Comet Club Values

 Recently Alison has been on a mission to bring order into some of our old photographs. Yesterday she discovered this relic. It is the 1965 Comet Club swim team. Comet was quite a force in those days. With 500 members Comet was the second biggest club in New Zealand. We won the HBPB Region Championships and had three New Zealand champions. Because I lived 40 miles from Gisborne I missed the photograph but was included in a long lost “Inset” in the bottom left of the photograph.

The pillars on which the Comet Club was built were Beth and Ray Meade. They are both in the photograph. Beth was our Coach and Ray, the ever patient, power behind the throne.

What amazing people they were. For three summers I lived in their home. Not one cent would they accept for my room and board. Not one cent did they get from the thousands of swimmers they taught to swim; no training fees, no learn to swim fees, nothing.

But what they did do was provide swimmers in their club with an amazing value system. A set of values based on a love of sport, a respect for the rules, of fun, of strong independence, of dignity and good manners. It is difficult to describe. But just ask any swimmer in that photograph and they will know exactly what is meant by the term, “Comet Values”.

Not that Comet was unique. Many people in sport have Comet Values. Duncan Laing, Gary Hurring, Lincoln Hurring, Judith Wright, Gwen Ryan, Arthur Lydiard, Arch Jelley, John Walker, Mark Schubert, Trevor Nichols and Noel Hargrave-Booth all have or had Comet Values.

But there are many who live by a different code. I remember Brian Palmer, when he was CEO of Auckland Swimming, laughing scornfully about my enjoyment of the Counties Swimming Championships. “Are you visiting the provinces?” he would ask. What he never knew, and never will, was that the two organizers of that Championship Jeannie and Geoff Sibun are two of the best examples of Comet Values. And because of that their Championship has a warmth Brian Palmer could never reproduce in Auckland.

And this is the fundamental problem I have with Swimming New Zealand. The place lacks Comet Values. It is all about corporate planning and strategic thinking going forward. Bruce Cotterill and Steve Johns probably have no idea what I’m talking about. They would probably see Comet Values as redundant; as the archaic daydreams of the elderly. I suspect there is no prospect they will ever understand.

But they should. Because a swimmer, not in this Comet photograph, but very much part of the Comet team in that era is a current Swimming New Zealand Board member, Margaret McKee. Here is how her success was reported in the Gisborne Photo News.


Young Margaret McKee has emerged as one or the stars of the swimming world in Gisborne this season. In this her third season of swimming, she has smashed numerous records and shown great improvement in strength and style. .Margaret started out as a promising swimmer, but her improvement during this season has been remarkable.

This 13-year-old daughter of Mr and Mrs Grant McKee, Clifford Street, and member of the Comet Swimming Club, has had only conventional training but plenty of practice has assured success for her in various competitions. At the recent Hawkes Bay-Poverty Bay championships held at Napier she broke seven records including the 12-14 years 220yards freestyle. Margaret will be attending the National Championships at New Plymouth at the time of publication and we wish her every success at these events.

And she was successful. I cannot recall whether she won the 220 yards or the 440 yards but certainly it was one of them. So Margaret McKee knows what Comet Values mean. She’s been part of it. I just hope that her life in the corporate world has not diminished the importance of her time in Gisborne. I hope she still understands what I mean when I say Swimming New Zealand needs a dose of Comet Values. When decisions are being made around that Board table she should take time to consider, what would Comet have done?

Because others, who have done it that way, have been to the top of the sporting world. Comet Values work. Just consider the record of Arch Jelley, Arthur Lydiard, Mark Schubert, Duncan Laing and Lincoln Hurring. And consider the effect Beth Meade had on our sporting lives. The greatest favour anyone could do for Swimming New Zealand would be to provide it with a values compass. I hope Margaret McKee remembers what that looks like.

Sadly I have lost contact with many of the swimmers in the photograph. There is Greg Meade in the third row. After his mother retired Greg successfully coached the Comet Club. Not any longer in the old Mccrae Baths but in the “new” Olympic Pool, largely built with funds raised by his mother. In the front row, in the white togs, is Rosemary Hewitt. She was on television recently when her lovely old two story home was badly damaged in the Christchurch earthquakes. The house was sold and shifted to Queenstown where it was restored. Rosemary was shown on TV visiting the house after the restoration. She appeared to be exhaustingly full of life. In fact, not much different from 1965. Sadly Robyn Aylword, in the second row, died a few years ago. She had become Floor Manager of a major Gold Coast casino. Shona Twistelton, third from the right in the second row, married Gary Martin and together they established and managed the hugely successful Enterprise Pool and club in Gisborne. Yvonne Goodall, on the far right of the second row, was a terrific swimmer. Her Dad was the Comet and HBPB starter for years. He was probably the least official, official I have ever met. When Greg or I were misbehaving he would smile and simply shake his head. The Shaw sisters are in the front row. Their Dad was a referee and fairly strict on making sure the rules were obeyed. One Friday club night he took exception to something Greg and I had done and sent us down to the learner’s pool to sit in the unheated cold water for half an hour. That was a lesson not quickly forgotten.

They were fun days. They were also important days. Important because they gave sport a heart – something Swimming New Zealand in all its push for efficiency and corporate plans seems to have left behind.

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