Paul Jeffers: Reflecting on his Sammy Lee Swim School years

US Olympic Gold Medalist Sammy Lee

Dr. Sammy Lee on a diving tower.

Paul Jeffers grew up in Orange County in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. During much of that time, his home club was the Sammy Lee Swim School. According to Jeffers, “I was extremely fortunate to have joined the Sammy Lee Swim School, which gave young swimmers and divers a chance to compete on a local, regional and national level.”

One of Jeffers teammates at the Sammy Lee Swim School and at University of Southern California was Bill Brown. Brown majored in Cinema at USC and is working on a documentary about Dr. Sammy Lee. “I am assisting in the collection of stories, photos and related memorabilia from that period of time,” Jeffers said.

Here’s an excerpt from SwimSwam, Dec. 3, 2016  when Dr. Sammy Lee passed away at age 96:

Lee was the 1948 and 1952 Olympic gold medalist on the 10 meter platform event, making him the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in Olympic platform diving. He was also the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States.

Lee, of Korean descent, rose to fame in the United States in a difficult time for Asian-Americans. He won his first gold medal in the first Olympic Games after the end of World War II, during which the United States interred many citizens of Asian descent.

Korea was controlled by the United States until the end of World War II, Two years after his first gold medal, on June 25th, 1950, civil war broke out in Korea between the communist-support north and the American-supported south, further raising tensions. The war didn’t end until after Lee earned his second Olympic gold medal.

Permission from SwimSwam.com

 

Sammy Lee with other divers

Sammy Lee with other divers.

Jeffers moved to Anaheim in 1955 with his family when Disneyland opened.  “Upon my arrival, I joined the Hawaiian Village Recreation Club. They were just starting a swim team,” Jeffers said. This club team wasn’t affiliated with AAU but had seven swim teams in their league including the Blue Buoys Swim School and Sea Horse in Garden Grove. Jeffers described it as a wonderful league for club swimming. In 1961, Jeffers migrated to Sammy Lee Swim School which was located at 2511 Lincoln Blvd. in Anaheim. Rick Rowland was his swim coach and was also the Garden Grove High School coach. Rowland brought over his high school swimmers to the Sammy Lee Swim School.  In the next two years, Rowland left and was replaced by Lee Arth. Arth also coached Fullerton High School swimmers and he brought them to the team as well. The diving program was entirely Dr. Sammy Lee’s domain, according to Jeffers.

“The swim school had a great reputation and was a hotbed of great swimmers, the most notable was Gary Hall. We were winning championships at Junior Olympics for example. That’s when the Sammy Lee Swim School became a dominant part of my teenage life. I was going to meets every weekend. We had dual meets and we had AAU sanctioned meets that we trained for. Those were all over Orange County and Los Angeles,” Jeffers said.

Sammy Lee coaches diver Paula Jean Myers

In this July 28, 1960, file photo, Paula Jean Myers Pope, right, who hopes to qualify for the 1960 U.S. Olympic Women’s Diving Team, goes through a workout on a trampoline under the watchful eye of her coach, Olympic star Sammy Lee in Anaheim, Calif. Lee, a two-time Olympic gold medal-winning diver who later mentored four-time Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis. Lee died Friday, Dec. 2, 2016 of pneumonia in Newport Beach, Calif., the University of Southern California said Saturday, Dec. 3. He was 96. (AP Photo/David F. Smith)

 “I arrived at age 13, so Gary Hall was in the 7-8 age group. Every time he moved up an age group, he’d dominate his group. He was the Don Schollander of younger age group swimming. Gary’s mother was a fantastic fan, she was in the stands at every meet and practice. She was the classic swim mom. His father was a doctor. The pool was beginning to fill up with some good swimmers, with Gary being the most famous.”  

In 1964 , Jeffers qualified for Olympic Trials with several teammates including Dennis West, Andy Strenk and the coach’s daughter Sydney. According to Jeffers, “We were represented in good force at the Olympic Trials where we had many Olympians attending from our area.”

Jeffers remembered the excitement of his trip to Olympic Trials with the Sammy Lee Swim School. “It was my first trip to New York. One of the swimmers on the team was originally from New York and her dad was a vice president with Squibb (now Bristol Myers Squibb). We stayed in a luxury setting in Larchmont. They took us to see all the sights. That was during the 1964/1965 World’s Fair. That was a fantastic trip for an 18 year old to see NewYork.”

Jeffers said that Sammy Lee was on the upper level of competitive teams. “I was a breaststroker. I wasn’t a speed demon, but I had endurance so 200s were my forte. I got into the finals at Olympic Trials and I got 7th. I was a few spots short of qualifying for the 1964 team. I look back on it and I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but now I do,” he said.

“One of my teammates, Gary Hall, Sr., went on to compete on the grandest stage of all to become the flag bearer at the 1972 Olympic Games in Montreal. His son, Gary Hall, Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps to become a Gold Medal winner 20 years later at the Olympic Games. There were six other SLSS swimmers that went on to capture medals at the Olympic Games, including Steve Furniss in 1972, his brother Bruce Furniss in 1976, Dana Schrader in 1968, Andy Strenk in 1968, Rod Strachan in 1976 and Bill Johnson in 1968.”

Gary Hall flag bearer

Gary Hall, Sr. as flag bearer at the 1972 Olympic Games in Montreal.

Dr. Sammy Lee coached two Olympic Divers, Bob Webster and Paula Jean Myers-Pope.  They trained in the diving end of the pool while Jeffers swam.  They  went on to win gold medals in Olympic competition. Webster duplicated Lee’s two consecutive gold medals on the Tower in 1960 in Rome and 1964 in Tokyo. Dr. Sammy Lee also coached Greg Louganis who has been called “the greatest American diver,” having won back-to-back gold medals in the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics. 

Peter Daland with swimmer Paul Jeffers

Paul Jeffers with Peter Daland.

Jeffers swim career continued after graduating from Anaheim and Savanna High Schools. “I enrolled at the University of Southern California and swam on a three-time NCAA national championship team under Peter Daland. Southern California was truly the hotbed for the sport of swimming at that time and attracted swimmers from all over the world to compete with the many clubs and colleges that had advanced swim programs to offer,” he said.

“When I went to USC and swam with Peter Daland, he already had established a championship team the year before I got there. I got to enjoy National Championships for the next three years. One of my teammates from USC did make the Olympic team in ’64, Wayne Anderson.”

Jeffers at USC wall of champions

Paul Jeffers at USA Wall of Champions

According to Jeffers, his best swimming success was in his sophomore year when he placed second at NCAAs in Ames, Iowa. “At that time there were only six finalists and four of them were from USC. Jeffers said breaststroke teammates included Kim Doesburg, from Newport High,  who made the ’68 Olympic team, and Bill Craig who won the 100 breast. Craig qualified for the ’68 Olympic medley relay team and came home with a gold medal. 

“Swimming on a top flight team, you’re looking across the pool at Olympians and gold medal winners. It was exhilarating to share a pool with some of the world’s greatest swimmers. I got to see from the ground up, from club swimming to AAU age grouper, to collegiate swimmer. That experience was my life.”

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Gary Hall’s Sammy Lee Swim School sweats.

Jeffers parents weren’t involved with swimming except for one glaring exception — the year Jeffers qualified for Olympic Trials at age 18. “That was the Olympic year 1964. My dad had been detached from swimming, but the excitement of Olympic competition got to him and he went and bought a stopwatch. He’d be on the deck of the Buena Park 50-meter pool at 6 a.m. with his stopwatch. That’s when I knew this was really serious,” he said.

