Hello, So Cal Swimming World!

 

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Enjoy unique stories from Southern California swimmers, coaches and officials. Discover why Southern California has been the premier LSC for decades. Please dive in and share your memories and photos. Together we’ll create #SoCalSwimHistory!

If you have stories and photos to share, please email them to ewickham@me.com

 

 

Mike Dickson, Proud of the Adults His Swimmers Become

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Mike Dickson (photo from Chaffey College)

 

Mike Dickson feels fortunate to have his career as a coach for almost 40 years on the same team. Not many coaches can claim that. Part of the reason for his longevity is his “emphasis on running a good program not just on winning.”

“It’s hard today for some coaches starting out,” Dickson said. “Many coaches today are part-time.”  As head coach at Chaffey College and Hillside Aquatics, he has enjoyed the stability of working for both the college and running a club program. “Several swimmers on the college team had parents who were on my team,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed watching the kids grow up.”

According to Dickson, “College comes first and the college allows us to use the pool.” He runs a successful summer learn-to-swim program at the pool as well as the club team Hillside Aquatics. He attributes much of the team’s success to great assistant coaches. “While they’re finishing with schooling, swimmers will work as assistant coaches for me.”

He’s proud of his many swimmers and the great people they have become as adults. Many of his swimmers continued from Hillside Aquatics into Chaffey College to swim for him.  Many followed careers into public service including lifeguards, firemen, police, California Highway Patrol, nursing, plus an author. He played an important part in his young swimmers’ lives and they keep in touch with him throughout their lives.

“Industry Hills with John Ries, Mission Viejo with Mark Schubert were two of the powerhouse teams with Olympic swimmers, he recalled. Other important teams from the early days he mentioned were YMCA San Pedro, NOVA, Redlands, RAA with Sippy Woodhead and Mike Gautreau at Covina Aquatics Association.

Dickson was born in Spokane, WA and his family moved to Montclair when he was seven years old. As a diver, he competed at Montclair High School and graduated in 1967. He competed for Chaffey college as a diver, also.

One weekend each December, Dickson plays Santa Claus for the Palm Springs Air Museum’s annual “Santa Fly In and Winter Fun Land.” Santa Claus flies into the Air Museum and greets the line of kids waiting to see him. He sits for photographs and hands out gifts for each child.

As for his club swimmers, “Kids recognize their own talent. Parents all think their own kids are talented. Kids don’t like being beat and they sort out where they fit in.” Some kids pay attention to detail and are self-disciplined while some aren’t as focused, he added. He mentioned a young man in the college who was not that talented, but he enjoys it and puts in his best effort. “I love working with kids like that and I can train them to get better.”

As for parents, he likes someone “who doesn’t own a stopwatch.” He appreciates the “parents who bring their child to practice consistently, willing to make that sacrifice. During practice, some read, walk on the track and they offer body conditioning the same time as youngers’ practice.”

“We all lead busy lives, and when parents have other children, in multiple sports or activities and are willing to help our without expecting anything in return, it’s a pleasure. The best parents aren’t asking for something in return, like if their child is going to get into another group.”

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Mike Dickson as Santa (photo from the Palm Springs Air Museum)

Here’s a complete bio from the Chaffey College Swimming website:

 

Mike Dickson

Head Coach – Men’s Swimming & Diving

For over 38 years Mike Dickson has guided Chaffey College’s aquatics programs, coaching some top notch swimmers and water polo players. Dickson started at Chaffey College as the men’s and women’s swim coach along with the men’s water polo coach. During his nine seasons as Panther water polo, coach Dickson led them to a conference championship in 1980 along with entries into 2 Southern California Water Polo Championship tournaments.

Chaffey College has won swimming titles for men’s in 1984, 1985, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1995, 2007 and 2012. The women won conference championships in 1983, 1984, 1989, 1990, 1994 and 1995.

“We need to have good high schools and a good, competitive facility,” said Dickson about running a successful swimming program. “We need to be able to draw in the club swimmers.”

Dickson has been blessed with more than his share of talented swimmers. In the past 38 years Panther swimmers have earned over 150 individual or relay All-American rankings.

When Dickson recruits swimmers he talks about the benefits of attending a community college. Another selling point is that Chaffey College as its own academic counselor for athletes and they receive priority registration for their first three semesters.

Born in Spokane, Washington,  Dickson and his family moved to Montclair when he was seven. He graduated Montclair High in 1967 and competed primarily as a diver.

In 1968 and 1973 Dickson dove for the Panthers swim team under the direction of Chaffey College Hall of Fame coach Howard Theurer. During the intermittent years, Dickson served in the U.S. Army, stationed in Germany. He came back to Cal Poly Pomona, where he dove in 1974. Dickson coached various levels of swimming and diving for Montclair High between 1967 and 1978.

In addition to coaching local swimmers up to Olympic Trials, Mike was also a coach for the Indonesian National Team for several years. He has had the opportunity to coach with other international level coaches and work with swimmers who were competing on the international level. Many of his swimmers competed in the Southeast Asian Games and Pan-Pacific Games.

Coach Dickson and his wife of 38 years Bonni, live in Rancho Cucamonga. They have two adult children who have given them several grandchildren to be with and spoil whenever possible.

In his spare time, Dickson likes to collect dust jackets from the late 1930s and early 1940s. He likes to travel as he’s hitchhiked across Europe and also thumbed his way from California to New York.

Bill Pullis Grew the Piranhas From 14 to More Than 200 Swimmers

 

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Bill Pullis, Head Coach of the Piranhas in the 1980s. photo from The Desert Sun

The first time I met Bill Pullis was in 1985 and I was working in PR for a real estate developer. There was a young executive in our office who was married to Bill. She told us, “Bill coaches the Piranhas and we always have a ton of kids over.”

I was dumbfounded. A swim coach? That was a career?

We would watch through the office windows as he buzzed off to work in his red Porsche, late in the afternoons. What kind of a job is a swim coach? I wondered again. No, I wasn’t a swimmer or a swim mom at the time. I didn’t get it.

