Sippy Woodhead: From Swimming Legend to Swim Mom

 

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Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead, age 13, on her first national team trip, Leningrad, Russia. Photos courtesy of Sippy Woodhead.

Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead’s phenomenal swim career includes seven world records beginning at age 14 at the 1978 World Championships in Berlin and a silver medal from the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, six years later. She holds numerous So Cal Swimming records and two National Age Group Records–the longest-standing records on the books for girls. She trained with Riverside Aquatics Association in a pool which is now named the Sippy Woodhead Pool. She remembers her dad driving her by the pool to show her its new name.

 

How did you get involved with swimming?

“I grew up in Riverside and it was 100 degrees and more in the summer. There was a swimming pool a block away from my house. I waited at the gates for the pool to open at 10 a.m. and it closed at 6 p.m. I spent the entire day there. We just played–everyone played sharks and minnows and we hunted for lizards around the deck.

“At the end of the day, we’d walk home. My brother and sister swam in summer league. I wasn’t old enough to swim but they’d let me get in once in a while. They’d humor me. I could barely swim a stroke properly. When I was old enough, I joined the team. I swam summers until I was 11 years old. That was the first year I swam year-round.”

She began her swimming career with Chuck Riggs and the Riverside Aquatics Association. “I saw Chuck for the first time in about 20 years at a meet a few weeks ago, at JAG,” she said. “It was fun to see him. I stayed at RAA until I was 16. Then I went to Mission Viejo for two years and swam with Mark Schubert and then at USC.

At USC, she swam for Don LaMont and Peter Daland. “I felt so lucky to be able to swim with Peter Daland. He had a way of delivering a set and that’s what you’re going to do. You didn’t question him. He’s there in his button-down shirt delivering a set and you didn’t disrespect him.” Sippy said she trained with Peter Daland for the 1984 Olympics, where she earned a silver medal in the 200 free.

Her many accomplishments in swimming are highlighted in the Riverside Sports Hall of Fame:

Cynthia Woodhead Brennan

Her success came so quickly, her rise in the sport so meteoric. “Sippy” began her swimming career as a youth in Riverside’s public pools, competing in a summer recreation league. She decided to focus on competitive swimming at age 12 for the Riverside Aquatics Association. The next year, 1978, she stunned the swimming world by winning three gold medals and two silver medals at the World Championships.

In 1979, she won five gold medals at the Pan American Games and four gold medals at the World Cup.

Though she was denied a chance to be a star of the 1980 Olympics by a political boycott, her place was secure as one of the finest swimmers ever.

As a 15-year-old in the 1980 Olympic Trials, held after the Moscow Games, she won the 100- and 200-meter freestyle events, finished second in the 400 and 800 and also qualified in two relays. For her career, she set seven world records and 18 American records. She retired from competitive swimming after winning a silver medal in the 200 freestyle in the 1984 Olympics. Her U.S. record in the 200-meter freestyle stood from 1978 until 1992.

Sippy—a nickname given to her as an infant from her 2-year-old sister—attended Poly High School for two years before transferring to Mission Viejo. She was the first four-time California high school swimmer of the year. She was a three-time All-America at USC and is a member of the USC Hall of Fame. She was a runner-up for the Sullivan Award, given to the country’s finest amateur athlete. She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1994. Sippy Woodhead Pool, a public pool in Riverside was re-named in her honor.

She graduated from USC with a degree in journalism and later earned a master’s degree in marriage, family and child counseling. She was an assistant swim coach at USC from 1989-97 and has done television commentary.

How Has Swimming Changed?

As a swim parent, Sippy notices many changes through the years. She’s the mother of twins who started swimming at age nine and 11. They just turned 14 and will be entering the eighth grade.

“We did a lot more yardage, I swam with Chuck Riggs. We did a whole lot of swimming and not much race pace. That’s just the way it was back then. That’s what I see as the biggest change. But at the gym, my kids’ workout is about identical to what I did. They’ve gone back to circuit training very much like what I was doing.”

Tech suits weren’t around when Sippy was breaking world records and she told her kids they weren’t getting tech suits until they went to sectionals. “Now they both got their sectional cuts, so here we go. I felt like I had to draw the line somewhere. The kids need to know it’s not the suit—it’s the hard work and consistently showing up for practice that makes them fast. The suit is a bonus.

“It used to be a much more friendly environment for the kids,” she said about meets. “Now there’s officials and yellow tape blocking parent’s access. I think it’s necessary because I don’t think parents used to hover so much. But, I feel it’s not as user-friendly for the kids.”

She remembered the time she was late for an event and how it was handled so differently than at meets today. “I went to a B meet in Mont Clair because I had to get times for an A meet. I literally walked through the gates and I’d never seen a 50-meter pool before in my life and they called my name. I was in my sweats and I took my clothes off behind the blocks and they waited for me. I got on the blocks and swam. I didn’t even know how many laps were in a 200 free in a long course pool. I ended up being way ahead of everybody. I thought I’d look up and I knew if the timers were standing up with their stop watches, it would be the end of my race. That was my first experience of being late. I ended up breaking the world record in the 200 free, the event I almost missed, literally three years later.”

In contrast to her experience, her son missed an event at the second meet of his life. She said he was already nervous about having to swim in the afternoon session with the older kids. “He was new to swimming, but he’s is tall and looks older, and he was in a fast heat so the official probably assumed he’d been swimming a while.” She said her son felt awful and was embarrassed.

