Pearl Miller, an early coach for the Piranha Swim Team, had a major impact on the community and her athletes. She grew the team from a small rec team of 25 in Palm Springs to league champions and her swimmers became competitive throughout Southern California. The team which began in 1967 flourished to more than 135 athletes under Pearl’s leadership from 1969 to 1974.
I learned from several “original” Piranha swimmers that they remember her fondly. They said she was an excellent stroke coach and brought out the best in her young athletes. She held a contest to name the team and because of her, it’s now the Piranha Swim Team. One swimmer, Bill Corrigan, whose team records still stand from 1979 to 1981, swam with her in 1969 when he joined the team. He said he took private lessons and swam with her as a young child through Masters until the early 1990s. Another swimmer, Jane Taylor Wang, remembers being coached by her as a young Piranha and swam laps with her as an adult.
The Piranha Swim Team, first known as the Palm Springs Swim Club, got its start two years before Pearl became head coach. Two lifeguards who worked for the city’s leisure services started the team at the pool which was located at Palm Springs High School. According to Taylor Wang, who was with the team from its inception, Phil Poist and Doug McKell charged swimmers a quarter to swim with the team after hours. During the first two years, the team had five different coaches beginning with George Wenzel.
Many swimmers throughout the area were taking private lessons from Pearl in their backyard pools. She previously coached in Seattle and for a local Coachella Valley team called the Corvinas. She was approached to take over as head coach by Palm Springs Leisure Services and a volunteer group of parents who ran the team. According to Taylor Wang, she was the first real head coach of the Piranhas. Taylor Wang also said it was a very small town and everybody knew each other. Everybody who was anybody was on the team, from the head of Chamber of Commerce to business executives, business owners and her own father, the local director of the FBI. The parent volunteers gave a lot of support to Pearl and helped the team with fundraising for a new pool and equipment, which is the home base for Piranhas today.
From Pearl Miller’s Obituary in the Seattle Times, 1993:
“The woman affectionately known as “coach” gave many infants and children swimming lessons. She taught Franklin D. Roosevelt’s grandson, Delano; Bing Crosby’s kids and Rod Taylor’s daughter, among others.”
Taylor Wang said Pearl called her swimmers “Dum Dums” and followed up by rewarding swimmers with lollipops by the same name. The accomplishments of the swimmers grew because the swimmers worked hard for Pearl.
From a Desert Sun article from the early 1970s, the term “Pride of Palm Springs” was used to describe her athletes:
The Southern California Metropolitan Athletic Federation finals in Bell Gardens were next. The SCMAF finals attract the best swimmers from each southern California city’s recreational team. All swimmers must qualify in regional meets prior to the finals. Twenty three Piranhas had qualified at Corona on August 8. Coach Pearl Millers’ swimmers were swimming against 800 top swimmers with up to four heats in some events.
The results make this outstanding group of young athletes the “pride of Palm Springs.”
Pearl loved swimming and flew each year to Hawaii to compete in a Senior Olympic meet for US Masters Swimming. An accomplished swimmer who began swimming competitively for Masters at age 72, Pearl had numerous top swims in her age groups until she was 92. As a result of her success, Pearl was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Below are some of her accomplishments from the USMS database:
Following are articles and photos from Pearl’s legacy in Palm Springs:
May 8, 1972 The Desert Sun
Piranhas: Number One And Working To Stay There
By JULIE BALMER Staff Writer
The Palm Springs Piranha Swim Team is working toward an enviable goal to remain in its place as Number One. The swim team, which has grown from a small team of 25 swimmers in 1968 to a membership of 135 is now practicing, five times a week in preparation for July 29. That’s when the Piranhas will defend their title of 1970-71 Valley Swim League Champion, competing against teams from Beaumont, Colton, Fontana, Bloomington, Yucaipa. San Jacinto-Hemet, and Grand Terrace. In addition, the team wants to make a good showing in dual swim meets which will be held each week beginning June 17. The group has decided this year to hold an International Swimming Hall of Fame Swim-A-Thon on June 10 in order to raise money for the transportation fund, it is hoped that the Piranhas will be able to rent buses for transportation to out-of-town meets. Part of the money raised will go to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla, and to pay for sending American Swimmers abroad for international competition. Seventy per cent of the money raised will go to local programs. The team is sponsored by the Palm Springs Department of Leisure Services and supported by contributions from the Independent Poolmen’s Association, club dues and contributions from interested community citizens. Members, who range in age from six through 17, practice from 4 to 7 p.m. five days a week.
