Director of Aquatics
Wilderness at the Smokies
Sevierville, Tennessee - USA
Featured in "World Waterpark Magazine," May 2018
WHAT IS YOUR EDUCATION AND PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE?
I received an associate of science degree from Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee. My career started in 2002 at a community pool. In 2004, I joined Dollywood’s Splash Country and I am currently with Wilderness at the Smokies.
WHAT CERTIFICATION OR LICENSING DO YOU HAVE?
I am a certified International Lifeguard Training Program Instructor, Certified Pool Operator and a Jeff Ellis Swim program coordinator.
WHAT HONORS, AWARDS OR SPECIAL RECOGNITION HAVE YOU ACHIEVED?
In 2015, we achieved our facility’s first “Gold International Aquatic Safety Award” through Ellis & Associates.
WHAT MADE YOU GO INTO THIS FIELD?
My friends in high school convinced me to join the swim team and later that year we all became Red Cross lifeguards and worked at the local community pool. A couple of years later, I met Craig Wells, who was the Aquatics Supervisor for Dollywood’s Splash Country. He invited me to join his team. I worked there for 6 years before I was offered a full-time position with Wilderness.
WHAT ASPECT OF THE WATERPARK INDUSTRY DO YOU LIKE BEST?
I love working with young people. Most of my employees are in their first job. They have such great goals and motivation.
WHO HAS MOST INSPIRED YOU IN YOUR CAREER?
Craig Wells always told me to do what I knew was the right thing. He also introduced me to servant leadership, where you work for your employees. Gene Scherrer, who is the VP of the Dollywood Company, would walk the park every morning at 7:30 a.m. and usually be cleaning something the guards had missed from the night before. Gene taught me that if you care about something, you will make sure it is taken care of even if that means doing it yourself. Justin Strayer was the Assistant GM at Wilderness for a few years. Justin inspired me to work hard and to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Justin never stopped moving and was willing to help with anything. No matter what was asked of him he would always say, “you bet” and pitch in to help out. Josh Martinez and I have worked together in a few capacities. Josh inspired me to ask for what I want. If I want my staff to be world class, I have to ask them to be world class. If you ask for excellence, you will rarely get it; but if you don’t ask for excellence, you will never get it.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE GREATEST CHALLENGE IN YOUR WATERPARK CAREER?
Transitioning from the sprint of a seasonal operation to the marathon of a year-round operation. As a seasonal guy, I was used to the season being a couple months of training, about a month of prep and 4 months of operation and then you rest. In the year-round operation I had to get used to training year-round, and having slow seasons instead of off seasons.
HOW DO YOU KEEP FOCUSED AND MOTIVATED?
Time away is a must. I have to have a week here and there to unplug and relax. I also enjoy industry events like the WWA Show and International Aquatic Safety School to reconnect with friends and meet new members of the community.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN WORKING IN THE WATERPARK INDUSTRY?
Don’t take short cuts, plan ahead and be flexible when things don’t work out.
WHAT BOOKS OR PUBLICATIONS DO YOU RELY ON MOST FOR INSPIRATION OR MOTIVATION?
I get a lot of inspiration from my team and from people around the industry.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB?
Working at a place where everyone else goes on vacation. Whenever people come to my work, they think it’s awesome. I like to tell my guards, “every day’s a vacation at the Wilderness.”
WHAT CAREER OR BUSINESS WOULD YOU CONSIDER IF YOU WERE STARTING ALL OVER AGAIN?
I always wanted to be a high school chemistry teacher.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED WITH THE WWA?
In 2016, Josh Martinez invited me to attend the WWA Show. I also serve on WWA’s Education Committee.
WHAT IS SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT YOU THAT FEW KNOW OR WOULD GUESS?
I grew up on a sheep farm. We had as many as 200 sheep at one time.