“I don’t remember the parents being so wrapped around their kids,” Sippy said. “I honestly don’t remember seeing my parents at a meet. I know they were there, but I don’t think I ever communicated with them. It was more like a playdate. I don’t see that anymore. I see a lot more hovering and parents carrying towels, getting kids their heats and lanes. It didn’t use to be that way.”

Sippy said their team traveled to meets in Palm Springs, East LA, Mission Viejo and Long Beach. She said that Southern California Swimming had one Junior Olympics, not three like we have today. “We didn’t have all the meets or the swimmers.” The big teams and coaches she remembers were Dick Jochums in Long Beach,  Jon Urbanchek in Anaheim, Jim Montrella at Lakewood and El Monte Aquatics where Jill Sterkel swam with Don LaMont “Dick Jochums had a bunch of guys swimming for him like Tim Shaw. He had a great group of guys down there.”

The swimmers all knew each other and they knew the officials. “One official would come up to me after I swam and say ‘Sippy, you’re getting a little close on that back to breast turn.’ He’d give me a warning like ‘I’m getting ready to call you on it just so you know.’ It was so helpful, I’d practice it so it wasn’t questionable.”

She said the starters used guns that shot blanks. Also, they had a person hand out cards with their heats and lanes. “You’d pick up your card and hand it to the timer behind the blocks. It was like a feeding frenzy when the person came out with the cards. Maybe that’s why parents weren’t involved, kids were doing everything.”

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Sippy’s first world record at the World Championships in Berlin at age 14 in 1978.

What Advice Do You Have for Swim Parents?

“I treat my kids the way I was treated. Swimming was my thing and I want this to be their thing. I don’t want them to think I’m taking credit. I don’t want to hover and I don’t want them to think that their swimming is because of me or something I did.

“I give them their food bags and put $20 in them. I leave them with the team. I check on their water bottles and refill them because I want to make sure they’re drinking, but they don’t notice that I was even there. If I run into them on the deck I’ll say something like, ‘good job.’ But I don’t hunt them down, I want them to be free. The most fun I had at meets was hanging out with my friends. You felt like your parents weren’t there. It was fun to be at meets, it wasn’t stressful. I want them to have that same experience.

“When they were younger and practices were an hour, I would wait and watch practice. I was happy to sit by the pool and listen to the water. I love the sound of kids swimming, the splashing.”

Sippy offers advice to newer swim parents: “Leave your kids alone. Let swimming be their thing as much as possible. You’re there to provide equipment and food and get out of the way. Swimmers put so much pressure on themselves. It’s so much easier to be a parent than the swimmer. I don’t mind going to these meets, there’s no pressure on me. I go sit in my Tommy Bahama chair all day.”

One of the things Sippy enjoys about swim meets is seeing the kids of other swimmers, who are her friends. “I was timing and saw Janet Evans across the pool watching her daughter, who was in my lane. Her daughter got out so upset with her swim and I stood up and gave her a hug and told her it was going to be okay, that she’d get that girl the next time.” Sippy said there are kids running around on the deck with famous swim parents, but because their last names are different, they’re under the radar of most people. She thinks it’s better for them to be unknown and have less pressure.

Sippy Woodhead held many records including age group records in Southern California. Her following records are still on the books:

11-12 girls:

200 yard free   1:52.01   1977
500 yard free   4:49.51   1977
400 meter free 4:22.86   1976

13-14 girls:

200 yard free  1:46.40   1978
500 yard free  4:39.94   1978
200 meter free 1:58.53  1978 NAG Record
400 meter free 4:07.15  1978 NAG Record
800 meter free 8:29.35  1978

15-16 girls:

200 yard free  1:44.10 1979
200 meter free 1:58.23 1979

 

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

Phil Scott, The Father of Circle Swimming

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE EARLY YEARS

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

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

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Phil Scott in his Army uniform

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

THE WORKOUTS AND TEAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SCAQ Masters at Loyola Marymount University

The Early Days

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

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

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

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LMU Women’s Swimming Head Coach Bonnie Adair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Speedo ad from Junior Swimmer and Swimming World, October 1962

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

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

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

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

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Bonnie Adair and Clay Evans, founders of SCAQ Masters.

From Bonnie Adair’s bio on the LMU website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adair currently resides in West Los Angeles.”

Chuck Riggs: Coaching Career Comes Full Circle

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

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

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

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

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

Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a list of Sippy Woodhead Accomplishments:

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

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

Redlands Swim Team

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

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

Swimmers who stand out during his coaching career:

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

Vicky West, Northwestern.

Heather Kemp, Auburn

Ben Morby, Alabama

Temple Cowden, Cal State Fresno

Erin Carlstrom, Yale

Brooke & Jamie Vessey, San Diego State University

Evan Castro, Utah

Alicia Wheelock, ASU

Steve Messner, Cal

Shannon Cullen, USC

Keith Davis, U of Redlands

Grant Culton & Kim Hills, UC Davis

Cole Heggi, Yale

Karl Krug, Auburn

Joey Hale

swimming-pic2_

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.”

Jim Montrella — A Southern California Swimming Legend and Innovator

montrellajim01-resizedIf 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

“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

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

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