Pullis accomplished through “being the hardest working coach ever” to grow the Piranha Swim Team from 14 swimmers in the Palm Springs pool to more than 200 swimmers and expanding the program to Indio High School, College of the Desert, Desert Hot Springs and the Boys and Girls Club in Sunrise Park, adjacent to the Palm Springs Aquatic Center.

“We had a swim parent, Mr. Jewell, who repaired and replastered the COD pool for us. That’s how we got use of it,” Pullis recalled.

JO team 1 His top swimmers included Silver Medalist from the 1988 Seoul Olympics breaststroker Tracey McFarlane and Ricky Gill, who was a potential qualifier for the 1980 Olympics, which the US boycotted. Other standouts included Bill Summers, Bill Corrigan and Daniel Spires, who with Gill had the number one medley relay in the country. That relay team still holds Piranha records. Among his top women athletes were an exchange student from Finland Tuija Kyrulainen, plus Laura Ambrosius, Lisa Dean, Kathleen Burns, Tina Case, Kali Christensen as well as official Jack Argue’s daughter, who commuted from Hemet.

 

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Piranha Junior Nationals Team in Austin.

 

 

 

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National JO team.

“Harvey Wheeler was my high school coach in Maine,” Pullis explained. “He had an amazing way of motivating kids. We wanted to work so hard for him.” Wheeler was his inspiration to coach and he often incorporated his ideas into his workouts.

A native of Maine, Pullis said he was “a good, not great swimmer.” He swam in high school and at Bowdoin College. He coached the Sea Coast Swim Club for four years in Maine and realized that if he wanted to make a living as a coach, he had to come to the epicenter of swimming—Southern California. As a level 5 ASCA Coach, he said he interviewed with the Garden Grove Gators and Palm Springs Piranhas in October. Standing on the deck of the Palm Springs Aquatic Center with the 50-meter pool and the breathtaking view of Mt. San Jacinto made it an easy choice. At that time, he had no idea about the summer heat.

Other accomplishments Pullis mentioned included a contract with Arena for team gear and having Arena use the Palm Springs pool for their catalogs. Famous models and swimmers such as Matt Biondi would give the Piranha kids clinics while on location. He introduced the “splash points” method of awarding swim meets to the Eastern Section. “The process was arbitrary before that,” he said. He also got the city to cancel the annual fishing tournament in the pool! While he was head coach, the blocks and lane lines were expanded into the deep end of the pool.

 

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Parade and celebration for Tracey McFarlane on her return home from the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

He said his favorite thing about coaching was the kids. He has many great memories of travel trips, with the tradition of the swimmers camping out in his house the night before big meets. He said he was very dedicated and although they did pretty big yardage, his goal was to not burn them out. With all their hard work, they also had lots of fun.

Pullis recalled one of his coach friends who was in Des Moines came out to swim in Palm Springs for Christmas break. The Piranha families hosted Des Moines Swim Federation kids. Then, in the summer, the Piranhas went to Des Moines for a week.

His success with his swimmers was evident with placing 10th at National JOs. Also, at Junior Nationals he had relay teams and nine swimmers. Many of his swimmers went onto the next level of swimming at major universities including University of California, Berkeley and swimming for Richard Quick at Texas and Jim Montrella at Ohio State.

Several coaches he mentioned from those ’80s days included Mark Schubert, Mission Viejo, Pat Tope, formerly with Riverside Aquatics Association and now Heartland, and Ed Spencer, Industry Hills, Reno Aquatics, Dynamo and a USA Swimming Master Coach Consultant.

He was offered the position of head coach for the Reno Aquatic Club and coached there for several years before returning to Maine to spend time with his father who was ill. He now lives in Palm Springs full-time and works at his property management company, Community Management Associates.JO team 10JO team 14

 

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Flyer from the City of Palm Springs to welcome home Tracey McFarlane.

 

Janet Knoppel, from Swim Mom to Official “I’d do it all over again!”

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Janet Knoppel (second from right) wth the Summer JO Officials 2012.

It’s not uncommon for our officials to begin their careers as ordinary day-to-day swim parents. Another thing they all have in common—they like to stay busy.

According to Janet Knoppel, whose daughter began swimming around 1977-78, she didn’t like sitting in the stands gossiping, so she worked in admin instead. Then she moved into the position of starter and referee.

In 1983, she worked with Tina Martin at the dedication of the USC pool. Tina was instrumental along with Mary Jo Swalley in organizing and running the 1984 Olympics.

Janet’s daughter swam with Joe Mykkanen who was the brother of Olympic silver medalist John Mykkanen. She knows the Mykkanen family well because she has worked at many meets at NOVA meets, where the Mykkanen children are swimmers and mom Joanna is a coach. She said most Olympians she knows, like John Mykkanen and Janet Evans, don’t push their kids. Instead they ask, “Did you have a good time?”

According to Janet, “It has to be the kid’s decision to swim.” Her own daughter swam all through high school and started swimming in college. She injured her shoulders after two weeks and then did rowing and volleyball. Her daughter swam with the Arcade Riptides and Industry Hills Aquatic Club where Olympic gold and silver medalist Jenna Johnson swam.

Her daughter became a teacher and enjoys coaching, too. Her granddaughter loves the water. They had her in lessons before age two. They hope she’ll swim competitively, too—when she’s old enough.

Janet taught at Gladstone High School in Azusa and was assistant principal at San Dimas High. She’s enjoyed working at CIF since the early 90s. “I know many of the kids and it’s fun to watch their growth. It’s really exciting.

“As an official, the commitment is up to you,” Janet said. One of the things she enjoys most is “training officials and working hand in hand with them.” She has her National certification and said she learns a lot by mentoring. “When I work with an observational starter or referee, I ask what do you see? I teach them to see beyond the one lane.” Janet said she was happy to hear “one official say, ‘I’m so excited. I can see four lanes at once.’ ”

According to Janet, being an official “is not about finding fault, it’s being surprised when they do something wrong.”

At a Nova Grand Prix Meet Memorial Weekend, she was surprised to watch a girl from Stanford swim past the 15-meter line. The Stanford coach asked her, “You didn’t see that did you?” She said yes, she did. The swimmer came up and told the coach, “It’s because of all those underwaters you’re making us do!”