“I was surrounded by the best swimmers and divers in the world from right here at home in Orange County. My roots in the sport are deep and long lasting. I am now living in Laguna Woods and thoroughly enjoy swimming for fun and exercise,” Jeffers said. 

Swimmers from the Sammy Lee Swim School at the podium.

Dr. Sammy Lee, Olympic Gold Medalist and Doctor:

Dr. Lee overcame years of racial prejudice with a positive attitude and hard work. As a young diver aspiring to be an Olympian, he was only allowed to practice diving Wednesdays at the Pasadena’s Brookside Park segregated public pool on “International Day.” The pool was drained after International Day and white children swam the other six days a week. His coach at the time, dug a hole and filled it with sand so Sammy Lee could practice the rest of the week. He believed diving into sand made his legs stronger and was helpful to his Olympic aspirations.

He attended Occidental College where he was able to dive each day in a pool with teammates and pursue his Olympic dreams. His parents, who sacrificed to come to America and start a small business, pressured Sammy to become a doctor. He was able to do both.

Although Dr. Sammy Lee served in the Army during the Korean War, was an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist — and an Olympic Gold Medalist — he encountered more prejudice. He was blocked from buying a home in Orange County. 

Here’s an excerpt from an NPR article, Sammy Lee: Climbed Above Racism, Dove Into Olympic History by Karen Grigsby Bates:

As a civilian, Lee discovered that his status as a veteran didn’t shield him from prejudice. He and his wife Rosalind were turned away when they wanted to buy a home in one part of Orange County. Eventually, they bought a home nearby from a sympathetic developer. Eventually they owned a house with a pool, where Lee coached students. He also coached divers for the 1960 Rome Olympics. Later, he’d mentor Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis, and he served as an ambassador to the Olympics under three presidents.

Here’s is a link to the USC Obituary that describes Dr. Sammy Lee’s life in more detail.

Jon Urbanchek got his start as a swim coach in Southern California at the Sammy Lee Swim School. Read his story here.

Here are memorabilia from Jeffers Sammy Lee Swim School Days:

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AAU Age Group patches.

Sammy Lee letter

“I Was In The Presence Of Greatness” Don Wagner Recounts Coaching Janet Evans

This story first appeared May 29, 2020 at SwimSwam.com. Story is written by James Sutherland and is used with permission from SwimSwam. Photos from Don Wagner.

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Early on in Wagner’s illustrious coaching career, he spent one year with Evans during the height of her career in 1989.   

While listening to SwimSwam’s podcast with Olympic legend Janet Evans last week, esteemed coach Don Wagner found himself thinking back to 1989.

Wagner had landed the job as head coach of Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team (FAST) in April of that year, and with the role came the responsibility of coaching arguably the most dominant figure in the sport at the time.

“Bud (McAllister) had been the coach before, and there were a lot of good kids on that team,” said Wagner during a phone interview. “That was a great experience. I was there for three years, I really enjoyed it.”

After graduating from the University of Nebraska, the now 62-year-old Wagner moved out to Arizona with a friend looking to get their coaching careers underway.

“Our first job was moving tables and chairs at a hotel, but we got a small club going, and then I wound up moving to Scottsdale Aquatic Club,” he said. “I became the head coach there.”

After finding success in Scottsdale, Wagner was hired to become the assistant coach at the University of Arizona under Dick Jochums. After six years Jochums departed, and Frank Busch was hired as the new head coach.

“(Frank) brought his own staff, so I was out of a job,” said Wagner.

As it turned out, it didn’t take Wagner long to be hired, as just days later he received a call from Janet’s mother, Barbara Evans, telling him about the vacant position with FAST.

“It was just kind of coincidence,” he said. “The same week I found out I wasn’t going to be working anymore at Arizona she called me and said, ‘Look we have an opening at Fullerton, are you interested?’ And I said, ‘Ya,’ and so I came out in April (1989), and started working with the world’s best swimmer.”

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Evans, 17 at the time, was less than a year removed from a dominant performance at the 1988 Olympics where she won three gold medals in the women’s 400 free, 800 free and 400 IM. She was also the world record holder in the 400, 800 and 1500 free at the time.

31 years later, one practice in particular still stands out in Wagner’s mind.

“We did 6×400, alternating one free and one IM,” he said. “I think the freestyles were on 6:00, and the IM was 6:30, and they were descending. She got down to 4:11 in the freestyle and then 4:49 in the 400 IM — and that was on back-to-back repeats.

“I was in the presence of greatness. As a coach, think about how many times you have people like that that you get to work with.”

For context on how absurdly fast those swims were, Evans’ world record at the time in the 400 free (which incredibly wasn’t broken until 2006) was 4:03.85, and the 400 IM record was 4:36.10 (she had set the American Record in Seoul in 4:37.76).

“So she swam fast all spring and all summer, and she won five events at Nationals,” said Wagner. “We had the girls 16 & over team break the national record in the 800 free relay.

“There was a good supporting cast of kids that trained with her, she made everybody a lot better. Practices, I really enjoyed them. They were a lot of fun. I think everybody had a pretty good time.”

After Nationals, Wagner was selected to coach for the U.S. at the 1989 Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo.

“That’s where things kind of changed for me,” he said.

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 Wagner recalls the final night of competition, in particular, was electric. Four world records went down, including Evans resetting her mark in the 800 free.

Tom Jager won the 50, Dave Wharton was 2:00.1, that was a world record (in the 200 IM), Mike Barrowman won the 200 breast and that was a world record, and then Janet broke the world record in the 800 free.”

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 It was only one day earlier when Evans annihilated the field in the 400 free, winning by almost seven seconds in 4:04.53. However, she had missed her PB from the previous year of 4:03.8.

“She won that by 25 yards,” said Wagner. “I mean, she was all by herself.

“I remember telling her (before the 800), I said ‘You know, I think you can break the world record.’ And she did not like that. She said: ‘I’m not interested in that, I want to go my best time.’ Well, her best time was the world record,” he laughed.

  Final results of the women’s 800 freestyle.[/caption]

Evans would knock her record of 8:17.12 from March of 1988 down to the legendary 8:16.22, a mark that would stand for almost 19 years.

Having brought the race home sub-1:01 over the final 100, Evans had jammed her hand on the finish, which Wagner believes led to a broken finger.

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“I remember she was really happy, but she was holding her hand, and there’s blood coming down her finger, and, it was just an amazing moment in time.”

From there, Evans would attend Stanford to begin her college career, while Wagner got hired to be an assistant to Mark Schubert at USC, where Evans ended up coming to train.

“You had some amazing sets (at USC),” he said. “I remember those guys were doing, 10 or 12 300s on 3:10 (SCY), it was a pretty tight interval, and she was holding 2:50s on all of them. I saw that and I was like, ‘Holy cow’. And I think she beat all the guys.

“Getting 20 seconds of rest and holding that, I thought that was really, really impressive. Maybe someone else has done something like that since, but when I saw it I hadn’t seen or heard of anybody doing anything quite like that. She was really amazing.”

Wagner would go on to coach at several major international competitions, including acting as head women’s coach at the 1995 World University Games in Fukuoka. He was also an assistant coach at the 1990 Goodwill Games and the 1991 Pan Pacs.Screen Shot 2020-06-04 at 9.12.41 AM

“They were fantastic experiences, and I made a number of other trips and I attribute all of it to having the opportunity to work with Janet.”

After USC, he served as the head coach for four years at both Texas A&M University and the University of Alabama.

“I got to rub elbows with every great coach, and people tell me that I’ve met everybody,” he said. “And I feel like throughout my career in swimming I have met pretty much everybody.”

For the last seven years, Wagner has been running his own team, Phoenix Aquatic Club, located in Palisades, New York.

