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TEACHING'S GOOD AS GOLD FOR WRIGHT <br> LOCAL SYNCHRO SWIM COACH DECLINES TO PURSUE OLYMPIC JOB

Members of the Tonawanda Aquettes and Canisius College synchronized swim teams can breathe easy.

Despite her recent brush with Olympic glory, coach Joanne Wright has decided not to leave home to go for the gold. At least not as an Olympic coach.

"You can only devote so much time," said Wright, who coaches for both local synchro teams and would be a strong candidate for an Olympic job. "When you become a national coach you have to leave your family and I have three children. I just feel that my talents lie in the age-group and the collegiate arena of coaching."

Wright's moment -- actually it was four days -- in the Olympic spotlight came recently when she was one of 76 coaches (two from each Olympic discipline) honored in Indianapolis by the U.S. Olympic Committee as a Coach of the Year.

"I felt so honored, just by the people that were there," said Wright, who was singled out as her sport's Developmental Coach of the Year.

"There was a speed skater (Dianne Holum) who was an Olympian who coached the Heidens (Eric and Beth) and Bonnie Blair." Also honored were coaches of figure skater Tara Lipinski, skier Picabo Street and other Olympic champions.

"They had a parade of all the coaches. It was really well done," she said.

Wright, 45, began the march to her national pinnacle when she was 12 years old.

"I got into it at Delaware Pool and never left," she said in an interview at the old pool's successor, the Town of Tonawanda Aquatic & Fitness Center on Sheridan Drive.

"Ever since I was a little tiny girl I've loved sports, especially dancing and swimming. And when I found something that combined both, it was just perfect for me.

"There's the camaraderie of swimming with a team and using the music and it incorporates gymnastic flexibility. There are just so many sports all wrapped up into one," she said.

Wright's coaching career began about 24 years ago when she started to "help out" coach Dorothy Sowers at the Aquettes.

"Dorothy needed an assistant and the team was growing and I just fell into it," she said.

"I just really see a real progression in a team sport like this. You learn so many valuable lessons about life and about sport," she said.

The program for the USOC's banquet in Indianapolis said Wright's "recent success at the developmental level is unparalleled." It said she "solidified her position as one of the synchro world's most valuable assets by placing six medalists in the 1997 Baquacil U.S. Age Group Championships (at Tonawanda last June)."

"Part of the fun is winning and the success of it. But there are so many other parts. Just the struggle toward winning, I think, is the real reward that you get," she said.

Wright thinks her daughter, Jill, who won the 16-17 age group solo title at that competition, could develop into an Olympian.

"I would hope so. She just turned 16 and she has a ways to go," Wright said.

Although Wright plans to stay close to home as a coach, she could make the 2000 games in Athens as an official. She already is an international official and has represented the U.S. at the 1997 Swiss Open in St. Moritz.

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