A bit of advice that Janet tells the officials she trains: “Coaches are the advocates of their swimmers. I tell new officials that this is their role. When they have questions, just answer them, don’t get into a confrontation. Once they understand what you saw, they will understand. It’s all about the kids. Without the kids, we could all go home.”

She explained why Southern California Swimming officials are so professional: “Officials from across the country may work only three our four meets a year. In So Cal, we work three to four meets a month. Plus, I work high school and college season. We’re on the deck a lot and have a chance to hone our skills.

“Southern California Swimming is the epicenter of swimming of course because of the weather. But we have great clubs and coaches, both large and small teams. We have great facilities, coaches and officials.

“Our officials nurture the kids. Ninety-five percent of us get to the level of the little kids. We get down physically on our knees to talk to them to tell them they did a really great job, but that they were DQ’d and explain why and wish them good luck.”

Chris Duncan, Destined to Coach

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Chris Duncan during “signing day” 2013 with (from left) Devin Newton, Rachel Thompson, Breanne Tran, Michael Schiffer,  Maddie Meisel and Linsey Engel. (photo credit JCC Waves)

As the son of a swim coach, Chris Duncan said his mom was teaching her whole life. “It’s in me and I love doing it, too. I felt destined.”  

He grew up in Redwood City where his mother was a YMCA swim instructor. He went to the pool with his mom every day and started swimming around age six. His mom switched to teaching gymnastics, but Chris kept swimming with a club in Half Moon Bay. By high school, he had moved to Costa Mesa High school in Southern California and played water polo and swam. Following high school, he attended Orange Coast College.

Chris then went off to Chico State and swam backstroke and IM. Chris, who is soft spoken and humble, said he didn’t have any major accomplishments as a swimmer, but that his team won Senior Nationals, and they took 3rd and 2nd in NCAA’s Division 2  while he was part of the team.

His coaching career began while he was in high school at the Mesa Verde Country Club in Costa Mesa during summers. He gave swim lessons at Saddle Back Valley Aquatics and then became an age group coach and eventually head age group coach. Unfortunately, Chris said the “team dried up and disappeared.” He coached at Irvine Novaquatics for two years prior to becoming the head coach for the Piranha Swim Team in Palm Springs from 1996 to 2000.

Chris mentioned that Olympic Silver medalist Tracy MacFarlane was the coach for Piranhas before him. She married Rob Mirande and they both coached Piranhas before moving to Buenaventura Swim Club where they coached together.

Chris moved from the desert to become head coach for SOCAL Aquatics Association and Santa Ana Junior College. He took the job as Aquatics Director and Head Coach for JCC Waves nine years ago and is “in charge of everything.” His wife Gina coaches with him and he appreciates that they’re on the same schedule. “Thankfully, I met Gina when she was a swim lesson instructor during a summer home from college.  We have three girls. They love swimming, too.”

Words of wisdom from Coach Duncan: “The main thing to remind swimmers and parents is that this is a long-term sport. Be patient, work towards your goals. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll get there. Kids put a lot of pressure on themselves. They need to know that goals take time.”

One his coaching philosophy, Chris said, “I really coach each individual. Some coaches coach for their own egos and have the biggest team possible. My pride is getting to know and connect with each swimmer. I believe it produces results.” He said that if some teams are known as sprint or distance teams, “My team is an IM team. I give IM-based sets every day for everyone. I stress technique.”imgres

“Coaches that I look up to include Richard Quick from Stanford. I never swam for him, but I appreciate his talks and clinics,” Chris said. Other coaches he admired and learned from include “ Ken Gray, who coaches at Woodlands in TX, but was a coach at Mission Viejo, NOVA, Buenaventura and Simi, as well as Dave Salo, Ken LaMont and Jim Montrella.”

“I learned a lot from other coaches. We used to go to coaches homes and play poker–30 or 40 of us. We were friends and hung out. Coaches from Orange County to San Clemente. It’s not like that now. That was in the mid-’90s,” Chris said.

“Our coach gave me a great experience. We had a fun and exciting time, and our goal is to share that experience with kids today whether it’s water polo, club or high school swimming. My coaches were happy with what they were doing and I was shaped by these coaches.”

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Chris and Gina Duncan

Bio from the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County, JCC Waves:

Chris Duncan, The Merage JCC Aquatics Director, is a career swim coach with an outstanding background training Olympic Trial and Junior National qualifiers. Chris has extensive professional experience directing swim programs including country clubs, ISL, swim schools, masters swim teams and USA clubs for all age groups from preschool through adults.  His swimmers excel in a small group environment where they can individualize the workouts to suit the swimmers talents and work ethic.  He works with each swimmer to effectively strengthen their skills and sharpen their weaknesses.  As the JCC OC Waves head coach he keeps watch for the next great talent in the younger groups and fosters the talent all the way to his group and training.  Chris is a lifetime member of the America Swim Coaches Association attending 15 of its World Coaching Conventions. 

Phil Scott, The Father of Circle Swimming

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Phil Scott with his medal-winning swimmers. Photo courtesy of Phil and Doris Scott.

Phil Scott, July 29, 1931 – July 16, 2015, from the San Pedro YMCA was called “the father of the circle pattern” by Peter Daland, Head Coach of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and USC.

Phil’s idea was built of necessity, swimming with more than 20 swimmers in the old YMCA pool in San Pedro in 1952. Phil called the 20-foot pool a “bathtub” and he had to figure out a way to “keep all the kids moving and swimming fast.”

“I think a few other people were coming up with circle swimming at the same time,” Phil said, “but I wrote an article about it for Swimming World. It got a lot of attention and coaches from all over the country wrote to me about my drills and circle pattern.”

He said to make it work he put kids in fast to slow lanes, and each swimmer was placed in order of their speed. “You had to be quick or someone would flip turn on you,” he said.

Phil’s San Pedro YMCA teams won 230 trophies and set 92 national records in every age division throughout his years as coach.