“I’ve got about 120 kids, we’re not very big but we’ve got a lot of good kids,” he said. “It’s kind of a family environment. My son Ryan, who has just finished grad school, is now my assistant So I have four really, really good coaches.”Screen Shot 2020-06-04 at 9.13.02 AM

With the Tri-state area being particularly hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wagner isn’t sure when his swimmers will be able to get back in a pool, but they are planning to begin open water swimming in New Jersey shortly while maintaining their daily Zoom dryland workouts.

Once things begin to be reopened, he’s looking forward to helping out the kids who have had their summer league seasons cancelled.

“One of the things that we want to do is try to provide summer league experience for a lot of those kids,” he said. “That’s their summer, and we think we’ve got the space to do it, and accommodate them and do it under the CDC guidelines.”

Wagner has thoroughly enjoyed running his own program since 2013, and will continue sharing his love for the sport with the next generation.

“I always want to coach from a positive perspective, and if I can make it fun for them it’s fun for me. And that’s how I like to do it, and my coaches feel the same way.”

Eric Hanauer — Developed the Grab Start

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Cal State Fullerton swim team, early 1970s. Hanauer on the ladder, near the bottom rung.

Did you know that the grab start—the dive used today—was developed by a Southern California swim coach? Eric Hanauer, former coach of Newport Harbor High School and Cal State Fullerton, described how the grab start began.

“My first real job was at Morgan Park High School in Chicago in the late ‘50s early ‘60s,” Hanauer explained. “We won a couple city championships, which had never been done by the school previously. There was another coach of a suburban school who had a swimmer who had polio and experienced trouble staying steady on the starting blocks. He looked up in the rule books and there was nothing against grabbing the blocks, so this swimmer, just to steady himself, would grab the block and then dive in. It wasn’t done to gain any advantage or anything. His legs weren’t strong enough to support him on the blocks.”

After leaving Chicago for graduate school at UCLA, Hanauer worked there as a volunteer assistant coach for swimming and water polo. His first job after UCLA was as a swimming and water polo coach at Newport Harbor High School.

Hanauer described his time as a high school coach: “We had a sprinter at Newport Harbor named Steve Farmer. He was a really good sprinter but had a tendency to false start. He qualified for CIF finals in the 50 yard free. We wanted to do something to prevent a false start so I remembered from my days in Chicago about grabbing the blocks. Back then, there was a week between CIF prelims and finals and during that week we had Steve work on the grab start. He added something to what I told him and that’s the pulldown which was the essential secret of the grab start at that time. At finals, I called over the starter and referee and Steve demonstrated the grab start. They could find nothing against it in the rule book, so the officials agreed he could use it. That’s what made it an advantage. At CIF finals, Steve got out in front, didn’t hit his turn and get the optimum push off and ended up second.”

After that year, Hanauer was offered the job to start the swim program at Cal State Fullerton and he taught all the swimmers the grab start. Steve enrolled at UC Irvine with coach Ted Newland and showed his team the grab start there.

“It started to go around in Southern California and eventually reached Northern California. Mark Spitz used the grab start in the 1972 Olympics and won seven medals and then it was well known throughout the world.”

Hanauer gave more details on the grab start being developed: “I went to grad school at USC for a Ph.D. in Kinesiology and wrote a paper on the grab start. We filmed a grab start and regular start in slow motion at 120 frames a second and analyzed it. I wrote up the advantages of the grab start for Swimming Technique and it was published in Swimming World magazine. There was a man in Ohio who wanted to make a chart on the grab start. I sent him the film and he drew the steps and I annotated them.”

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“In 1981 I spent a month coaching in Kerala, India, preparing the state team for the national championships and running clinics for the coaches. I had been out of coaching 8 years, so I spent a lot of time at Mission Viejo watching Mark Schubert run his workouts. Mark’s reaction when I told him I was going to India: “Too bad you’re not going to Europe.” It turned out to be a fantastic experience, and triggered a wanderlust that continues to this day.”

Born in Germany, Hanauer said they moved to Chicago when he was three years old. He said he flunked YMCA Tadpole three times, but his mom kept him enrolled until he finally passed on the fourth time. Hanauer swam for his high school and college and “was a PE major and a water rat, so coaching kind of fit.”

“Cal State Fullerton dropped swimming in 1974,” Hanauer said. “A year prior, they moved from DII to DI because of football. Although we made the top 10 in Nationals twice in DII and had many All Americans, the budgets were cut in half for non-revenue producing sports, so Hanauer resigned. He had tenure in Kinesiology and began teaching Diving (scuba, not spring or platform).

From that time on, Hanauer became more involved with diving and is known in that community for his underwater videos and photography. He began writing for dive magazines and his articles are read worldwide. Peter Daland was an acquaintance and Hanauer saw him after several years at the 1984 Olympics, which Hanauer was attending as a spectator. “I told him I was really into diving and Peter asked where I was coaching spring and platform diving. I said, no I’m teaching scuba diving. The sports are in the water but there is so much separation between swim and dive and scuba diving.”

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Hanauer with underwater camera gear, mid 1970s.

From his website www.ehanauer.com:

Although Eric Hanauer made his first dives in Chicago’s lakes and quarries in 1959, he didn’t focus primarily on diving until 15 years later.  In the meantime he was a successful swimming and water polo coach at Morgan Park High School (Chicago) and at California State University Fullerton.  He developed the grab start, which is now used by swimmers worldwide.  

Hanauer founded the scuba program at Cal State Fullerton, and when he moved from coaching into teaching began shooting pictures underwater instead of shooting fish.  He introduced thousands of students to the underwater world during his 35 years as an associate professor of physical education.

In 1977, he broke into a new field with his first article in Skin Diver magazine.  Over the past 30 years, his photos and articles have been published in magazines, books, posters, and CDs worldwide.  He has written guidebooks to the Red Sea and Micronesia, as well as an oral history of diving in America (see Publications page).  Currently Hanauer is primarily shooting underwater video, and his work as been selected for showing in festivals, on the internet, on iTunes, and in TV commercials.  He is past president of the San Diego Undersea Film Exhibition (UFEX).

Born in Stuttgart, Germany and raised in Chicago, Eric was educated in the Chicago Public Schools, then earned a BS in Physical Education at George Williams College, and an MS in Kinesiology at UCLA. His wife, Karen Straus, is also an active diver and underwater photographer. They live in San Diego.

Pearl Miller and the “Pride of Palm Springs”

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Pearl Miller is loved and remembered by former Piranhas.

Pearl Miller, an early coach for the Piranha Swim Team, had a major impact on the community and her athletes. She grew the team from a small rec team of 25 in Palm Springs to league champions and her swimmers became competitive throughout Southern California. The team which began in 1967 flourished to more than 135 athletes under Pearl’s leadership from 1969 to 1974.

I learned from several “original” Piranha swimmers that they remember her fondly. They said she was an excellent stroke coach and brought out the best in her young athletes. She held a contest to name the team and because of her, it’s now the Piranha Swim Team. One swimmer, Bill Corrigan, whose team records still stand from 1979 to 1981, swam with her in 1969 when he joined the team. He said he took private lessons and swam with her as a young child through Masters until the early 1990s. Another swimmer, Jane Taylor Wang, remembers being coached by her as a young Piranha and swam laps with her as an adult.

The Piranha Swim Team, first known as the Palm Springs Swim Club, got its start two years before Pearl became head coach. Two lifeguards who worked for the city’s leisure services started the team at the pool which was located at Palm Springs High School. According to Taylor Wang, who was with the team from its inception, Phil Poist and Doug McKell charged swimmers a quarter to swim with the team after hours. During the first two years, the team had five different coaches beginning with George Wenzel.

