrate a new understanding, with plenty of opportunities for feedback. It means having high expectations for every student in my classroom in terms of the text they read, the papers they write, and the debates they have. It means less lecture from me, and more “doing” from them, whether that’s reading, writing, researching, discussing, or as happens frequently, a mixture of many or all of those activities.”
OneDublin.org: As incoming juniors roll in later this month, one of their primary tasks will be to invest research into their potential college choices. You shared that you employed the services of a College Advisor. How did this specifically influence your decision to attend Whitman College? And why do you recommend this type of service to current students?
Sollom-Brotherton: “Having access to a college admissions advisor really opened my eyes to the possibilities that were out there for me. Although it may be less prevalent now, the mindset for many of my peers and their parents circa 2005 was that the UC system was the only target worth shooting for unless you had a reasonable shot at the Ivy League or Stanford. I think that looking outside those household names allows students to find the perfect match for them. I still applied to several campuses in the UC system, but I also applied to a half dozen schools I had never heard of before working with the advisor (all of them small liberal-arts schools: Whitman, Pomona, Pitzer, Colorado College, University of Puget Sound, Lewis and Clark College). After getting admittance notices back I was still drawn to the UC names, and I was very close to committing at San Diego. However, the advisor and my parents insisted that I visit the other schools I was accepted to before making a final decision. The visit to Whitman sealed the deal. I can think of no better way to make a decision about a prospective college than by going there, and ideally rooming with current students and attending classes, as I was able to. Although the advisor I worked with was amazing, I strongly encourage students to access as many resources in the DHS college/ career center as possible. Books like Colleges That Change Lives or even the Princeton Review or Fiske guides are great for starting to think outside the UC/CSU box.”
Given the recent team championship accomplishment, we thought that it would be wise to seek out the feedback from members of the Dublin Green Gators. We found one nice, convenient package by reaching out the family of Dan and Linda Fitzpatrick. Their three children are all active participants and they all had something positive to say. We follow with their names, ages and comments.
Frankie (13): “For the eight years that I’ve been on the Green Gators, placing first above all other teams means a lot to me. Nearly every member of the team is very dedicated so we’ve definitely deserved first place for a long time now. As we’ve never been one of the best teams I think it came as a huge surprise to all of us going into champs undefeated for the entire season, as well as defeating all other competitors. For me and probably many others, this has without a doubt been the most fun and exciting year on the Dublin Green Gators.”
Ginger (12): “All of the coaches have always been helpful. They work very hard to teach us the proper stroke techniques and show us how to do the dives, turns, and finishes correctly. They are constantly encouraging us to do our best and are always cheering us on.”
Owen (9): “I like swimming because I get to spend a lot of time with my friends. Swim practice is fun!”
So, while Coach Sollom-Brotherton departs from the weekly rigors of coaching the Dublin Green Gators, many of these swimmers will have the opportunity to reunite with him as they matriculate through Dublin High School. Perhaps equally important, they will also gain the wisdom in discussing their potential college/career choices. OneDublin.org would like to thank Noel for sharing his insights and the opportunity to highlight the exploits of the Dublin Green Gators in their championship season.
Editor’s Note: Dublin Green Gator photo credits to Linda Fan Fitzpatrick.