THE EARLY YEARS

Phil graduated high school and wanted to become an artist. But, after surviving the Great Depression he said, “I grew up in poverty, so I didn’t want more of it.” He applied to be a lifeguard at the Gaffey public pool and was told he was too young at 17. Instead, they asked if he knew how to teach swim lessons. “I said yes, even though I’d never taught swimming,” Phil said. “I caught on. I discovered I really enjoyed teaching—it was my bag. I was better than the other instructors because I was well organized and I kept them moving.” Teaching swim lessons led him to a teaching career of more than 30 years. He taught mathematics, art, health and physical education at Richard Henry Dana Junior High School in San Pedro.

“In 1951, I got the job at YMCA.The other coaches I knew at the time were Jim Montrella and Jerry LaBonte from the north Long Beach area YMCA. We became rival coaches. Jim Montrella was one of Jerry’s former swimmers. Jerry and I put in our 16 or 17 years and retired from coaching and we were also teachers. When Jerry retired, Jim took over his YMCA and club team. Jim went on and coached Ohio State University for many years and became head of the organization for all NCAA swimming coaches. Jim was a very successful coach. I remember a hall of fame ceremony for Peter Daland and Jim was emcee. I was best man at Jerry’s wedding, that’s my connection to both Jerry and Jim,” Phil said. Phil was the aquatics director at the San Pedro YMCA until 1968, taking two years off in 1954 to serve in the Army.

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Phil Scott in his Army uniform

According to Phil, Southern California Swimming got its start from several active parents of the Brentwood Swim Club. These parents were instrumental in local swim teams becoming part of the AAU, which then led to the LSC under USA Swimming.

THE WORKOUTS AND TEAM

About his workouts, he explained, “I never let my swimmers go slow. You can’t swim fast if you practice slow. They always practiced fast. They practiced at full capacity. With only three workouts a week, they could do it. I used a clock. If you weren’t on your time, you were on the bench. If you weren’t interested, I wasn’t either and you could sit it out.”

The other two things Phil incorporated into his practice were medicine balls and push-ups out of the pool.

“We had 45 minutes before workouts, so we did medicine balls, I had too many kids to do weights. I also had the kids pulling themselves out of the pool during sets. That uses the same muscles that you use swimming. They’d be so tired.”

Coach Phil Scott showed me photos from the ‘50s and ‘60s and recalled names of his swimmers and their personal stories. He was involved in his swimmers’ lives and said he was demanding and strict, but never mean. “High ideals and morals were as important to teach as swimming,” he said.

“We had top age group swimmers, we set the national 9-10 age group records in ’59. We set records in the 11-12, 13-14, 15-16 age groups all through the years, with the same kids.” Phil explained that it wasn’t until the early ‘60s that age group swimming included kids over 16. “Kids who were 17 years old couldn’t compete, yet they weren’t in college yet.”

Phil recalled his 1965 team as one of the highlights of his coaching career. “We went to the YMCA 1965 state championship in Tuscon, Arizona and won. Then on Sunday, we drove to the Jack Kramer Club in Rolling Hills for AAU relays. We stopped in El Centro at 1 a.m. and got back in the car after a couple hours sleep. I told the swimmers that maybe we wanted to skip the meet since we only got two hours of sleep. No, they wanted to go. We pulled in at 8 a.m. and they set three national records, the 200 medley, 400 medley and 400 free. They set Southern California records as well as National Age Group records.”

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Phil met his wife Doris (Lee) through teaching and was married for 55 years. They had four children, which led Phil to retire from coaching. “I loved coaching, but it was family first. I couldn’t be away for 48 weekends a year.”

You can read more about Phil Scott’s life from the San Pedro Daily Breeze obituary.

The San Pedro Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library named a meeting room in memory of Phil Scott. He and his wife volunteered weekly for more than 20 years with the Friends of the Library.

Bonnie Adair, So Cal Swimmer and Coach, Held 35 National Age Group Records

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SCAQ Masters at Loyola Marymount University

The Early Days

Bonnie Adair, head coach of Loyola Marymount University’s women’s swimming team, described her early days of swimming as just plain fun. Her family’s involvement began at the Beverly Hilton when her mom attended a show of little kids going off the diving boards. The coach was Nick Rodionoff, and her sister, Jerrie Sue, who was two and a half years older, joined the team. Bonnie was five years old and too young. She said that after a month of watching practice, Rodionoff allowed her in the water, too.

Bonnie’s swim career began in 1958 and she retired in 1972. During those years she accumulated 35 age group records and her 50m freestyle record she broke as an 8-year-old stood for 29 years.

She’s noticed many changes to the sport from the years when she swam with “the Puddle Jumpers” coached by Rodionoff, who is the head coach at Pepperdine. They didn’t have permanent water and her coach packed his 15 swimmers and divers into his camper and they swam at various pools. “He’d drive us one day to the LA Athletic Club, or we’d go to the Holiday Athletic Club. Eventually, one of the swim dad’s who was a developer got a pool built in the Encino, Van Nuys area. We became the San Fernando Valley Athletic Club,” she said.

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LMU Women’s Swimming Head Coach Bonnie Adair

Bonnie described her age group team as a “little homegrown team which became her parents’ social life. All my parents’ good friends were swim families. Everyone knew each other. My dad started as a timer and my mom worked at the desk where everything was done manually off little slips of paper before we had timing systems.” Her dad became meet manager and eventually became president of the Southern Pacific Association of the AAU, which was the predecessor to Southern California Swimming.

She remembered coaches association meetings in her living room in Woodland Hills. She said all the iconic coaches were there including Peter Daland, Don Gambril and Jim Montrella, who would have been around 19 years old. “I remember being afraid of Jim Montrella because he had this big booming voice, and then years later, I swam for him,” Bonnie said.

While she was on Radionoff’s team she said they’d surf if the surf was up, or go to Yosemite and ski. Swim meets were big family trips, and her entire team would caravan to Las Vegas or Phoenix. The parents were social and the kids ran in and out of everyone’s hotel rooms. “It was a social environment, a small intimate group of people. By the time I came along, Southern California was producing Olympians,” Bonnie said. “We were the top swim area of the country along with NorCal, Florida and a big team in Philadelphia.”