Many swimmers throughout the area were taking private lessons from Pearl in their backyard pools. She previously coached in Seattle and for a local Coachella Valley team called the Corvinas. She was approached to take over as head coach by Palm Springs Leisure Services and a volunteer group of parents who ran the team. According to Taylor Wang, she was the first real head coach of the Piranhas. Taylor Wang also said it was a very small town and everybody knew each other. Everybody who was anybody was on the team, from the head of Chamber of Commerce to business executives, business owners and her own father, the local director of the FBI. The parent volunteers gave a lot of support to Pearl and helped the team with fundraising for a new pool and equipment, which is the home base for Piranhas today.

From Pearl Miller’s Obituary in the Seattle Times, 1993: 

“The woman affectionately known as “coach” gave many infants and children swimming lessons. She taught Franklin D. Roosevelt’s grandson, Delano; Bing Crosby’s kids and Rod Taylor’s daughter, among others.”

Taylor Wang said Pearl called her swimmers “Dum Dums” and followed up by rewarding swimmers with lollipops by the same name. The accomplishments of the swimmers grew because the swimmers worked hard for Pearl.

From a Desert Sun article from the early 1970s, the term “Pride of Palm Springs” was used to describe her athletes:

The Southern California Metropolitan Athletic Federation finals in Bell Gardens were next. The SCMAF finals attract the best swimmers from each southern California city’s recreational team. All swimmers must qualify in regional meets prior to the finals. Twenty three Piranhas had qualified at Corona on August 8. Coach Pearl Millers’ swimmers were swimming against 800 top swimmers with up to four heats in some events.

The results make this outstanding group of young athletes the “pride of Palm Springs.”

Pearl loved swimming and flew each year to Hawaii to compete in a Senior Olympic meet for US Masters Swimming. An accomplished swimmer who began swimming competitively for Masters at age 72, Pearl had numerous top swims in her age groups until she was 92. As a result of her success, Pearl was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Below are some of her accomplishments from the USMS database:Screenshot 2018-07-10 08.35.35

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Following are articles and photos from Pearl’s legacy in Palm Springs:

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With Pearl as head coach of the Piranha Swim Team, the swimmers raised funds for the pool which is the home base for Piranhas today. In addition to Palm Springs, Piranhas practice in Palm Desert and Grand Terrace.

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May 8, 1972 The Desert Sun

Piranhas: Number One And Working To Stay There
By JULIE BALMER Staff Writer

The Palm Springs Piranha Swim Team is working toward an enviable goal to remain in its place as Number One. The swim team, which has grown from a small team of 25 swimmers in 1968 to a membership of 135 is now practicing, five times a week in preparation for July 29. That’s when the Piranhas will defend their title of 1970-71 Valley Swim League Champion, competing against teams from Beaumont, Colton, Fontana, Bloomington, Yucaipa. San Jacinto-Hemet, and Grand Terrace. In addition, the team wants to make a good showing in dual swim meets which will be held each week beginning June 17. The group has decided this year to hold an International Swimming Hall of Fame Swim-A-Thon on June 10 in order to raise money for the transportation fund, it is hoped that the Piranhas will be able to rent buses for transportation to out-of-town meets. Part of the money raised will go to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla, and to pay for sending American Swimmers abroad for international competition. Seventy per cent of the money raised will go to local programs. The team is sponsored by the Palm Springs Department of Leisure Services and supported by contributions from the Independent Poolmen’s Association, club dues and contributions from interested community citizens. Members, who range in age from six through 17, practice from 4 to 7 p.m. five days a week.

From September to April, they meet three times a week to practice and after that meet more often in an all-out effort to be ready for the summer swim meets. There are plenty of swimmers in the eight-and-under age groups to compete for team victories, but the Piranhas now need more swimmers in the 13-14-year-old category. In addition, the team would like to have black and Mexican swimmers, since the group is designed for all youths. The team swims all year, except in August, when it takes a one month break. Newcomers must be able to swim across the pool, but do not have to have strokes perfected because there are stroke coaches. Participants compete in the breast stroke, relays, butterfly stroke, free style, individual medleys and long-distance racing. The club coaches do not teach diving.

The team hopes that newcomers will join immediately because they will need as much time as possible to be taught strokes and to practice for the summer meets. About 50 more students are expected to join before the summer. Prior to the League Championship, the Palm Springs Piranhas will play every team in the league during dual meets. The swim team is coached by Pearl Miller, known for her leadership in competitive swimming and herself the 1970 and 1971 senior Olympics winner for persons 73 years and older. Mrs. Miller, well known for having developed swimmers throughout Southern California and the Northwest, came to the desert to retire from teaching and coaching. But once here, she became more active than ever. Along with Dick Whitmore, director of Coachella Valley recreation, she organized the Corvina Swim Club, producing many champions, some on the national level. When approached by the Palm Springs Club Council to help with this program, she agreed to help in stroke only. However, in time she consented to handle all the duties of coach, winning the League championship last year. Assistant coach is Tony Guimaraes. The group is guided by an adult advisory council which meets once a month to coordinate team activities. Council members are Ray Hutchison, president; Neil Williams, vice president: Marge Corrigan secretary; Emilie Warren, treasurer; Sally Givens, transportation; Gay Rosenberg, publicity; Tianna Sanders and Dr. A Milauskas, ways and means; Ken Gianotti, Leisure Services Department representative; and Dean Lively. The advisory council performs a number of tasks, including: Conducting surveys to determine community aquatic interests and needs. Arranging transportation for youth participating in swimmeets away from the community pool. Promoting publicity for community aquatic activities. Recruiting additional volunteers from within the community.Administering the Swim Club Trust Fund. Establishing a yearly financial plan related to the competitive swim program and special aquatic events. Planning fund-raising activities and events for community pool construction, swim scholarships and club supplies. Conducting in service training sessions for new members on how to effectively officiate at the swim meets. Officiating at the team swim meets. Developing and publishing a monthly newsletter. Planning and organizing a yearly awards banquet.

Swimmers are Kevin Ambler, leannie Brown, Yvette Batista, Clifford Bentsen, Nancy Bentsen, Mark Bescos, Bill Bobb, Steve Bramble, Matt Bramble, Bill Corringan Tom

On your mark, get set . . . they’re off and swimming in one of the practice sessions held by the Piranha Swim team at the high school pool. Students are planning dual meets with other league teams, a Swtm-A-Thon and the league championship. The hard work paid off last year, because the local swimmers won the league championship title.

(Close, Jim Coulton, Stacy Dajuiels, Lori DeCoito, Alan DesIrnond, Andrea Durazo. Robyn Eastman, Brent Eastman, Lisa Eckstrom, Drew Fitzmorris, Wendy Friedman, Tim Givens, Kelly Golding, Walter Golding, Jackie Gill, Terrie Heathman, Lars Holm, i Kathy Hutchison, Bill Hutchison, Colleen Kellogg, Curtis Kellogg, Julie Krauss, Julio Lively, Bobbie Lively, Brett Mattison, Doug Magill, Carleen Mandolfo, Tony Mandolfo, John Mayer, Kevin Milauskas, Michael Milauskas, Scott Miller, Perry Martineau, Caley Rhodes, Jeff Riddick, Scott Riddick, Denise Rosenberg, David Reichle. Kim Sanders, Jim Schilling, Heidi Schilling, Tina Schilling,

Vincent Schradie, Carl; Schroeder, Joe Schroeder. Taryn Smith. Brad Spivack. Ginny Staab, Scott Staab, Jane Taylor, Cathloen Thompson, Karen Tima. Joanne Valarino, Gail Warren, Grant Warren. Mike Wlefels, Laura Wills, Lisa Wilson, Nina Williams, Debby Williams.

