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.”

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