She said her practices were short and every lap was a race. She was a sprinter and it worked well for her. “I was a diver until 13,” Bonnie said. “Everyone was a diver and a swimmer, unlike today.”

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Bonnie and her sister in bottom right photo, Junior Swimmer and Swimming World, October 1962.

The Adair family moved to the Long Beach area and Bonnie joined Lakewood Aquatics where Jim Montrella was the head coach. She said after she started driving, her parents’ involvement was less. According to Bonnie, “The 1968 Olympic Trials men were in the Belmont Pool, which was new. The women swam in the Swim Stadium in the ghetto. My dad put on the women’s Olympic trials and that was his last big involvement.”

Back in those days, Bonnie said big meets were held at Santa Monica City College outside, or El Segundo Junior College in an indoor pool and the National level meets were held at the Swim Stadium, home of the 1932 Olympics. Orange County and the great pools there today, didn’t exist. She said Lakewood held the Junior Olympics in their pool every year. Eventually, all the big meets were moved to Belmont.

In the valley, she said there wasn’t land to build 50-meter pools and be able to train Olympic caliber athletes. So, in the Los Angeles area, small teams didn’t have the room to grow. The growth took place in Orange Country with the abundance of cheaper land and 50-meter pools.

She mentioned that Don Gambril’s Rosemead team merged with Daland’s group. They took over Belmont Pool and the team was called Phillips 66. Top swimmers included Gary Hall, Tim Shaw, and the Furniss boys. Mission Viejo came into being in the 1970s. Everyone flocked there. Mark Schubert, was a young guy who was hired. A couple of teams disbanded and swimmers like Shirley Babashoff went to Schubert.

Her freshman year of college was pre-Title IX, and there were limited opportunities and college programs for women. She was training with Montrella for the ’72 Olympic Trials and didn’t want to change up her training regime, so her freshman year she was a commuter at UC Irvine and lived at home with her parents. She said during those days she swam 11 practices a week and lifted weights. 

She said her sister, who was a diver, was able to compete on the Men’s team at UCLA with their former coach Rodionoff. “It was because she could score points as a diver, but as a swimmer, I couldn’t compete with the men and didn’t have that same opportunity.” She said looking back it was unfair that the women stayed at home and didn’t get to experience college life. “All of a sudden when school began, there would be all girls in our training group. The fast guys went off to swim at UCLA and USC. We were freshmen and sophomores in college, and we stayed with our club team to train. We lost that experience of being a freshman away at college.”

Title IX changed women’s swimming in college dramatically, with more programs and scholarships. “It’s sad for our guys and the Olympic sports. Without Title IX, we wouldn’t have women’s sports today, but it’s at a cost of the men’s programs.”

Another aspect that has changed are the swimsuits, she said. “Everything was Jantzen and they were heavy, sometimes wool and like a different species. Then Speedo came out with a triple stitched suit and it was so amazing. We only had a choice of black or navy back then.”

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Speedo ad from Junior Swimmer and Swimming World, October 1962

Bonnie attended UCLA her sophomore year and said she was burned out from swimming. Eventually, she found her way back on deck as an assistant coach, while earning her degree.

“I went to UCLA, I could work as a dry cleaner for $1.80 an hour, or I could teach a swim lesson for $20. Coaching is a niche where we have a skill that nobody else has. It paid more and was a whole more fun. It started out as a job, not a career choice. Once I became a lawyer, I realized I didn’t enjoy it as much as coaching. My close friends were the ones I met through masters swimming, not my lawyer peers.”

Bonnie said she “came out of retirement at 35, swam for five years broke a couple world and national records. I hung up my suit at 40. It’s too much to get up on the blocks and race. I like to swim for fitness.”

Along with coaching at LMU, she began a Masters team with Olympian Clay Evans, Santa Monica Masters Swim Team, which later became SCAQ – now the largest Masters program in the United States with over 900 active members.

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Bonnie Adair and Clay Evans, founders of SCAQ Masters.

From Bonnie Adair’s bio on the LMU website:

“During her own 13-year swimming career, Adair set 35 National Age Group records including a 50m freestyle record that stood for 29 years.

Competing in 12 National Championships (her first at age 13) and two Olympic Trials, Adair became a National finalist in the 100 free and 100 fly and a member of a 400-meter medley relay that established four American records.

She attended UCLA as an undergraduate and then Loyola Law School. During law school, Adair was the assistant coach of the UCLA women’s swim team and also coached the Team Santa Monica age group team.

In 1979, Adair created the Santa Monica Masters Swim Team, which later became SCAQ – now the largest Masters program in the United States with over 900 active members.

In her 30-plus years coaching, it is estimated that Adair has coached or instructed more than 20,000 Los Angeles-area swimmers.

Between 1985 and 1994, Adair came out of swimming retirement to compete in several Masters National Championships and World Games and set national and world records in the freestyle sprint events and 100 and 200 IMs. She has contributed swimming articles to SWIM Magazine and Fitness Swimmer Magazine and was honored as the United States Masters Coach of the Year in 1997.

From 1996-1999, Adair was the head coach of the men’s and women’s swimming teams at Santa Monica College, where she earned the Western State Conference Women’s Coach of the Year award in 1997. In 1998, her women’s team tied for the conference title and placed sixth in the state. Her men’s team also earned a sixth place finish.

Adair currently resides in West Los Angeles.”

Chuck Riggs: Coaching Career Comes Full Circle

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Chuck Riggs was a busy and athletic kid in Wichita, Kansas who played a number of sports including football, basketball, baseball, track and gymnastics. When Chuck was a sophomore in high school, his football coach was also the swim and dive coach. Chuck was messing around with diving and the coach asked him to join the team. Chuck then earned 7th in the Kansas State Diving Championships.

His senior year of high school, Chuck’s family moved to Rubidoux, CA. There wasn’t diving there, so he went to Riverside City College and was allowed to train with Tony Turner as his coach.