From September to April, they meet three times a week to practice and after that meet more often in an all-out effort to be ready for the summer swim meets. There are plenty of swimmers in the eight-and-under age groups to compete for team victories, but the Piranhas now need more swimmers in the 13-14-year-old category. In addition, the team would like to have black and Mexican swimmers, since the group is designed for all youths. The team swims all year, except in August, when it takes a one month break. Newcomers must be able to swim across the pool, but do not have to have strokes perfected because there are stroke coaches. Participants compete in the breast stroke, relays, butterfly stroke, free style, individual medleys and long-distance racing. The club coaches do not teach diving.
The team hopes that newcomers will join immediately because they will need as much time as possible to be taught strokes and to practice for the summer meets. About 50 more students are expected to join before the summer. Prior to the League Championship, the Palm Springs Piranhas will play every team in the league during dual meets. The swim team is coached by Pearl Miller, known for her leadership in competitive swimming and herself the 1970 and 1971 senior Olympics winner for persons 73 years and older. Mrs. Miller, well known for having developed swimmers throughout Southern California and the Northwest, came to the desert to retire from teaching and coaching. But once here, she became more active than ever. Along with Dick Whitmore, director of Coachella Valley recreation, she organized the Corvina Swim Club, producing many champions, some on the national level. When approached by the Palm Springs Club Council to help with this program, she agreed to help in stroke only. However, in time she consented to handle all the duties of coach, winning the League championship last year. Assistant coach is Tony Guimaraes. The group is guided by an adult advisory council which meets once a month to coordinate team activities. Council members are Ray Hutchison, president; Neil Williams, vice president: Marge Corrigan secretary; Emilie Warren, treasurer; Sally Givens, transportation; Gay Rosenberg, publicity; Tianna Sanders and Dr. A Milauskas, ways and means; Ken Gianotti, Leisure Services Department representative; and Dean Lively. The advisory council performs a number of tasks, including: Conducting surveys to determine community aquatic interests and needs. Arranging transportation for youth participating in swimmeets away from the community pool. Promoting publicity for community aquatic activities. Recruiting additional volunteers from within the community.Administering the Swim Club Trust Fund. Establishing a yearly financial plan related to the competitive swim program and special aquatic events. Planning fund-raising activities and events for community pool construction, swim scholarships and club supplies. Conducting in service training sessions for new members on how to effectively officiate at the swim meets. Officiating at the team swim meets. Developing and publishing a monthly newsletter. Planning and organizing a yearly awards banquet.
Swimmers are Kevin Ambler, leannie Brown, Yvette Batista, Clifford Bentsen, Nancy Bentsen, Mark Bescos, Bill Bobb, Steve Bramble, Matt Bramble, Bill Corringan Tom
On your mark, get set . . . they’re off and swimming in one of the practice sessions held by the Piranha Swim team at the high school pool. Students are planning dual meets with other league teams, a Swtm-A-Thon and the league championship. The hard work paid off last year, because the local swimmers won the league championship title.
