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.”
“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.”
Chris and Gina Duncan
Bio from the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County, JCC Waves:
Chris Duncan, The Merage JCC Aquatics Director, is a career swim coach with an outstanding background training Olympic Trial and Junior National qualifiers. Chris has extensive professional experience directing swim programs including country clubs, ISL, swim schools, masters swim teams and USA clubs for all age groups from preschool through adults. His swimmers excel in a small group environment where they can individualize the workouts to suit the swimmers talents and work ethic. He works with each swimmer to effectively strengthen their skills and sharpen their weaknesses. As the JCC OC Waves head coach he keeps watch for the next great talent in the younger groups and fosters the talent all the way to his group and training. Chris is a lifetime member of the America Swim Coaches Association attending 15 of its World Coaching Conventions.
Phil Scott with his medal-winning swimmers. Photo courtesy of Phil and Doris Scott.
Phil Scott, July 29, 1931 – July 16, 2015, from the San Pedro YMCA was called “the father of the circle pattern” by Peter Daland, Head Coach of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and USC.
Phil’s idea was built of necessity, swimming with more than 20 swimmers in the old YMCA pool in San Pedro in 1952. Phil called the 20-foot pool a “bathtub” and he had to figure out a way to “keep all the kids moving and swimming fast.”
“I think a few other people were coming up with circle swimming at the same time,” Phil said, “but I wrote an article about it for Swimming World. It got a lot of attention and coaches from all over the country wrote to me about my drills and circle pattern.”
He said to make it work he put kids in fast to slow lanes, and each swimmer was placed in order of their speed. “You had to be quick or someone would flip turn on you,” he said.
Phil’s San Pedro YMCA teams won 230 trophies and set 92 national records in every age division throughout his years as coach.
THE EARLY YEARS
Phil graduated high school and wanted to become an artist. But, after surviving the Great Depression he said, “I grew up in poverty, so I didn’t want more of it.” He applied to be a lifeguard at the Gaffey public pool and was told he was too young at 17. Instead, they asked if he knew how to teach swim lessons. “I said yes, even though I’d never taught swimming,” Phil said. “I caught on. I discovered I really enjoyed teaching—it was my bag. I was better than the other instructors because I was well organized and I kept them moving.” Teaching swim lessons led him to a teaching career of more than 30 years. He taught mathematics, art, health and physical education at Richard Henry Dana Junior High School in San Pedro.
“In 1951, I got the job at YMCA.The other coaches I knew at the time were Jim Montrella and Jerry LaBonte from the north Long Beach area YMCA. We became rival coaches. Jim Montrella was one of Jerry’s former swimmers. Jerry and I put in our 16 or 17 years and retired from coaching and we were also teachers. When Jerry retired, Jim took over his YMCA and club team. Jim went on and coached Ohio State University for many years and became head of the organization for all NCAA swimming coaches. Jim was a very successful coach. I remember a hall of fame ceremony for Peter Daland and Jim was emcee. I was best man at Jerry’s wedding, that’s my connection to both Jerry and Jim,” Phil said. Phil was the aquatics director at the San Pedro YMCA until 1968, taking two years off in 1954 to serve in the Army.
Phil Scott in his Army uniform
According to Phil, Southern California Swimming got its start from several active parents of the Brentwood Swim Club. These parents were instrumental in local swim teams becoming part of the AAU, which then led to the LSC under USA Swimming.
THE WORKOUTS AND TEAM
About his workouts, he explained, “I never let my swimmers go slow. You can’t swim fast if you practice slow. They always practiced fast. They practiced at full capacity. With only three workouts a week, they could do it. I used a clock. If you weren’t on your time, you were on the bench. If you weren’t interested, I wasn’t either and you could sit it out.”
The other two things Phil incorporated into his practice were medicine balls and push-ups out of the pool.
“We had 45 minutes before workouts, so we did medicine balls, I had too many kids to do weights. I also had the kids pulling themselves out of the pool during sets. That uses the same muscles that you use swimming. They’d be so tired.”
Coach Phil Scott showed me photos from the ‘50s and ‘60s and recalled names of his swimmers and their personal stories. He was involved in his swimmers’ lives and said he was demanding and strict, but never mean. “High ideals and morals were as important to teach as swimming,” he said.
“We had top age group swimmers, we set the national 9-10 age group records in ’59. We set records in the 11-12, 13-14, 15-16 age groups all through the years, with the same kids.” Phil explained that it wasn’t until the early ‘60s that age group swimming included kids over 16. “Kids who were 17 years old couldn’t compete, yet they weren’t in college yet.”
Phil recalled his 1965 team as one of the highlights of his coaching career. “We went to the YMCA 1965 state championship in Tuscon, Arizona and won. Then on Sunday, we drove to the Jack Kramer Club in Rolling Hills for AAU relays. We stopped in El Centro at 1 a.m. and got back in the car after a couple hours sleep. I told the swimmers that maybe we wanted to skip the meet since we only got two hours of sleep. No, they wanted to go. We pulled in at 8 a.m. and they set three national records, the 200 medley, 400 medley and 400 free. They set Southern California records as well as National Age Group records.”
Phil met his wife Doris (Lee) through teaching and was married for 55 years. They had four children, which led Phil to retire from coaching. “I loved coaching, but it was family first. I couldn’t be away for 48 weekends a year.”
You can read more about Phil Scott’s life from the San Pedro Daily Breeze obituary.
The San Pedro Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library named a meeting room in memory of Phil Scott. He and his wife volunteered weekly for more than 20 years with the Friends of the Library.