In 1972, Chuck worked as an assistant coach at Riverside Aquatics and said they had 11 kids go to Olympic Trials. They had a solid program and earned third place at Nationals. In Pennsylvania at a Junior Nationals/Nationals meet, Chuck suddenly found himself in charge of the team. The head coach had family issues and he left a note under Chuck’s hotel room door that the team was his.

Chuck said he looked to more experienced coaches to improve his coaching skills. “Pasadena had great swimmers. There were so many good coaches and they all helped me. I didn’t know what to do to help the kids at the beginning, but after a year or so, I got up to speed,” Chuck said. Coaches who were the most influential to him included Ron Ballatore, UCLA, Flip Darr, Yale and Peter Daland from the Los Angeles Athletic Association and USC.

According to Chuck, he often watched coaches at big meets. They all sat around afterward and he listened carefully to them. “I learned lots and asked lots of questions.” An example would be in Germany in 1975 World Aquatic Championships where Chuck learned from Santa Clara, UCLA and Stanford legendary coach George Haines.

Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead

One of the most famous and talented swimmers Chuck coached was Sippy Woodhead. “We had tons of kids at the national level and from 1975 on we continually built a new wave. I had Sippy in my senior group at 11 years old. In 1976, I developed a four-year plan for Sippy. I met with her parents and they were committed to it. She earned the American record in the 1650 at 12 years old. It was in northern California at a senior meet in Salinas in an old pool.”

According to Chuck, “She was unbelievable with hard work, she was driven and had desire. She was stubborn and I had to be more stubborn. She was everything a coach could ask for. I had to get out of her way. She was a natural and she hated to lose. In 1978, she set the World Record when she was 16 years old.”

“Sippy always swam best times and she could swim fast anytime. If she was rested, she swam fast. If she had no rest at practice, it didn’t matter, she always swam fast,” Chuck said.

As for the training, Chuck said they “did race-paced massive yardage in ’76 and ’77. 20,000 yards per day, 11 workouts a week. We did almost 30,000 yards at Christmas.”

Chuck said he “dropped yardage in 1980 to 12,000 to 14,000. She was super fast. She also did weights. I was lucky enough to a coach group of teammates several kids that were also excellent. Our team had Sippy and the second fastest kid in the country.”

Here’s a list of Sippy Woodhead Accomplishments:

1984 OLYMPIC GAMES: silver (200m freestyle); 7 WORLD RECORDS: (freestyle); 1978 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (200m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x100m medley relay), silver (400m and 800m freestyle); 1979 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: gold (100m, 200m, 400m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x100m medley relay); 1983 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: gold (200m freestyle), silver (400m freestyle); 18 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (freestyle, butterfly, individual medley, relays); 18 AMERICAN RECORDS.

Here’s a link to a story about Sippy Woodhead from the Riverside Aquatics Swim Team’s website.

Redlands Swim Team

After a divorce in 1980, Chuck resigned from coaching at RAA. “I continued to coach at Rubidoux High School. I started in administration at Redlands Swim Club. In 1982 they asked me if I could coach. We switched the team name to RST. In 1988, he remarried to Joan.

In 1982 Riggs moved to Redlands, where he coached at Redlands High School for 28 years. He also taught history, philosophy and English. Riggs became the only coach in swimming history to ever coach two high school men to sub 20-second 50-yard freestyles—Karl Krug and Joey Hale. The Redlands powerhouse team also won a National Championship in 2008. Karl Krug, Mike Perry, Tyler Harp, and Joey Hale of Redlands Swim Team set a National Age Group Record in the 200 Free Relay, Boys 17-18 Division, with a time of 1:21.94.

Swimmers who stand out during his coaching career:

Chuck said he had lots of good swimmers. The team was a powerhouse and made top five at Junior Nationals.

Vicky West, Northwestern.

Heather Kemp, Auburn

Ben Morby, Alabama

Temple Cowden, Cal State Fresno

Erin Carlstrom, Yale

Brooke & Jamie Vessey, San Diego State University

Evan Castro, Utah

Alicia Wheelock, ASU

Steve Messner, Cal

Shannon Cullen, USC

Keith Davis, U of Redlands

Grant Culton & Kim Hills, UC Davis

Cole Heggi, Yale

Karl Krug, Auburn

Joey Hale

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Chuck Riggs with his NAG record-breaking relay team in 2008.

After leaving Redlands Swim Team, Chuck briefly retired, but his love of coaching never left. He returned to coaching at the University of Hawaii, where he had a second home. He says his coaching career has come full circle the past several years, where he returned to the Inland Empire coaching for Beaumont High School. In 2016, he earned the title of Coach of the Year from the Press Enterprise for his D4 girls 2nd place finish at CIF. He has returned to club coaching as well with PASS Stingrays.

According to Chuck, the golden era of Southern California Swimming was ’73 through ’80.“We were the best, the Mecca of swimming. Now the power is all over the country. We had good coaches and programs.”

Mary Jo Swalley Leaves a Legacy of Children First

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Cecil Gordon and Mary Jo Swalley in Long Beach. (photo from the Richmond County Daily Journal.)

I talked with Mary Jo Swalley during a break at the Women’s PAC 12 Swimming and Diving Championships in Federal Way, WA where she was wearing one of her many hats in the swimming world. She was serving as an official, a role she’s held for years, as well as being the executive director of Southern California Swimming and vice president of USA Swimming.

Her swimming career began in high school when swimming was a mandatory class. She grew up in Antioch, CA and there was a state law that if a school had a pool, by their senior year, all students had to know how to swim. She said that at 5’ 11” she was an “aquatic type” and she taught others how to swim in high school. In high school, students tried different sports for six-week blocks of time. She said that rather than being competitive in a sport, the goal for the girls was to “learn the rules and socialize.”

In college, Mary Jo was one of the first 16 women to graduate from University of California, Berkeley Law School.

Eventually, she moved to Santa Barbara and when her son was three they got involved with swimming. The aquatics director for the YMCA lived up the street. Next thing she knew, she became commissioner of the YMCA. There were 28 teams and she was responsible for all their schedules. Among the biggest teams in those days were Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Glendale and Peninsula. The YMCA championships were held in the Belmont Pool.