Gregg Mandinach, Mark Pellon, John Sparato, Steve Wilson, George Gowland, Steve Fitzmorris and Randy Givens. Others are Doug Benson, Nori Snyder, Ann Fragen, Alan Fragen and Andy Fragen, Mark Pelton, Gary Gattuso. Joyce Miller, Danny Stuard and Kurt DeCrinis.

Obituary from the Seattle Times, 1993

Pearl Miller, Longtime Seattle Resident, Set World Backstroke Record At Age 90

By Daryl Strickland

There were few things Pearl Miller enjoyed more than swimming and teaching others how to swim – even at the age of 90.

The longtime Seattle resident, who began swimming competitively at the age of 72 and holds the world’s record for backstroke for women in her age group, died Wednesday in Palm Desert, Calif., from osteoporosis and bone cancer. She was 95.

“She had a wonderful sense of humor,” said Linda Barnett, Mrs. Miller’s granddaughter. “Whenever people would ask why, at her age, she kept on swimming. she’d say it kept her healthy, wealthy and mentally alert – and besides, who wouldn’t want to jump in the water with young men first thing every morning?”

Mrs. Miller was born in McHenry, Miss., in 1897, and attended college in Spokane. She enjoyed a career as a purchasing agent for The Boeing Co., living in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood and swimming in Lake Washington. Later, she moved to Palm Springs, Calif.

Mrs. Miller was a devout Christian, whose faith in God gave her strength. And while God was her strength, swimming was her life.

“Pearl Miller equated godliness and health with swimming,” said Jack Wartes, her son-in-law, whom she taught to swim. “The sport made her feel alive and young. She was so very bright and alert.

“I’d say she had a determination, a drive to keep moving, keep her blood circulating through her body and mind. Even at 90 she swam 20 laps every day.” Then, she played a game of golf.

Mrs. Miller’s aquatic devotion led her to swim competitively. In 1988, at the age of 90, Mrs. Miller set a world record and three national records in the backstroke in the U.S. Masters Short Course Swim Meet.

Her time for the 50-meter backstroke was 1:42.97 seconds, which broke world and national records for the 90-to-94 age bracket. 

She also set national records for the 200-meter backstroke in 7:33:41 and 100-meter backstroke in 3:32. She also won gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle, 3:35:72, and 50-meter freestyle, 1:31:53, which she did while swimming on her back.

As a result, she was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. And she has been profiled in many magazines, including Time, Sports Illustrated and Modern Maturity.

The woman affectionately known as “coach” gave many infants and children swimming lessons. She taught Franklin D. Roosevelt’s grandson, Delano; Bing Crosby’s kids and Rod Taylor’s daughter, among others.

Mrs. Miller lived out every ounce of life she had. “She used to say she intended to die young at an old age,” Barnett said.

Mrs. Miller is survived by her children, Irene Graff of Seattle, Carolyn Taber of Pasco and Joseph Miller of Dana Point, Calif. She also had 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. tomorrow at University Presbyterian Church, 4540 15th Ave. N.E., Seattle.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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Piranha Swim Team Coaches

Phil Poist and Doug McKell 1967

George Wenzel 1967

John Engelman 1968

Jim DiPaola       1968

Jeff Campbell   1968

Jim Dumphy      1969

Pearl Miller 1969 – 1974

Joe Wright 1975 – 1978

John Schauble 1978-79

Ron Buda 1980 – 1981

Joe Wright 1981 -1983

Bill Pullis 1983 – 1988

1988 – 1991 parents rotated as coaches

Tracey McFarlane 1991-92

Rob Mirande 1992 – 1995

Chris Duncan 1996 – 2000

John Cyganiewicz 2000 – 2003

Todd Lybeck 2003

Dwight Hernandez 2003 – 2008

Tim Hill 2008 – 2010

Adam Schmitt 2010 – 2012

Jeff Conwell 2012 – current CEO and Head Coach

 

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Special thanks to Jane Taylor Wang for providing news articles, photos and memories, and to June, John and Bill Corrigan for their information and memories.

 

Legendary Coach Jon Urbanchek “Loves Coaching and People”

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Jon Urbanchek

The College Years

Jon Urbanchek grew up in Hungary and came to the United States to attend the University of Michigan. “I got my start in big-time swimming at the University of Michigan where I was part of three NCAA championship teams there—although I only contributed a second place in the mile,” Urbanchek said. “It was a strange way to get into coaching, but I was enrolled at Michigan as an engineering student. After three semesters, it was highly recommended by my counselor that maybe I should change majors,” he joked. “I fell in love with physiology through my professor who I credit with getting me into coaching.” After graduating with a degree in Physical Education, Urbanchek coached for one year in Michigan. He said that he’s a people person and coaching was a much better career choice for him than sitting in an office with a slide rule or computer. “In 1963, I came west young man in my small Austin Healey and ended up in Anaheim and was lucky to get a job at Sammy Lee Swim School.”

Early Years Coaching

His first job in Southern California was as an age group coach for the Sammy Lee Swim School on Lincoln Avenue in Anaheim. The head coach was Lee Arth and Urbanchek learned about how to coach from him. Sammy Lee was the first platform diver to win back-to-back gold medals in the Olympics and is the first Asian-American to become a gold medalist. An ear, nose and throat doctor, Lee faced racial discrimination during the 50s and 60s. 

Back in those days, Urbanchek said there were only 16 teams in the Orange County conference. According to Urbanchek, “Lee Arth hired me as his assistant and I coached the 12 and unders. In that young age group, there were some outstanding athletes, probably not because of my coaching.”

Urbanchek’s group had swimmers that went on to Olympic fame. “Gary Hall Sr. was in that group. He was the oldest one of the group at about 12 years old. There was a family of four Furniss boys. I coached Bruce and Steve Furniss. You’ve heard of the company TYR? Steve started the business from scratch. Bruce got the world record at Montreal 1976 Olympics. That was my first trip where one of my swimmers won a gold medal. I started with him when he was an eight-year-old. Rod Strachan became an anesthesiologist. I had him from age eight until he left for USC. He returned and swam with me after graduation until he retired from swimming. He also won an Olympic gold medal. He’s the only one I can say I had from start to finish,” he said.

“These kids are part of the building blocks of the Olympic culture of Orange County. Orange County was the hotbed of swimming in the 1960s.”

Urbanchek said “Sammy Lee Swim School was the best. In 1967, Lee Arth took a job at Rio Honda Junior College in Whittier as head coach and we disbanded Sammy Lee Swim School. I was very much involved with the kids,” he added. “Coming out of college and being on the best college team for years, I had a lot of confidence in my swimming, but I learned the trade with Lee Arth. I learned about coaching from the bottom up. I was giving private lessons for five, six, and seven-year-olds, as well.”

After Sammy Lee ended in 1967, the swimmers and families stayed with Urbanchek. “I started a new team called Anaheim Aquatics and we ran the program through the Parks and Rec Department. We had access to the high schools and community pools in Anaheim which helped us run the program. Anaheim Aquatics was very successful. Our kids were very good at the Junior National, National and Olympic levels. We had people on the world championship level. In the late 1960s, it was a very strong swim team.”

About other successful Orange County programs, Urbanchek mentioned Mission Viejo Nadadores. “Mark Schubert was a young man who came out here 10 years after me. He took over Mission Viejo. He really built that program up quickly. It was a new development and before then, there was nothing between Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano—the I-5 wasn’t even a four-lane highway. Mission Viejo was just orange groves. That was a good place to build a team. They first built the pool in 1968 and Mark came four or five years later.”