Bonnie Adair, head coach of Loyola Marymount University’s women’s swimming team, described her early days of swimming as just plain fun. Her family’s involvement began at the Beverly Hilton when her mom attended a show of little kids going off the diving boards. The coach was Nick Rodionoff, and her sister, Jerrie Sue, who was two and a half years older, joined the team. Bonnie was five years old and too young. She said that after a month of watching practice, Rodionoff allowed her in the water, too.
Bonnie’s swim career began in 1958 and she retired in 1972. During those years she accumulated 35 age group records and her 50m freestyle record she broke as an 8-year-old stood for 29 years.
She’s noticed many changes to the sport from the years when she swam with “the Puddle Jumpers” coached by Rodionoff, who is the head coach at Pepperdine. They didn’t have permanent water and her coach packed his 15 swimmers and divers into his camper and they swam at various pools. “He’d drive us one day to the LA Athletic Club, or we’d go to the Holiday Athletic Club. Eventually, one of the swim dad’s who was a developer got a pool built in the Encino, Van Nuys area. We became the San Fernando Valley Athletic Club,” she said.
LMU Women’s Swimming Head Coach Bonnie Adair
Bonnie described her age group team as a “little homegrown team which became her parents’ social life. All my parents’ good friends were swim families. Everyone knew each other. My dad started as a timer and my mom worked at the desk where everything was done manually off little slips of paper before we had timing systems.” Her dad became meet manager and eventually became president of the Southern Pacific Association of the AAU, which was the predecessor to Southern California Swimming.
She remembered coaches association meetings in her living room in Woodland Hills. She said all the iconic coaches were there including Peter Daland, Don Gambril and Jim Montrella, who would have been around 19 years old. “I remember being afraid of Jim Montrella because he had this big booming voice, and then years later, I swam for him,” Bonnie said.
While she was on Radionoff’s team she said they’d surf if the surf was up, or go to Yosemite and ski. Swim meets were big family trips, and her entire team would caravan to Las Vegas or Phoenix. The parents were social and the kids ran in and out of everyone’s hotel rooms. “It was a social environment, a small intimate group of people. By the time I came along, Southern California was producing Olympians,” Bonnie said. “We were the top swim area of the country along with NorCal, Florida and a big team in Philadelphia.”
She said her practices were short and every lap was a race. She was a sprinter and it worked well for her. “I was a diver until 13,” Bonnie said. “Everyone was a diver and a swimmer, unlike today.”
Bonnie and her sister in bottom right photo, Junior Swimmer and Swimming World, October 1962.
The Adair family moved to the Long Beach area and Bonnie joined Lakewood Aquatics where Jim Montrella was the head coach. She said after she started driving, her parents’ involvement was less. According to Bonnie, “The 1968 Olympic Trials men were in the Belmont Pool, which was new. The women swam in the Swim Stadium in the ghetto. My dad put on the women’s Olympic trials and that was his last big involvement.”
Back in those days, Bonnie said big meets were held at Santa Monica City College outside, or El Segundo Junior College in an indoor pool and the National level meets were held at the Swim Stadium, home of the 1932 Olympics. Orange County and the great pools there today, didn’t exist. She said Lakewood held the Junior Olympics in their pool every year. Eventually, all the big meets were moved to Belmont.
In the valley, she said there wasn’t land to build 50-meter pools and be able to train Olympic caliber athletes. So, in the Los Angeles area, small teams didn’t have the room to grow. The growth took place in Orange Country with the abundance of cheaper land and 50-meter pools.
She mentioned that Don Gambril’s Rosemead team merged with Daland’s group. They took over Belmont Pool and the team was called Phillips 66. Top swimmers included Gary Hall, Tim Shaw, and the Furniss boys. Mission Viejo came into being in the 1970s. Everyone flocked there. Mark Schubert, was a young guy who was hired. A couple of teams disbanded and swimmers like Shirley Babashoff went to Schubert.
Her freshman year of college was pre-Title IX, and there were limited opportunities and college programs for women. She was training with Montrella for the ’72 Olympic Trials and didn’t want to change up her training regime, so her freshman year she was a commuter at UC Irvine and lived at home with her parents. She said during those days she swam 11 practices a week and lifted weights.
She said her sister, who was a diver, was able to compete on the Men’s team at UCLA with their former coach Rodionoff. “It was because she could score points as a diver, but as a swimmer, I couldn’t compete with the men and didn’t have that same opportunity.” She said looking back it was unfair that the women stayed at home and didn’t get to experience college life. “All of a sudden when school began, there would be all girls in our training group. The fast guys went off to swim at UCLA and USC. We were freshmen and sophomores in college, and we stayed with our club team to train. We lost that experience of being a freshman away at college.”
Title IX changed women’s swimming in college dramatically, with more programs and scholarships. “It’s sad for our guys and the Olympic sports. Without Title IX, we wouldn’t have women’s sports today, but it’s at a cost of the men’s programs.”
Another aspect that has changed are the swimsuits, she said. “Everything was Jantzen and they were heavy, sometimes wool and like a different species. Then Speedo came out with a triple stitched suit and it was so amazing. We only had a choice of black or navy back then.”
Speedo ad from Junior Swimmer and Swimming World, October 1962
Bonnie attended UCLA her sophomore year and said she was burned out from swimming. Eventually, she found her way back on deck as an assistant coach, while earning her degree.
“I went to UCLA, I could work as a dry cleaner for $1.80 an hour, or I could teach a swim lesson for $20. Coaching is a niche where we have a skill that nobody else has. It paid more and was a whole more fun. It started out as a job, not a career choice. Once I became a lawyer, I realized I didn’t enjoy it as much as coaching. My close friends were the ones I met through masters swimming, not my lawyer peers.”