Mary Jo mentioned that her son swam with Olympic medalists John Mykkanen and Dara Torres. When her son was older and transferred to SCS, Mary Jo soon became involved with the LSC.

In 1983-84 one of her best memories was working with Christina “Tina” Martin on the 1984 Olympics. She said her good friend Tina talked her into it. They stayed in a “roach-infested apartment and lived off of frozen pastries for a month.” Mary Jo was in charge of the ceremony and awards, while Tina was in charge of the venue. As Tina said, the experience was “life altering” and the highlight of their years working in the swimming world.

After more than 30 years as Executive Director, Mary Jo retired in December 2016. She began her journey running Southern California Swimming when USA Swimming broke off from AAU. Her responsibilities grew along with the SCS, which began with 6,000 swimmers in 1984 to 25,000 today. She described her job responsibilities as serving the board as needed and conducting the day-to-day business of running the LSC. The board itself is made up of volunteers. Her office was responsible for developing the website https://www.socalswim.org/ on an original Mac. Mary Jo handled everyday issues, including membership, scheduling, website, meet settlements and other duties.

Mary Jo said the biggest growth happened across the country with the popularity of Michael Phelps and that was true in SCS as well. She said the Eastern Section saw an increase in membership by more than 12%.

One of the changes she’s seen in swimming throughout the years is that kids specialize in one sport at a very young age today. They didn’t use to and her own son swam three days a week in the 11-12 age group and did just as well as those who swam six days a week. She said that trying a variety of different sports is better for kids overall.

She recalled one of the worst calls she received from a parent. The mom wanted to know where the nearest Olympic Training center was. She said she had been told that her children were gifted in swimming and she wanted them with the best coach and team. “I told her it was best to swim close to home. Then, I asked how old her kids were—they were two and three,” Mary Jo said.

According to Mary Jo, “The solution is to provide more parent education. USA Swimming Safe Sport needs to be used by the parents. If the parents don’t access it, the kids won’t know about it.”

In all of her years dedicated to swimming, Mary Jo’s legacy was always placing the needs of the children first. “It should be about the swimmers,” she said.

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Here’s a list of accomplishments and roles Mary Jo has held, from her bio on USA Swimming:

USA Swimming Elected Offices

Administration Vice-President
Program Development Vice-President
Local Administration Vice-President
Domestic/Age Group Operations Coordinator
Age Group Planning Committee
OIOC

USA Swimming Volunteer Contributions

Rules & Regulations Committee
National Championship Meet Referee
FINA Official
Registration Committee
Club Development Committee
Meet Director 6 National Championships
Manager 6 National Team trips
Awards/Deck Coordinator for 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games (aquatics)

Southern California Swimming Service

General Chair
Age Group Chair
Registration Chair 29 years
Meet Referee 32 years
Manager 30+ team trips

Contributions to Swimming Organizations

NCAA – Meet Referee (D1)
PAC 12 – Meet Referee
High School – Referee
YMCA Swimming Commissioner

Academic

AB – University of California, Berkeley – Political Science

My Commitment to You

Our top focus must always be our athletes from novice to Olympian, inclusive of the
diverse and disabled. A safe environment for every athlete, coach and volunteer in every
endeavor whether building the base, growing the sport or achieving excellence is
required. It would be my honor to continue to serve on the Board as your representative
and voice, to collaborate toward a successful future for our great sport.

John Ries Began His Illustrious Career in a Back Yard

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With a coaching career that started in a Southern California backyard in 1961, Coach John Ries has fascinating stories to tell. A native of So Cal, he played high school baseball, basketball and football at Pomona High School. He swam for one year in college at Cal Poly Pomona.

His father-in-law Herb Weightman ran a swim school and he asked John to help out with summer lessons. It was in June when John returned home from the service that he began coaching. With 60 kids in their program, they had to get creative on how to conduct their lessons. John explained that his father-in-law drilled holes every two feet around the pool and put in poles. A rope was attached to the poles with belts to go around the kids. They had 20 to 30 kids in the pool at once doing stationary freestyle. With this unorthodox method, they developed some good swimmers in the AAU.

Claremont had a team, but there was a tragedy with a female diver training for the Olympics. According to John, a young boy dove or jumped off the high dive onto the diver and paralyzed her. The swim team was canceled after that. People were obviously upset about the accident, but they were also up in arms that the whole team was canceled.

“Eventually, word got out about what Herb and I were doing in Pomona. We were asked to start up a team at El Robles Junior High in Claremont,” John said.

The team became the Claremont Crocodiles. John laughed when he recalled the gift the team gave him one year—a live crocodile. From 1962 to 1971, John coached the Crocs.

“Chaffey High school asked me if I could coach there. I went to Chaffey because they had a 50-meter pool. I worked there for 10 years until 1982 as head coach of the Chaffey Tiger Sharks. Dave Radcliffe, who competed in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, was a prior coach for the team.

“I went to Industry Hills and I was there for 10 years. I started as an assistant coach but took over for Don LaMont. Don went to USC. We had Olympians, national level swimmers. When I was at Industry Hills, it was beautiful. It had a first class hotel, a 50-meter pool, a 25-yard pool, lockers—it was state of the art and the best in the country at the time.”

John’s next step in his swim coaching career was retirement. He said, “I retired and then Stan Clark, who owned the Claremont Club, asked me if I would come start a swim team. He was building a 50-meter pool. He hired someone else and that coach had some weird ideas. They got rid of the other coach, so he approached me again. I’ve been here for more than 25 years.”

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The Claremont Club 50-meter pool.

Although John says he’s coached a number of great kids, a few of the swimmers who were standouts during his coaching career include:

Jeff Kostoff, Industry Hills, 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and 1988 Seoul Olympics. Distance swimmer and 400IM. He held the 500 free national high school record for 30 years and the 1650 Stanford record for 21 years. He’s an assistant coach at Stanford.

Jenna Johnson, Industry Hills, 2X gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, 400-free relay and 400-medley relay, plus silver medalist in the 100 fly.

