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.”
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