Bonnie said she “came out of retirement at 35, swam for five years broke a couple world and national records. I hung up my suit at 40. It’s too much to get up on the blocks and race. I like to swim for fitness.”
Along with coaching at LMU, she began a Masters team with Olympian Clay Evans, Santa Monica Masters Swim Team, which later became SCAQ – now the largest Masters program in the United States with over 900 active members.
Bonnie Adair and Clay Evans, founders of SCAQ Masters.
“During her own 13-year swimming career, Adair set 35 National Age Group records including a 50m freestyle record that stood for 29 years.
Competing in 12 National Championships (her first at age 13) and two Olympic Trials, Adair became a National finalist in the 100 free and 100 fly and a member of a 400-meter medley relay that established four American records.
She attended UCLA as an undergraduate and then Loyola Law School. During law school, Adair was the assistant coach of the UCLA women’s swim team and also coached the Team Santa Monica age group team.
In 1979, Adair created the Santa Monica Masters Swim Team, which later became SCAQ – now the largest Masters program in the United States with over 900 active members.
In her 30-plus years coaching, it is estimated that Adair has coached or instructed more than 20,000 Los Angeles-area swimmers.
Between 1985 and 1994, Adair came out of swimming retirement to compete in several Masters National Championships and World Games and set national and world records in the freestyle sprint events and 100 and 200 IMs. She has contributed swimming articles to SWIM Magazine and Fitness Swimmer Magazine and was honored as the United States Masters Coach of the Year in 1997.
From 1996-1999, Adair was the head coach of the men’s and women’s swimming teams at Santa Monica College, where she earned the Western State Conference Women’s Coach of the Year award in 1997. In 1998, her women’s team tied for the conference title and placed sixth in the state. Her men’s team also earned a sixth place finish.
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
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.”
With a coaching career that started in a Southern California backyard in 1961, Coach John Ries has fascinating stories to tell. A native of So Cal, he played high school baseball, basketball and football at Pomona High School. He swam for one year in college at Cal Poly Pomona.
His father-in-law Herb Weightman ran a swim school and he asked John to help out with summer lessons. It was in June when John returned home from the service that he began coaching. With 60 kids in their program, they had to get creative on how to conduct their lessons. John explained that his father-in-law drilled holes every two feet around the pool and put in poles. A rope was attached to the poles with belts to go around the kids. They had 20 to 30 kids in the pool at once doing stationary freestyle. With this unorthodox method, they developed some good swimmers in the AAU.
Claremont had a team, but there was a tragedy with a female diver training for the Olympics. According to John, a young boy dove or jumped off the high dive onto the diver and paralyzed her. The swim team was canceled after that. People were obviously upset about the accident, but they were also up in arms that the whole team was canceled.
“Eventually, word got out about what Herb and I were doing in Pomona. We were asked to start up a team at El Robles Junior High in Claremont,” John said.
The team became the Claremont Crocodiles. John laughed when he recalled the gift the team gave him one year—a live crocodile. From 1962 to 1971, John coached the Crocs.
“Chaffey High school asked me if I could coach there. I went to Chaffey because they had a 50-meter pool. I worked there for 10 years until 1982 as head coach of the Chaffey Tiger Sharks. Dave Radcliffe, who competed in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, was a prior coach for the team.
“I went to Industry Hills and I was there for 10 years. I started as an assistant coach but took over for Don LaMont. Don went to USC. We had Olympians, national level swimmers. When I was at Industry Hills, it was beautiful. It had a first class hotel, a 50-meter pool, a 25-yard pool, lockers—it was state of the art and the best in the country at the time.”
John’s next step in his swim coaching career was retirement. He said, “I retired and then Stan Clark, who owned the Claremont Club, asked me if I would come start a swim team. He was building a 50-meter pool. He hired someone else and that coach had some weird ideas. They got rid of the other coach, so he approached me again. I’ve been here for more than 25 years.”
The Claremont Club 50-meter pool.
Although John says he’s coached a number of great kids, a few of the swimmers who were standouts during his coaching career include:
Jeff Kostoff, Industry Hills, 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and 1988 Seoul Olympics. Distance swimmer and 400IM. He held the 500 free national high school record for 30 years and the 1650 Stanford record for 21 years. He’s an assistant coach at Stanford.
Jenna Johnson, Industry Hills, 2X gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, 400-free relay and 400-medley relay, plus silver medalist in the 100 fly.
Olympian Doug Northway, “Fourth at Olympics for distance in 1972 Munich Olympics. Rick DeMont, who is the coach for Arizona Wildcats, won first, but they stripped his medal because of his inhaler for asthma. They’ve been trying to reinstate his medal. But, the rest were bumped up and Northway got the bronze medal.” In the 1976 Quebec Olympics, Northway swam prelims for the gold medal winning relay team, but at that time they didn’t award medals for swimmers who swam only in prelims.
Noelle Tarazona, UCLA and NCAA competitor, 3X All-American, Assistant Coach at Pomona-Pitzer. “She has been all over the world with her swimming. Also, she’s been to Colorado Springs as a representative to talk to USA Swimming about what can be improved. Hardest working girl ever.”
Joe Dykstra, “Joey swam from six years old through high school with me. Swam at the University of Washington and is currently a PAC 12 head coach for the Utes. Fantastic kid. One of the top ten swimmers I’ve ever coached, and is wonderful as a person.”
John attributes the fun atmosphere, stability of staff and great families to his success in his coaching career. “Everyone gets along, the olders are good to youngers. We have a banquet and we don’t charge the swimmers. It’s a luau, beach party at Christmas. We try to keep it fun all the time. It’s important to have great athletics, but it has to be fun for the kids to work hard.”