Olympian Doug Northway, “Fourth at Olympics for distance in 1972 Munich Olympics. Rick DeMont, who is the coach for Arizona Wildcats, won first, but they stripped his medal because of his inhaler for asthma. They’ve been trying to reinstate his medal. But, the rest were bumped up and Northway got the bronze medal.” In the 1976 Quebec Olympics, Northway swam prelims for the gold medal winning relay team, but at that time they didn’t award medals for swimmers who swam only in prelims.

Noelle Tarazona, UCLA and NCAA competitor, 3X All-American, Assistant Coach at Pomona-Pitzer. “She has been all over the world with her swimming. Also, she’s been to Colorado Springs as a representative to talk to USA Swimming about what can be improved. Hardest working girl ever.”

Joe Dykstra, “Joey swam from six years old through high school with me. Swam at the University of Washington and is currently a PAC 12 head coach for the Utes. Fantastic kid. One of the top ten swimmers I’ve ever coached, and is wonderful as a person.”

John attributes the fun atmosphere, stability of staff and great families to his success in his coaching career. “Everyone gets along, the olders are good to youngers. We have a banquet and we don’t charge the swimmers. It’s a luau, beach party at Christmas. We try to keep it fun all the time. It’s important to have great athletics, but it has to be fun for the kids to work hard.”

He said, “It’s important to teach coaches how to teach strokes properly. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a program.”

John’s thoughts about his swim coaching career is best expressed by him:

“I’ve enjoyed great groups of kids. I love what I’m doing. I’m still doing it.”

photos from http://www.claremontclub.com/club/scripts/section/section.asp?NS=HOMEPAGE

Jack Argue: A Familiar Face Returns to the Deck

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Jack Argue jumped into officiating during the early days of his daughter’s age group swimming career during the 1970s and 80s. “Swimming is the most boring sport in the world to watch, except when your child is swimming,” Jack said. “As they get better, you watch them less and less.” He said there wasn’t a cap on how long a meet could last back then and meets could go on for 10 to 12 hours “and you can only read a newspaper so many times.” He soon discovered that he liked to stay busy waiting to watch his daughter swim for a few minutes.

Herb Hall is the person who got Jack into officiating when his daughter was about seven years old—his daughter Jennifer is now 42. His long-time involvement with swimming started in Hemet, which wasn’t part of US Swimming at the time. He became president of Hemet while his daughter swam there. They switched teams to Palm Springs Piranhas and finally to Redlands Swim Team.

Jack was instrumental in the planning of new pools in Hemet. From 1972 – 78 he was president of the Eastern Section. During the 80s, he was president of the Palm Springs Piranhas when his daughter swam for Head Coach Bill Pullis, prior to Bill’s leaving for Reno. Chuck Riggs was his daughter’s coach in Redlands. Jack’s roles in swimming included being the Officials Chair and a Vice Chair for Southern California Swimming. During this time period, Ed Ruth was the Chairman of Southern California Swimming.

Jack smiled when he reminisced about his days with Herb Hall officiating at the Junior Olympics in Barstow. He said the entire town got behind the meet and the meet would be played on TVs in restaurants throughout the town. He said it was an incredible time and he enjoyed driving Herb around town.

Argue explained that Mary Jo Swalley was the first Executive Director when Southern California Swimming broke away from the AAU and became a US Swimming organization. One of the big things Mary Jo did was take over the travel fund, which has flourished through the years. Under the AAU, there were no funds to send kids to Junior and Senior Nationals in those days. Once the organization of Southern California Swimming was underway, fees were taken from meet fees and put in a rainy day fund for the LSC. He described other roles Mary Jo was responsible for including membership, verifying birth certificates, coaches training, certification, etc. Most people don’t realize that Mary Jo has been in charge of 25,000 athletes, in addition to at least 50,000 parents, 900 coaches and at one time 250 officials.

When asked how things have changed through the years, Jack said there wasn’t as much interaction between the committees as there is today. The sections were autonomous and it was normal to only attend meets in your area until your kids reached the Junior Olympic level. You didn’t have San Diego coming in for a meet, etc. It was pretty much the same swimmers at each meet. Eastern Section went from Palm Springs, Vegas to Walnut. When they had a meet in Vegas, you wouldn’t get a lot of swimmers besides Vegas. In Palm Springs, you’d get Hemet, and Redlands, but not further away. Now there is more interaction between sections.

“Some teams are so big, like Nova with 900 swimmers, that if they sent some of their kids to a meet, they wouldn’t all get in, and neither would any other teams. So they hold their own meets.” Jack said the four-hour rule was passed by the USA Swimming and by people in areas of the country who didn’t have all-day meets. “We had to get creative of how to hold a four-hour meet with 25,000 swimmers,” Jack said.

He recalled an interesting story when there was a push to not let Janet Evans swim high school. “She’s too good,” the high school parents said, “It’s not fair for her to swim, she’s a world record holder.”

Accessibility of facilities is what makes swimming so huge in Southern California Jack said. However, Jack said the East Coast pools are newer and better. He said there is now a push to have meets in pools with seven feet of water and a lot of our pools in Southern California will be absolute. Unless it’s a brand new pool, it won’t be seven feet deep.

When asked about changes to the sport, he said it used to be that parents didn’t have a clue and were on the sidelines and the kids had fun. Early on, there were very few professional coaches where that was their only job. Most coaches were teachers or had another profession. As clubs got bigger they could afford coaches, and that’s been better for the kids.

“A lot of the camaraderie with smaller teams is gone. Kids didn’t jump from club to club. They pretty much stayed close to home. That’s different now.” Jack sites the popularity of the Olympics, the press and exposure that has helped promote swimming dramatically. “The numbers in USA Swimming will go way up during an Olympic year and then drop down until the next Olympics.”

The Argues became a swim family, first because his wife was a former swimmer in Pennsylvania, and then his neighbors had kids on a summer league team and suggested their daughter try swimming, too. Jack Argue and his wife returned to their home in Pennsylvania full-time, but after three years, decided the snowy winters weren’t their cup tea. We now have Jack back in Southern California on the pool deck as an official. They’ll continue to spend their summers in Pennsylvania, stay to see the colors of the leaves change and then return to Southern California and swimming.