FAST

“In 1976 just a week after Olympic Trials in Long Beach, the new Fullerton pool opened. I brought Anaheim Aquatics and Craig Brown brought his Fullerton team. We called it Fullerton Anaheim Swim Team. Now it’s Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team. We combined the two communities. Craig and myself were the two coaches who gave input and were consultants for the pool and we were the first two people to utilize the pool in Fullerton.”

Long Beach State 1978 to 1982

After one year, Urbanchek left FAST and moved onto Long Beach State University to become the men’s head coach. “I replaced Dick Jochums who is going to be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF). Dr. Dave Salo was one of my swimmers who came out of Long Beach State, and became a world famous coach.”

University of Michigan

In 1982, Urbanchek went on to become a college coach for his alma mater winning NCAAs in 1995 and 13 Big Ten titles during his 22-year tenure. “I retired in 2004, but I stayed on to coach Club Wolverine which was our postgraduate program. I stayed on for six years. Bob Bowman replaced me at Michigan and he brought Michael Phelps with him. From 2004 to 2008, Michael was there with Bob. I was a volunteer coach for the University and an assistant for the club team Club Wolverine where Michael, Kaitlin Sandeno, Erik Vendt and Peter Vanderkay were in the program.” Then Bob Bowman moved back to North Baltimore Aquatic Club and Urbanchek stayed on as a volunteer coach to help Mike Bottoms with the transition.

Return to SoCal: FAST Olympic Training Center

“In 2010, I came to run the Olympic training center sponsored by USOC at Fullerton. We were very successful. Seven out of our 12 swimmers made the Olympic team and came home with medals. Tyler Clary was one of my swimmers from FAST. After London, the program was done and Dave Salo asked if I’d come and help them out at USC. I became a volunteer a coach five years ago and I‘m still there.”

Swimmers Who Became Notable Coaches

“When the Nations Capital Coach Yuri Suguiyama left to coach at Cal, I recommended Bruce Gemmell for the job.” Gemmell had been Urbanchek’s swimmer and was his graduate assistant coach at Michigan while he pursued his master’s degree in mechanical engineering. After many years as a successful engineer, Urbanchek said that Gemmell decided to coach again in 1992 and he loved it. Gemmell was Katie Ledecky’s coach at Nations Capital prior to her current career at Stanford University.

“Dave Salo and Bruce Gemmell are two swimmers I coached who became coaches. Salo and Gemmell are superior coaches and I’m so proud of them. We share a lot of ideas about coaching among the three of us.”

downloadFamily

Urbanchek talked about his family, “Swimming is like a family, even though I have my own family–my wife, daughter and granddaughter. My wife is now retired.” His wife received her Ph.D. from USC and was a research professor in the Surgery Department at the University Michigan School of Medicine.

“When I left Michigan and I told her Dave Salo asked me to coach, she said, ‘You gave your life to Michigan why not give the rest of your life to my school USC?’

“I’m going to be 81 this year, and I still love the sport. I still volunteer coach at USC Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday because I love being with young people. I love the energy they put out. I think at my age it’s important to be active. I leave the house at 5 a.m. to get there at 6 a.m. driving through LA traffic. I’m officially retired but I’m very happy to be a part of the program. Even this year I did the training camp for the national team. I’m still involved with the national team and USC. I want to continue on.”

Among the highlights of Urbanchek’s illustrious career, he coached four world record holders over four decades:

1970s Rod Strachan 400 IM
1980s  Mike Barrowman 200 Breast
1990s Tom Dolan 400 IM
2000s Tom Malchow 200 Fly

He was a US Olympic coach on staff for  ’92, ’96, ’00, ’04, ’08 and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Long Beach State Hall of Fame and University of Michigan Hall of Fame. In 1974, he received his masters from Chapman University in Education.

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Jon Urbanchek at the 2017 Open Water Nationals at Lake Castaic cheering on Trojans Haley Anderson and Becca Mann, who qualified for the World Championships.

 

Here is Jon Urbanchek’s bio from the USC website

Jon Urbanchek, one of America’s legendary coaches whose nearly 50 years of experience includes more than two decades as Michigan’s head coach, frequent service on U.S. national teams and many years as an elite club coach, is in his fourth year as a USC volunteer assistant swimming coach in 2015-16.

Urbanchek directed the Michigan men’s swimming and diving team from 1982-2004, won an NCAA title in 1995 and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame on July 6, 2008. In 22 seasons as head coach of the Wolverines, Urbanchek led them to an overall record of 163-34 and a 100-4 mark in the Big Ten Conference. Under his guidance, Michigan won 13 Big Ten titles, including 10 straight from 1986-95. Michigan never finished lower than third at the conference championships during Urbanchek’s tenure.

Following Urbanchek’s 1995 team won the NCAA title, he was named the NCAA and American Swimming Coaches Association Coach of the Year. The 1995 title was part of a four-run run (1993-96) in which Michigan posted four straight top 3 NCAA finishes. He earned Big Ten Swimming Coach of the Year honors nine times, more than any other men’s swimming coach in the history of the conference.

After retiring as Michigan’s head coach, Urbanchek coached for Club Wolverine from 2004-2009 before working with swimmers at the Fullerton Aquatics Swim Team (FAST) Olympic Committee Elite training program the past three years (2010-2012).

Urbanchek originally joined FAST in the 1970s before becoming the head coach at Long Beach State from 1978-1982. While with the 49ers, he coached current USC coach Dave Salo.

At the Olympic level, 44 of Urbanchek’s swimmers have represented their native countries and have won more than 20 medals, including 11 golds.

Urbanchek served as an assistant coach on the 2004, ’00, ’96, ’92 and ’88 U.S. Olympic teams and served as a special assistant in 2008 and 2012. He was also the coach of the 1994 and ’98 U.S. World Championships teams.

He and wife, Melanie, have one daughter, Kristen and a granddaughter, Claire.

Jeff Julian: Love of Life, Swimming and TEAM

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Jeff Julian with wife Kristine Quance-Julian and son Trenton at her 2015 USC Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

Throughout his years as a swimmer and a coach in Southern California, Jeff Julian believes it’s all about the team. On the Rose Bowl Aquatics website, you can read his philosophy about the importance of the TEAM:

 “TEAM – First and foremost, ever since I began my coaching career, I have believed that swimming is not an individual sport at all. In order to succeed to one’s potential; they must believe in the TEAM approach and learn to be supportive of their teammates.”

SWIMMER

Julian was born in Weiss Baden, Germany, to a military family when his dad was near the end of his career. The Julian family returned to Southern California when Jeff was six months old. His brother and sister, ages nine and 11, swam with El Monte Aquatics which became Industry Hills and then La Mirada. He said he “literally grew up on the pool deck.”

Jeff’s love of swimming came from his mom who was an early open water swimmer and swam Lake Michigan twice. His aunt was fourth in the 100 fly with a photo finish at Olympic trials when they took three swimmers.

“I consider my mom an ideal swim mom although she liked to talk to me about swimming more than was ideal. She knew times, she was fully involved, but wouldn’t get involved with my swimming. She loved the sport overall, loved to support everyone, but she stayed away from the gossip.”

As a young swimmer growing up in Southern California, he swam with the Arcadia Riptides until age 12. “I feel very lucky with my coaches growing up and how they managed training philosophy. The teams that I was on, whether it was Arcadia Riptides under Ray Peterson and Ron Milich, or later Industry Hills, had unbelievable coaches. They taught me that you can really enjoy the sport and still work hard and reach for more.”

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Jeff Julian with sister Jaimi Julian.

After age 12, Julian swam with Industry Hills with coaches Don Garman, Ed Spencer and Mike Gautreau. He said Gautreau, who now coaches at Covina Aquatics Association, “especially brought us together as a team. The group we had makes me want that for everyone—the experiences and the memories of all of us together. There was hard work and fast swimming, but there was so much more.”