He said, “It’s important to teach coaches how to teach strokes properly. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a program.”
John’s thoughts about his swim coaching career is best expressed by him:
“I’ve enjoyed great groups of kids. I love what I’m doing. I’m still doing it.”
photos from http://www.claremontclub.com/club/scripts/section/section.asp?NS=HOMEPAGE
If you want to find out about the history of swimming in Southern California and how we became a powerhouse, go no further than Jim Montrella. A swim coach from the age of 17 at Lakewood Aquatics, to NCAA winning Ohio State Women’s Swimming and US Olympic coach, Montrella has a wealth of knowledge and love of the sport to share. Read more about his swimming accomplishment on his ASCA bio here.
I spoke with Jim for several hours, covering many topics from his early days as a coach, how USA Swimming began, his introduction and production of swim paddles, to the history behind several teams and the SCS Travel Fund.
HOW USA SWIMMING BEGAN:
“Prior to 1980, a significant number of coaches in a number of sport disciplines were becoming disenchanted with the Amateur Athletic Union because a lot of money was going to track and field and not to the other sports. There were a lot of us that were interviewed in Washington DC by a couple of senators and their staffs. They asked what can we do to help you with your sport? That was early 1970s.
“An outgrowth of that became actually a breakup of the union into separate sports federations such as United States Volleyball Association, United States SwimmingUnited States Soccer, USA Soccer and USA Swimming.
“By the time we got to 1980, we never went to another AAU convention. Our sport became it’s own federation. Ray Essex became our first chief executive director.”
According to Wikipedia: “The Amateur Sports Act of 1978 was signed by President Jimmy Carter, established the United States Olympic Committee and provides for national governing bodies for each Olympic sport. The Act provides important legal protection for individual athletes.”
“From 1978 to 1980, the official responsibilities of governing the sport were transferred from the AAU Swimming Committee to the new United States Swimming. Bill Lippman, the last head of the Swimming Committee, and Ross Wales, the first president of United States Swimming, worked together to ease the transition. This process was made more interesting because the United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics and, during this time, the leadership of the sport was in flux.”
THE EARLY YEARS
Early on, in the days of the AAU, the YMCAs were very powerful, Montrella said. He mentioned the YMCAs in the southern part of Los Angeles County, such as San Pedro and Long Beach.
“I really never got any experience until high school and started on a swim team in my junior year in high school. I was very late to the sport in today’s standards,” Montrella said. “About two years later, Lakewood YMCA, who I was associated with, built a pool and asked me to be the aquatics director. We started lessons and started up a swim team.
“There were some private swim schools back then and the Los Angeles Athletic Club and the Pacific Coast Club were very significant. From the swim schools that started teams, and the YMCA league in Southern California, which was very active, many more clubs started. The most significant club team and coach had to be Peter Daland at the LA Athletic Club. Peter came from Yale and was assistant coach back under Bob Kippeth. He came out from there to be coach at the LA Athletic Club. He was approached by USC to be the head men’s coach of the program. He coached there until the early 90s. He did a spectacular job.
“We got pretty strong at the Lakewood aquatics club. We actually won the Junior Olympics for 18 years—the local one. Through the efforts of Jerry LaBonte and myself and all our staff members, we were very involved we held the local long course JOs for the local swim committee. Back then it was called Southern Pacific Association Amateur Athletic Union and it was part of AAU. We held those at Lakewood Mayfair Park swimming pool for a couple years. Then Lakewood Aquatic Club ran the Southern Cal Junior Olympics at the Belmont Pool.
“One thing that they should have never done is they put in that diving well, and the water pressure because of the ocean was always playing havoc with the bottom of the Belmont pool. Putting an engineer against mother nature’s shallow table that close to the ocean was insanity. Even though you won’t read that, we all know it’s true.”
“The LSC goes as far north as San Luis Obispo and as far south as Camp Pendleton. And as far east as Las Vegas,” Montrella said.
He explained that San Diego always wanted to remain separate. “The Cleveland National Forest and Camp Pendleton separated it with geography. The San Diego people didn’t want to have to continue to drive 60 miles north all the time and that is just to get to Orange County. There were no programs those days in Carlsbad or Oceanside. It was literally the Coronado Navy Association with Mike Troy.”
THE TRAVEL FUND
“Jim Sterkel, the father of Jill Sterkel, Olympian, medal winner in the 1976 4×100 relay. Her father was treasurer for SCS, which was at that time still Southern Pacific Athletic Association. He contributed a huge amount. We made a donation to what we began to call the permanent travel fund. The permanent travel fund was perceived as an endowment. And as donations came into the permanent travel fund it grew. It was permanent because we never touched the principal. However, Jim through his efforts, established a 5 cent fee for each event, with the fee to go to the permanent travel fund. That 5 cents for every event, for every child for every meet, began to grow significantly. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, Jim took all those 5 cent fees and swept it into the travel fund. The fund grew and grew under Jim’s leadership along with another person, Brett Borisoff. His sons were swimmers and he was chairman of swimming in Southern California for a number of years.
“Fifty percent of the interest went into the current fund, the other 50% plus the five cents went into the permanent fund. The current travel fund went to defray expenses to those kids who qualified to go to the national senior meets. Let’s say your daughter qualified for the senior national meet. As you know it costs a fortune for transportation, food, housing, and a lot of people couldn’t afford it. Some of the best swimmers from Southern California couldn’t go and couldn’t represent us at Nationals, which was a shame.
“It was kind of like the Olympics right now. We only can take two people in each event to represent us. But we have eight others that would have been in the consolation finals at least.
