Camp Ak-O-Mak is Canada’s only competitive sports camp for girls and the world’s first all-girls competitive swimming camp. The camp was founded in 1928 by Matt Mann, a professional coach and head of swimming clubs in the United States. Mann first founded Camp Chikopi, the world’s first competitive swimming camp for boys, in 1920. In 1952, he coached the U.S. Olympic team. Matt and Lea (Muller) Mann operated Camp Chikopi until Matt’s death in 1962. In 1928, when his daughter, RoseMary was eight, Mann began Ak-O-Mak. Mann asked Hal Ulen, a longtime Syracuse & Harvard swim coach, to serve as Ak-O-Mak’s first director. RoseMary Mann Dawson, Matt and Lea’s daughter, was Ak-O-Mak’s first camper! Ak-O-Mak’s early years involved only several swimmers from the Detroit Athletic Club where Matt was the head of the swimming team.
In the 1930’s, Camp Ak-O-Mak expanded its program to include more than “just” swimming. The other sports, Matt argued, would only enhance the swimmers’ endurance, strength and fortitude. Matt encouraged many of his University of Michigan colleagues to join him at the camps to coach their respective sports. More than half the Michigan coaching staff spent all or part of their summers at Camps Chikopi & Ak-O-Mak, including the future athletic directors of Nebraska, Indiana, Miami and Penn State.
Camp Ak-O-Mak continued to expand its programs to include numerous other sports. The camp also expanded programs to cater to all children, not just competitive swimmers. The swimming program, however, remains strong – and one of the world’s finest to this day. Mann’s philosophy about Chikopi & Ak-O-Mak was centered around cross-training activities that enhanced the swimmer’s competitive and physical edge.
In the 1950's, Ak-O-Mak added competitive, flatwater canoeing and kayaking. Ak-O-Mak paddlers went on to capture numerous national titles at all levels of paddling to its repertoire. Marcia Jones Smoke became Ak-O-Mak’s most decorated international paddler, paddling in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.
In 1941, RoseMary Mann took over the Director’s duties at Ak-O-Mak. She continued to serve in that capacity until 1991 when she retired from the active day-to-day duties. RoseMary’s contributions to Camp Ak-O-Mak are too numerous to count. Her contributions to the world of women’s swimming and women’s water polo are equally impressive. After forming the Ann Arbor Swim Club in 1956, RoseMary went on to coach at the University of Michigan, coach at the University of Western Ontario, revive AAU women’s water polo, direct the first few AAU overseas teams, and serve as the first woman on the Board of Directors of the American Swimming Coaches Association. In 1999, she was awarded the lifetime achievement award from USA water polo.
In 1956, RoseMary married Buck Dawson, an All-American runner out of the Univ. of Michigan and founding director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Buck assisted RoseMary in the director’s duties and went on to write several books about Camp Chikopi and Camp Ak-O-Mak.
Eight Ak-O-Mak and Chikopi alumni participated in the 1996 and 2000 Atlanta and Sydney Olympic Games. Over 350 All-Americans and 60 Olympians have trained with Ak-O-Mak and Chikopi. Numerous inductees into various halls of fame also highlight the camp’s rich traditions in sport.
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