As a high school swimmer, Julian was an eight-time CIF champion, All-American in multiple events and he achieved countless other accolades.

Julian was recruited by the University of Southern California, where he continued to excel. His many accomplishments included: U.S. national team, silver medalist at the World University Games, Pac-10 champion, NCAA silver medalist, eight-time All-American and Olympic trials finalist and Trojan Team Captain.

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USC victory photo from Feb. 1997 dual meet win over Stanford.

According to Julian, “At USC with Mark Schubert as a leader and the experience with the swimmers, it put the emphasis on the team above all else for me. When I started coaching, my number one goal and drive was team development. That was clearly from my experience at USC with my classmates and fellow swimmers. I believe the team aspect is not just an ideal, but crucial to get the most out of swimmers.”

After his many accomplishments in high school and at USC, Jeff had no intention of becoming a swim coach. He wanted to work in physical therapy but he “had one professor in anatomy or physiology that turned me off completely.” By the time he graduated, he was ready to try something away from the pool.

For about two years each, he worked as a financial advisor for Dean Witter, and although he loved the educational aspect of the job and learning, it wasn’t a good fit for him. He enjoyed working for a start-up tech company, but the company relocated to New York. With one-year-old Trenton and wife Kristine Quance, fellow Trojan and gold-medalist from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, who was still training, he didn’t want to move the family. His next job was as a medical device salesperson. He said it was a good job, but he wasn’t passionate about it. He was responsible for a territory of 12 states and away from home most of the time. During these years away from the pool deck, he spent two years as Mr. Mom and he believes those years are partly responsible for the deep bond he shares with Trenton.

It was after a successful first interview with the FBI when he was offered a job with Rose Bowl Aquatics. He knew he needed to do something he was passionate about.

COACHING CAREERrbac

”Rose Bowl Swim Team is led by a philosophy that hard work is needed, good sportsmanship is essential & in order for great things to happen, swimmers, coaches & families must work & bond together as a TEAM.”

At Rose Bowl, he started at a combination job of age group and masters coach. He was marketing director and worked in the administrative side of the center as well as coaching. Within a year, he was launched into the position of head coach and continued with the marketing technology role for several more years. Fourteen years later, he is the head coach at Rose Bowl and an assistant coach at USC.

According to Julian, “the Rose Bowl team came after the center was redeveloped due to funds from LA84 Foundation, which is still a strong organization and was started from seed money from the 1984 Olympics.” The Rose Bowl Aquatic Center was built from 1984 to 1990. In 27 years, the team has grown and there have been only four head coaches: Brian Murphy, Terry Stoddard, Gary Anderson and Jeff Julian.

About his coaching philosophy, Julian said, “If I’m not trying to be a better coach than last year, then I’m not doing my job.” He said he’s always “trying to learn and improve and continually tweak what I do. What I do revolves around process–what my swimmers do on a daily basis. The experience and life lessons are more valuable than times. None of that takes away from my competitiveness. I’m competitive by nature, but I believe that being fully committed and competitive in swimming will teach you life lessons on a whole different scale.”

 MENTORS

“I didn’t have a direct line of mentor coaches because I was at Rose Bowl for only one year and then head coach. But I have learned from a lot of individuals. I’ve learned more from my peer group. We have our group with Jeff Conwell from Canyons and now Piranhas, Ron Aitken, Sandpipers, and Joe Benjamin from Rancho San Dieguito in San Diego. We were young and upcoming coaches and we shared information and learned a lot from each other. That’s the biggest way I’ve learned through the years.”

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Jeff Julian in the water. (all photos courtersy of Jeff Julian)

OUTSTANDING SWIMMERS

According to Julian, he’s had a lot of amazing swimmers and a few who stand out to him are Emily Adamczyk, Jason Lezak, Mickey Mowry and his son Trenton.

“Early on, my first Olympic Trial qualifier was Emily Adamczyk, who later went on to win a DII NCAA Championship title.

“Coaching Jason Lezak was a privilege. He trained on his own and he represented our team for five years when he was a professional. He’d come out each month while he represented Rose Bowl, from 2007 to 2012 for those two Olympics, including his relay.  It was fun to see and work with someone at that level who was open to feedback on his races.

“One of my great stories is Mickey Mowry. He started on our team in our pre-competitive group. His mom signed him up because he was a little overweight. She wanted him to work out and be fit. He is ‘start to finish’ Rose Bowl, ended up fourth at Junior Nationals in 100 fly and went on to swim for UC Santa Barbara. Those are stories I love—coming in and starting at the bottom and working all the way up.

“My son Trenton has been a lot of fun. People always ask me how can I coach my son. When your son is the hardest working, most focused and driven person you have in the water, it’s kind of fun to coach your son. He’s having a lot of success and will be swimming at Cal next year.”

 INNOVATIONS IN SWIMMING

Julian said there have been huge innovations in swimming since he was a swimmer. He said it’s more than the things that exist now that didn’t before–like the suits. “After going to NCAAs this year, my first time in 20 years (as a coach with USC) it was unbelievable on the men’s side with records being broken right and left. It dawned on me that I have to forget about what times used to mean. The times are so fast now, they are at a whole different level. It’s just where we are now. If a bunch of swimmers are going these times, then we need to coach kids to get there. It’s a mindset.”

He believes the process of swimming and knowledge has improved through the years.
“I think the process idea isn’t individual to me, but it’s a big piece that is more involved than when I was a swimmer. Back then, we’d touch on sports psychology, we’d touch on nutrition. But the main thing we did was swim, swim, swim. Now, in the college environment, and I try to take it to the public environment as well, there are services like sports psychology available to everyone. You have strength training that’s truly supplemental to swimming. Today strength training isn’t about beating up kids in the gym and pool. It’s driven to help them swim fast not just get stronger. There is a focus on nutrition, healthier foods, rest, sleep and taking care of yourself.

“Volume is down in yardage, it’s more about quality. It goes beyond how far you swim, it goes to how well you swim and how well your stroke technique is. If each one of these things is one percent better, combine it all and you see people swimming faster and faster.

“Part of the hardest job of coaching is the group mentality, someone swims fast and everyone thinks they can swim that time right away. There are no major barriers in swimming anymore. It’s an amazing time in swimming. Records used to stand for a while, now we see them broken in a day and it’s pretty good if a record lasts a year. It’s a whole different era. I credit this to coaches and swimmers who are more focused and know so much more than in my day as a swimmer. And it wasn’t that long ago.”

#TEAMjeff

Olympians for teamjeff

From USC NEWS: “Swimmers pool their resources to help a friend in need. Olympians rally around one time Trojan swim standout Jeff Julian as he fights stage 4 cancer.
To have the biggest fundraising impact, Lezak decided to throw an “Olympians for #TEAMJeff” event. The 10 on deck: Lezak (four gold medals, two silver medals, two bronze medals), Lenny Krayzelburg ’99 (four gold), Rebecca Soni ’09 (three gold, three silver), Haley Anderson ’13 (one silver), John Naber ’77 (four gold, one silver), Kristine Quance-Julian ’97 (one gold), Ariana Kukors, Jessica Hardy (one gold, one bronze), Kim Vandenberg (one bronze) and Betsy Mitchell (two silver).”

In 2015, Julian faced his biggest challenge. A healthy young man who had never smoked, Julian was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. The swim community rallied around him and throughout the country, swimmers have been wearing #TEAMjeff shirts.