“As the current travel fund grew, we decided that we would split that fund between short course nationals and long course nationals. Then the kids got their share of the money divided by the number of kids of whatever money was available. As you might guess, the permanent fund grew, as did the current travel fund and over a period of years got more and more money to defray expenses. That helped a lot of clubs that didn’t have the money to help defray the expenses.
“What started out a $200 donation from Lakewood Aquatic Club, primarily under Jim Sterkel—I don’t think his daughter Jill even knows this—grew to well over $2 million. There shouldn’t be a child in Southern California that should be in need of defraying costs to go to the national senior championship.”
ABOUT MISSION VIEJO
The Mission Viejo pool
“Mission Viejo Company developed 32 square miles. Mission Viejo decided they had to relate to families so they set aside land for fields, tennis courts and swimming pools. They developed the pool and in its day it was second to none. It’s still a beautiful facility. But, unfortunately we will never host another national championship there unless we get two 50 meter pools. The Mission Viejo Co. realized that in order to sell homes, they made it very family oriented. They also developed the mall. It’s now the Shops at Mission Viejo. With the mall and auto row, hospital, etc. we have huge tax dollars which help. This allows a lot youth and senior programs. The city council was great at following the company’s mission. And it’s great for small business. There are a lot of small businesses in Mission.
COACHES AND COACH-OWNED TEAMS
“A lot of us left club coaching. We had brought it from a volunteer type of status, and we evolved it to more of a professional coaching status. Now there are a lot of professional club coaches.
“A lot of us went on to become college coaches. I went to Indian River and became athletic director of ten sports as well as coaching swimming. Then after two years, we went back to school I got my masters and my wife got her bachelors. We went to Ohio State and I became the head woman’s coach.
“There aren’t as many club programs owned by the coach, but there should be. There’s only been less than six parent run clubs ever win a national championship. I can only remember the Cincinnati Pepsi Marlins and it was only one time when there was a merger of three different teams in 1980. I don’t think there’s ever been another one.
“Coach owned teams are successful because there is a vested interest and because a professional is running the team.
“Parent run organizations can be very effective and they are very helpful, but to win a national title it’s near impossible because it takes too long to get things done.
“More club coaches come in from the bottom up. Nadadores is a parent run organization with the best bylaws of any organization. It encourages continuity and lack of turnover. Our board members read the bylaws before they run. They read the contracts before they run. They know their responsibilities because you’re going to be held accountable not just responsible.”
HAND PADDLES–MODERN SWIMMING CONCEPTS COMPANY
Jim Montrella’s “Modern Swimming Concepts” paddles
“Flip Darr was the first coach I saw use hand paddles including with Gary Hall. I liked the concept and I had some ideas. I asked Flip if he wanted to see them or go into a partnership. He said, ‘No, you go with it.’
“I developed some prototypes and I got some help with a gentleman name Ray Judkins, who is now deceased. He was in direct marketing sales. Ray Soft was a swim parent with two daughters who swam for me, and he had an injection molding business. I went to him and showed him the designs and prototypes. I came out with three sizes. This took about three years, from prototypes to production and I controlled everything. I bought the resins and the dyes, I contracted out to the molders, stamping, routing cuttings, packaging. There were about six guys I trusted in the country and they helped with distribution including John Gambrel and Mike Troy.
“I had originally asked Speedo a few years earlier and they said no. I got the product up and running and had international distribution.
“Speedo asked if I wanted to go into a joint venture. I licensed them to earn the right to exclusive distributorship. They licensed me to put their name on my product. I kept my paddles on the market and when they sold more in their geographical area than I did, I would stop selling in their geographical area. It took them 14 years to take over.
“The size of the paddle has nothing to do with the size of the child. A paddle should always be flat. It should always have a single attachment at the finger to the knuckle. The wrist band is only for a beginner, concave or convex are not teaching all that they can teach. You can use different paddles for different things.”
Here’s a great article on SwimSwam by Chuck Warner about Jim Montrella
Mark Schubert, a former high school swimmer from Akron, OH, had a goal to become a high school coach. Schubert’s dream came true. He became a high school coach in Cuyahoga Falls High in Ohio.
In 1972, during his second year coaching, he looked at swimming in Southern California and was impressed by the caliber of coaches. “I looked at the great coaches in So Cal including Don Gambril, Dick Jochums, Ron Ballatore, Jim Montrella and Peter Daland. I realized that I could be successful there.”
At the young age of 23, Schubert applied to head the team in Mission Viejo, which at the time was a summer-league team. He got the job and through the years, grew the team to more than 500 swimmers. He also coached at Mission Viejo High School, and they became CIF Champions in 1975.
How did Schubert, a young, new coach have such early successes?
“Once a month, I’d travel to other teams, and learn from them. It helped me out and it was a great way to learn. Coach Peter Daland was from Swarthmore, east coast guy, wore ties, very formal. He was impressive and his team had enthusiastic chemistry. I modeled Mission Viejo after Santa Clara and George Haines. We developed a culture of hard work and our swimmers swam fast. Shirley Babashoff got the ball rolling,” Schubert said. “Visiting other coaches on a monthly basis was better than any course I could attend. It worked for me.”
Some of the stand-out swimmers he coached at Mission Viejo:
Brian Goodell was 8 years old when Mark Schubert became head coach of the team. He first coached him when he was 13 years old. He earned 2 gold medals, 400m and 1500m free at Montreal 1976 Olympics.
Mary Meagher, earned 3 golds, 100 fly, 200 fly and 400 Medley Relay, 1984 Los Angeles Olympics training with Mission.
Dara Torres, earned 1 gold medal in the 1984 Olympics. She trained with Mission Viejo to prepare for the Olympics while in high school, from ’83-’84.
Michael O’Brien, won 1 gold medal in the 1500 at the 1984 Olympics. His club team was Mission Viejo.
Innovations in swimming:
“It was fun when everyone started to wear goggles. One of the main reasons for drops was practice went from 3 to 4,000 yards to 8,000. People improved a lot more. Before goggles, their eyes would get red and they couldn’t stay in the water for longer,” Schubert said.
“Also, suits became popular in the world in 1977. The East Germans wore speedo suits. Times continued to drop until the full body suits in 2008 when it peaked.”
During his years at USC, Schubert said he worked with many amazing swimmers including Olympians Janet Evans and Lenny Krazylburg, Kristin Quance, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, and RoseBowl and USC coach Jeff Julian. “Mark Warkentin, Jeff Julian, Kristine Quance and Tyler Storie are coaches that I coached. Nice to have coaches that have done well. It’s very satisfying.”
Schubert’s Career Comes Full Circle As He Returns to Mission Viejo
Associate Head Coach
Coach Mark Schubert is the Associate Head Coach of the Mission Viejo Nadadores.
He returned to the World Renowned program that developed from 1972-1985.
He formerly was the Head Coach and CEO of the Golden West Swim Club in Huntington Beach, California; where he rebuilt one of Southern California’s best programs from the bottom up by instilling the values of hard work, commitment, dedication, fun, and a love of swimming. Coach Schubert was also the Head Coach of Gold West College. After nine years of the Rustlers not making it to the championship podium, Schubert leads both the Women’s and the Men’s teams to the California State Community College Championships Title in 2013 – in his second year! The Men’s team also won the State title in 2014 and 2015.
Schubert was named the USA Swimming National Team Head Coach and General Manager on March 21, 2006. Prior to joining USA Swimming, he was the head coach at the University of Southern California for 14 years.
Schubert has demonstrated coaching success at all levels – club, college, and international – matched by few coaches in the history of the sport. At the club level, Schubert found success on the national swimming scene as the head coach of the Mission Viejo Nadadores from 1972-85, where his teams won a record 44 U.S. National team titles during his tenure. Schubert also served as the head coach of Texas Aquatics for four years, leading the club, along with head coach Eddie Reese, to 10 national team titles.
At the collegiate level, Schubert coached at the University of Texas from 1989-92, leading the Longhorns to two NCAA team titles (1990 and 1991). At the University of Southern California, the Trojan women took home one NCAA team title under Schubert in 1997. His USC swimmers won 49 NCAA individual titles.
At the international level, Schubert has been a familiar face on the Olympic coaching scene, serving on every Olympic coaching staff since 1980 and placing 38 swimmers on U.S. Olympic teams. Schubert was Head Women’s Coach in 1992 and 2004. He was the Head Men’s Coach in 2000. He was a Women’s Assistant Coach in 1996, and an assistant for the combined Men’s and Women’s teams for 1980, 1984, and 1988.
In his first World Championships appearance as National Team head coach and general manager, Schubert led Team USA to its most dominant performance in history. The Americans ran away with the medal count, winning an incredible
36 medals, 20 of them gold, and setting 12 world records. Schubert is an eight-time World Championships coach, serving as the head men’s and women’s coach in 1982.
Here are the first paragraphs from a story from Sports Illustrated The Vault, July 10, 1978 about the creation of the community of Mission Viejo, the Nadadores and Mark Schubert:
“It is 7:02 a.m. and Mark Schubert is annoyed. “Shut up!” he snaps at two girls, still half-asleep but jabbering on the deck of the 50-meter pool. The girls fall silent. Within seconds they and their 60-odd teammates on the national team of the Mission Viejo swim club are in the water, swimming laps, but Schubert is still frowning. “Move it,” he yells to nobody—and everybody—in particular. Practice was supposed to start at 7 o’clock and two minutes have been lost forever. To socializing.
Schubert’s top swimmers spend five hours every day in the water and another hour lifting weights. They work out twice a day, six days a week, 11 months a year. During the school year the first workout begins at 5:30 a.m. at Mission Viejo High and swimmers can be seen slumped in their cars in the parking lot, catching a few last winks in the lifting darkness. Even now, summertime, when all workouts have shifted to the Mission Viejo International Swim Complex and morning sessions start at the more civilized hour of seven, the regimen guarantees a long day. Swimmers finish the first workout at 9:30, then return to the pool at 4 p.m. to lift weights before going into the water again at five. At 7:30, Schubert signals the end of the session by flipping vitamin tablets to his spent athletes. Still in the water, they lunge at the offerings with open mouths, like seals going after fish.
But these swimmers at the peak of the club’s pyramid are not the only ones expending energy in Mission Viejo, Calif., a planned community of 43,000 occupying a stretch of hilly Orange County 50 miles south of Los Angeles. The club has 550 members all told and the swimmers on the lower rungs walk, bicycle or are car-pooled to workouts at the high school and at the 25-yard pools in the Montanoso and Sierra recreation centers as well as in the main complex. There are novice groups, a bewildering array of age-group sessions—the 9-10s with the 11-12s, for example—and also senior “B” and “C” groups. And there are learn-to-swim classes for children as young as 4. What all these groups have in common is a no-nonsense approach decreed from on high by Schubert. “The stars have to toe the line and set an example for the younger kids,” he says. “The younger kids have to toe the line because they’re the future stars.”
Contrary to what some rivals say, Mission Viejo swimmers aren’t always drilled until they drop and they don’t automatically turn into champions as soon as they don their blue-and-gold sweat suits. It only seems that way.