“There wasn’t a big ‘Aha moment’ of needing to change,” Julian said. “It was much more of the opposite. I love my life and I need to remember to enjoy it more, even the coaching, professional side. I had a lot of people close to me, their first reaction was to tell me to relax and take time off and do something I’ve always wanted to do. That’s not me. I don’t want to sit around. I like what I’m doing. I love coaching. I enjoy it.”

“There will always be ups and downs, there will always be struggles. But if you can remember what life really means to you, then it’s much easier to get through the day-to-day stuff.”

“It was an interesting time for me when I evaluated how I was feeling prior to my diagnosis. Before I was diagnosed in January 2015, six months before, I started to get pain in my back and neck. I was much more on edge. I think it’s a symptom of cancer and I’ve talked to a number of people who agree. I was testy. I don’t like to yell at my swimmers, so when I’m frustrated, I walk around the pool deck. I found myself walking around more and more during a practice. So again, not knowing anything was wrong, I was putting too much stress on myself and on my swimmers. I was no longer coaching the way I wanted to.”

Julian said that as a coach he’s pretty laid back, similar to how he fathers. “I’m there to help the swimmers, it’s not life and death. It needs to be fun along the way if I’m asking them to work as hard as I ask them to.”

He said there was a realization that he wasn’t having fun and he needed “to get back to how I used to coach, which is how we got to this level. I purposefully tried to keep the demeanor I normally had.”

Then came the diagnosis in January 2015. “I needed to take a step back. Yes, I am going to have to push my swimmers and I need to get on them from time to time. But I need to enjoy this. This is not something I’m just going to do. Like I tell our coaches, this is a job of passion. If this becomes just a job then it’s going to be too difficult to do it well.”

The biggest lesson for me,” Julian said, “was keeping that reminder to enjoy life and the little things along the way. There will always be ups and downs, there will always be struggles. But if you can remember what life really means to you, then it’s much easier to get through the day-to-day stuff.”

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 “On March 7, 2015, three generations of Jeff’s club swim team Industry Hills Aquatics (IHAC) traveled from around the US to join Jeff in a #TEAMjeff IHAC workout and 22-year reunion! They also raised funds for Jeff with the IHAC #TEAMjeff shirt with his mantra on the back. Way to go IHAC! #IHACforever #TEAMjeff #”

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You can read more from Jeff Julian on his blog: TEAMjeff–Hope, Optimism and Process.

Jeff Julian’s “Best of Club Swimming: Butterfly Foundations DVD” was released last week. To read more about this project, click on the link from Championship Productions.

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Vic Hecker, Coach of Las Vegas Masters, Held First CIF for Women

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Las Vegas Masters Coach Victor Hecker. photo from Las Vegas Sun

 

While Victor Hecker was a student in community college, he answered an ad to be a swim instructor for a chain of swim schools in the Los Angeles area called Swim Art Swim Schools. They held summer swim lessons in pools in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Covina and Long Beach.

No experience was required, which was ideal because Hecker was a basketball player, not a swimmer. According to Hecker, the swim school did a good job of training instructors. At the end of the summer, they held a competition in Hollywood. The owner allowed Hecker to be an honorary coach and although his kids didn’t win because they were newer swimmers, they did well. He said he noticed how well-coached the winning team was. “The experience tickled my interest,” he said, “I stayed with the swim school for more years, learning and improving as a coach.” He was able to buy his first swim school from his boss and eventually owned swim schools in La Habra, Whittier and Long Beach.

He was studying at Cal State Long Beach and was influenced by Kinesiology professor Herb de Vries who had written many books on swimming and fitness, as well running the Long Beach Swim Club. Hecker said de Vries was very motivating and he learned a lot from him. Hecker also attended all the AAU clinics he could with the greats sharing their knowledge like Peter Daland and Doc Councilman and Don Gambrel. “The coaches took an interest in me because I was so interested in learning and improving.”

He began to have success with a young age group of 12-13-year-olds. They traveled to swim meets in Southern California and other parts of the country. “Word got out because were getting good,” he said.

“Paul Cohee, who was the father of one of my swimmers at Lynwood Swim Club, was superintendent of the school district,” Hecker said. “At the time, I hadn’t finished my four-year degree, but Cohee told me to finish my degree and he would bring me on board to teach and coach at Lynwood High School.”

“In 1967, I went to a clinic in Washington state at the University of Washington. Mark Spitz came with his coach and I came with one of my high school swimmers, Frank Heckl, who went to Olympic Trials was recruited all over the country,” he said. “Different coaches got to give a workout and I got a lot of calls after my workout from other coaches because of the creative things I was doing.”

Frank Heckl won the 200 free at CIF in Southern California and had the National High School record, which was then broken the next day in Northern Cal by Mark Spitz. Heckl went on to swim for USC and was a seven-time Pan American Games medalist and former world record-holder in two relay events. Hecker said he had the privilege to coach Shirley Babashoff and her brother Jack at Lynwood High School. Babashoff  became a world record holder and gold medalist from the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. He said his Lynwood High School swimmers were some of the best from 1970 through 1973, finishing in the top five of the country.

Before Title IX, he said there wasn’t a CIF meet for girls. He was instrumental in getting a championship meet for high school girls at the Beverly Hills pool in 1970 and received a plaque thanking him for his efforts.

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Coach Vic writing down splits and notes at SPMS Champs 2013. Photo from Las Vegas Masters.

In 1974, he received an offer to be the first swimming coach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was promised 13 scholarships and many of his high school swimmers followed him to UNLV. Unfortunately, the Athletic Director didn’t follow through with his many promises, and the scholarships weren’t available until his athletes gained residency. He lost many of his swimmers to University of Texas and USC and other powerhouse swim schools.

While at UNLV, Hecker began the Las Vegas Swim Club and grew the team to more than 250 swimmers. His goal was to develop swimmers at his AAU club to eventually swim at UNLV. He was told by the administration that his club team was a conflict of interest, so he decided at that time to leave UNLV as head coach and focus on the club. He soon had swimmers competing at Junior Nationals and Nationals with the best teams in the country.we_swim_for_vic

While coaching, he also earned his real estate license and said the late 70s and 80s were a great time to be in real estate in Las Vegas. He retired from coaching in the 1980s to focus on his real estate business. It wasn’t until 2000 that he coached his youngest daughter who was in high school in the Las Vegas Municipal pool. Other swimmers asked him for pointers. Soon, he found himself coaching a group of adults which was the start of the Las Vegas Masters.

He is so respected that some swimmers move to Las Vegas to be in his program. Club members wear shirts with the saying, “We swim for Vic.” He said his masters has many great swimmers including former All-Americans as well as beginners. This year, the Las Vegas Masters placed third at the 2017 US Masters Spring Nationals, following The Olympic Club and San Diego Swim Masters.

Coach Vic’s philosophy is that you swim forever, not a season. He believes that swimming keeps people healthy and young. At 82-years-old, coaching keeps Victor Hecker young, active and healthy, too.

From the Las Vegas Masters website:

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Coach Vic won the award for 2014 Southern Pacific Coach of the Year!   Congratulations Coach Vic!  You deserve it!

Coach Victor Hecker has been guiding Las Vegas Masters swim team to great successes since 2000, including our big WINS at the 2015 and 2016 SPMS Regional & SW Zone Championships.

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  • Named SPMS Coach of the Year in 2005 and 2014!
  • Awarded the Kerry O’Brien Coaching Award in 2015
  • Certified USMS Level 3 Masters Coach
  • Coaching swimming in the Las Vegas area since 1974
  • Former UNLV collegiate swimming coach
  • Coached Olympic gold-medalists, Olympic Trials qualifiers, and world record holders
  • Coached swimmers include recreational, triathletes, competitive swimmers
  • Works with competitive swimmers to set goals and specializes in discerning the critical differences to success

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.

 

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.