The Mission Viejo Nadadores dominate most levels of swimming in the U.S., turning out age-group record holders and world-beaters alike. This was the home club of Shirley Babashoff, the now retired queen of American swimming. It remains the summer club of the sport’s reigning glamour boy, UCLA sophomore Brian Goodell, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder in the 400-and 1,500-meter freestyles. And of American record holders Jesse Vassallo (400-yard individual medley) and Alice Browne (800-meter freestyle). And AAU champions Dawn Rodighiero, Valerie Lee and Jennifer Hooker. Then there is Mission Viejo’s foreign contingent, which this summer includes Australian backstroker Mark Tonelli, a fourth-place finisher in Montreal (and an AAU champion), and Olympic bronze medalist Enith Brigitha of the Netherlands. In all, nine Olympians from four countries are training in Mission Viejo. As though that were not enough, the Nadadores also have a new diving team, whose impressive ranks include Jennifer Chandler, the 1976 gold medalist in the three-meter event, and Greg Louganis, the silver medalist in the tower.
Mission Viejo’s swimmers and divers keep the water roiling in six pools around town. The hub of this activity, the International Swim Complex, consists of a 50-meter pool, a 25-yard warmup pool, a diving well and a carpeted weight room. There, beneath a hillside bedecked with marigolds arranged in outsized letters spelling MISSION VIEJO, Goodell & Company can be seen swimming laps while Chandler & Company arch gracefully through the air. The site is also used for major meets, including the annual Mission Viejo Invitational, national Masters and age-group championships and last year’s AAU long-course nationals.
Obviously, there is something special happening below Mission Viejo’s marigolds. The U.S. has long been the world’s leading swimming power, thanks in large part to go-getting community swim clubs that compete strongly with the baseball and football coaches for the good young athletes. These clubs are typically put together by upper-middle-class swim parents, who bicker with the coaches but who also pay dues, sponsor bake sales and wrangle enough dollars from local tire dealers and soft-drink distributors to keep the clubs going. Mission Viejo is different. The Nadadores are formally co-sponsored by a boosters club consisting mainly of parents. But the other sponsor—and the club’s founder—is the Mission Viejo Company, the high-powered land-development firm that built the town. Now a $150-million-a-year subsidiary of Philip Morris Inc., the Mission Viejo Company remains a commanding presence in the unincorporated community. Leaving police and fire protection to Orange County, it builds and runs recreational facilities and parcels out new housing developments. And it gets involved in zoning, landscaping and other civic matters.”
One name comes up repeatedly as the most influential person by many of Southern California’s premier coaches. That man is Peter Daland. He brought a professionalism to the sport and was giving and willing to share his knowledge and love for the sport with his swimmers and other coaches. If anyone deserves the title as the father of swimming in Southern California, it’s Peter Daland.
According to Mark Schubert, “Coach Peter Daland was from Swarthmore, very east coast. He was very formal, impressive, and had enthusiastic team chemistry.”
“The most significant coach and club team had to be Peter Daland at the LA Athletic Club,” Jim Montrella said. “Peter came from Yale and was assistant coach back under Bob Kippeth. He came out to coach at the LA Athletic Club. After a year or two, he was approached by USC to be the head men’s coach of the program. He coached there until the early 90s. Spectacular job.
From the bio from his book, “The History Of Olympic Swimming, Vol. 1 1896-1936″ are some of his accomplishments:
“One of the greatest coaches in the history of swimming, Peter Daland has also had a profound influence on the development of the sport of swimming beyond the confines of the pool deck. He founded Swimming World magazine in 1951 while working at Yale University. In addition, he created a quarterly called Junior Swimmer in 1952. He served as the president of the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) and the World Swimming Coaches Association (WSCA), was Swimming Chairman of the World University Games from 1982 to 2007, and was Swimming Competition Director at the 1984 Olympic Games.
As a college coach, Daland was nothing less than masterful in 35 seasons at the University of Southern California. There he led the Trojans to 19 undefeated seasons and nine NCAA team titles, and finished runner-up 11 times as his teams compiled a phenomenal 318-31-1 won-loss record for a .917 winning percentage.
Daland, the only coach to have won all three major U.S.National team championships—9 NCAA, 14 National AAU Men’s, and two National AAU Women’s—served as the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team Head Coach in 1964 and as the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team Head Coach eight years later.”
“He was born in New York City. His coaching career spanned over 40 years. Daland attended Harvard University before enlisting in the United States Army for World War II. After the war, he graduated from Swarthmore College in 1948 and got his first coaching job at Rose Valley, Pennsylvania, where he won 8 straight Suburban League titles (1947–55). He founded and was first coach of the Suburban Swim Club in Newtown Square, Pa and served as an assistant to Bob Kiphuth at Yale University before deciding to take Horace Greeley’s advice and head west in 1956 as coach at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Athletic Club. In 1958, he returned to Yale with 5 USC Freshmen and won the National AAU Team Title from the New Haven Swim Club.
For 35 years (1957–1992), Daland was the swimming coach for the USC Trojans, where he led the Trojans to 9 NCAA Championships. He also led teams to 14 AAU Men’s National titles, and 2 AAU Women’s National titles. He is the only coach to have won all three major national team championships — 8 NCAA, 14 National AAU Men’s, and 2 National AAU Women’s (LAAC). Specializing in family dynasties, Daland had the good fortune of championships wins from the brothers Devine, Bottoms, Furniss, Orr, and the House brother and sister act. His Trojan teams won more than 160 dual meets with more than 100 individual titles. As of 1974, Daland’s record boasted 183 individual national champions.
Daland also coached the U.S. women’s swim team at the 1964 Olympics, where his swimmers won 15 of the 24 medals awarded in women’s swim events. He then coached the US men’s team at the 1972 Olympics, where his men swimmers won 26 of 45 medals awarded in men’s events. In those Olympics, Mark Spitz of the United States had a spectacular run, lining up for seven events, winning seven Olympic titles and setting seven world records.
Daland was also active in the swimming community via his roles/positions with FISU, the International University Sports Federation, and ASCA, the American Swimming Coaches Association. He was one of the founders of ASCA, and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1977. The pool of USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center bears his name.
Daland was married to former German top-class swimmer Ingrid Feuerstack. On October 20, 2014, he died in Thousand Oaks, California at the age of 93.”
Jill Sterkel, four-time Olympian, grew up in Hacienda Heights, graduated from Glen A. Wilson High School and remembers the “healthy family lifestyle” of swimming. Her mom was a swimmer, and the three Sterkel kids, Jill, her older brother and younger sister, jumped into the pool together.
Sterkel was part of the 4 x 100 relay that beat the East Germans in 1976 for Olympic gold (video here). Following a near sweep of gold–except for that one relay, a doping scandal followed the East German women, which is still in the headlines today. Sterkel was a world-record holder in the 50 meter free, an NCAA champion for Texas Longhorns, and qualified for three more Olympics: 1980, 1984 and 1988.She won four medals in three Olympic Games spanning twelve years. (USA boycotted the 1980 Olympics, which were held in Moscow because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.) Sterkel was the women’s head coach of the Texas Longhorns swimming and diving team at the University of Texas at Austin from 1992 to 2007.
When did you start swimming?
“My grandparents had a pool and they wanted us to be water safe. It was a thing for the whole family to do. We started with swim lessons, and the same place had a summer league team. One thing led to another.
“My first team was Hacienda Heights Aquatic Club. At age 10, the coach who was good friends with our family, suggested we might go to a year-round program, a little bigger than the program we were with.”
The coach suggested the Sterkel kids join El Monte Aquatics. Sterkel remembers there were several coaches on the year-round team and at age 10 she was the youngest to be in Don Lamont’s group.
“Hacienda Heights was a good club team, but it wasn’t the same caliber as El Monte. El Monte had people who were going to nationals. Very much an established AAU or USA club. When I look back on it, our coach wasn’t very selfish to tell us to go to a bigger team. That is pretty amazing.
“We all swam. Not everything revolved around swimming, but a lot did. All three of us were part of the team and active swimmers. In age group swimming, we were going to swim meets every other weekend. It sort of becomes your social life as well. It’s awesome that it’s so much fun.”
Early on, what was one of your most exciting swim experiences? What stands out the most?
“In all honesty, from my very earliest memories which would have been on my Hacienda Heights Club team, The thing I remember the coach would do, it sounds silly. We would do ‘king of the mountain’ swimming. The coach made a lot of the harder things fun. I hated kicking, but when we did kicking sets, we’d do 25s and the little kids would go, which would be me. Then the bigger kids would wait 10 seconds and try to catch. Stuff like that stands out, it’s a lasting memory I have.
“What I remember most, what stands out, of course I obviously remember winning the gold medal in ’76 and that stands out, but I remember Nationals–going as a team.
As a 15-year-old at the 1976 Summer Olympics, she won a gold medal as a member of the winning U.S. team in the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay, together with her teammates Kim Peyton, Wendy Boglioli and Shirley Babashoff. After the U.S. women’s team had been outshone in nearly every event by their East German rivals, Peyton, Boglioli, Sterkel and Babashoff achieved a moral victory by not only winning the relay gold medal, but also by breaking the East Germans’ world record in the event final. — Wikipedia
“Flying was a big deal, we’d get the same outfits. Different songs would go with different Nationals. There’d be shaving cream fights and shaving parties. All of those things that make up the process, not just going to certain meets. We’d always go to Santa Clara and Mission Viejo. The people. We had such a great group of people. We had a lot of amazing people involved in swimming.”
Sterkel shares more memories of what it was like to be a So Cal Age Group Swimmer:
“I remember going up to Lemoore, I couldn’t tell you where it was. Everyone camped. We had a little RV. The meet lasted from 9 in the morning until 11 at night. I don’t remember swimming at all, but I do remember the things we did–like killing the time before your next event. It was pretty much a fabric of our life growing up.
“We would go to an age group meet, we’d all stay at the same hotel, so after the meet it would be like a whole reunion party. The kids would be in the pool, the parents would be sitting around, very much a healthy family friendly atmosphere.
“The weird thing was when I was really young I went to JOs, but I started going to Nationals at a pretty young age, so I didn’t do a lot of age group meets.”
How did you get into coaching?
“In college I began to pay attention. Probably in all honesty, not that I didn’t care about swimming and wanted to do well, because I did. But, it wasn’t until college that I sort of learned certain things. I was taught certain things by my coach that I didn’t know before. Part of it was the times. I had never been taught breathing patterns or race strategy. I think in those years, that a lot of it didn’t come along until later. And it got more scientific after that.
“It opened the door to me having conversations like ‘why would you do that?’ Or ‘why would that work?’ It was intriguing. It had a huge impact on my performance and the one thing that was really nice was the coaches. I had Paul Bergen and Richard Quick. It wasn’t taboo to ask. Obviously, it’s how you do the ask as well. They were very open to explaining things. That got me along thinking along that path.
“When I first came into college, I wanted to take the concept of biology and put it into physical education. So, it wasn’t just like recess, but actually maybe physical things and learning the science behind it.That was my vision for the future. I was way ahead of my time as far as personal trainer, and I was going to put it into the high school setting like the teaching element of it. I always had an affinity for learning that stuff. It was something that I liked to talk about, think about it.”
Today, Jill Sterkel has a son in age group swimming and works for the University of Texas. #SoCalSwimHistory