(Close, Jim Coulton, Stacy Dajuiels, Lori DeCoito, Alan DesIrnond, Andrea Durazo. Robyn Eastman, Brent Eastman, Lisa Eckstrom, Drew Fitzmorris, Wendy Friedman, Tim Givens, Kelly Golding, Walter Golding, Jackie Gill, Terrie Heathman, Lars Holm, i Kathy Hutchison, Bill Hutchison, Colleen Kellogg, Curtis Kellogg, Julie Krauss, Julio Lively, Bobbie Lively, Brett Mattison, Doug Magill, Carleen Mandolfo, Tony Mandolfo, John Mayer, Kevin Milauskas, Michael Milauskas, Scott Miller, Perry Martineau, Caley Rhodes, Jeff Riddick, Scott Riddick, Denise Rosenberg, David Reichle. Kim Sanders, Jim Schilling, Heidi Schilling, Tina Schilling,
Vincent Schradie, Carl; Schroeder, Joe Schroeder. Taryn Smith. Brad Spivack. Ginny Staab, Scott Staab, Jane Taylor, Cathloen Thompson, Karen Tima. Joanne Valarino, Gail Warren, Grant Warren. Mike Wlefels, Laura Wills, Lisa Wilson, Nina Williams, Debby Williams.
Gregg Mandinach, Mark Pellon, John Sparato, Steve Wilson, George Gowland, Steve Fitzmorris and Randy Givens. Others are Doug Benson, Nori Snyder, Ann Fragen, Alan Fragen and Andy Fragen, Mark Pelton, Gary Gattuso. Joyce Miller, Danny Stuard and Kurt DeCrinis.
Obituary from the Seattle Times, 1993
Pearl Miller, Longtime Seattle Resident, Set World Backstroke Record At Age 90
By Daryl Strickland
There were few things Pearl Miller enjoyed more than swimming and teaching others how to swim – even at the age of 90.
The longtime Seattle resident, who began swimming competitively at the age of 72 and holds the world’s record for backstroke for women in her age group, died Wednesday in Palm Desert, Calif., from osteoporosis and bone cancer. She was 95.
“She had a wonderful sense of humor,” said Linda Barnett, Mrs. Miller’s granddaughter. “Whenever people would ask why, at her age, she kept on swimming. she’d say it kept her healthy, wealthy and mentally alert – and besides, who wouldn’t want to jump in the water with young men first thing every morning?”
Mrs. Miller was born in McHenry, Miss., in 1897, and attended college in Spokane. She enjoyed a career as a purchasing agent for The Boeing Co., living in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood and swimming in Lake Washington. Later, she moved to Palm Springs, Calif.
Mrs. Miller was a devout Christian, whose faith in God gave her strength. And while God was her strength, swimming was her life.
“Pearl Miller equated godliness and health with swimming,” said Jack Wartes, her son-in-law, whom she taught to swim. “The sport made her feel alive and young. She was so very bright and alert.
“I’d say she had a determination, a drive to keep moving, keep her blood circulating through her body and mind. Even at 90 she swam 20 laps every day.” Then, she played a game of golf.
Mrs. Miller’s aquatic devotion led her to swim competitively. In 1988, at the age of 90, Mrs. Miller set a world record and three national records in the backstroke in the U.S. Masters Short Course Swim Meet.
Her time for the 50-meter backstroke was 1:42.97 seconds, which broke world and national records for the 90-to-94 age bracket.
She also set national records for the 200-meter backstroke in 7:33:41 and 100-meter backstroke in 3:32. She also won gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle, 3:35:72, and 50-meter freestyle, 1:31:53, which she did while swimming on her back.
As a result, she was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. And she has been profiled in many magazines, including Time, Sports Illustrated and Modern Maturity.
The woman affectionately known as “coach” gave many infants and children swimming lessons. She taught Franklin D. Roosevelt’s grandson, Delano; Bing Crosby’s kids and Rod Taylor’s daughter, among others.
Mrs. Miller lived out every ounce of life she had. “She used to say she intended to die young at an old age,” Barnett said.
Mrs. Miller is survived by her children, Irene Graff of Seattle, Carolyn Taber of Pasco and Joseph Miller of Dana Point, Calif. She also had 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. tomorrow at University Presbyterian Church, 4540 15th Ave. N.E., Seattle.
Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.
Piranha Swim Team Coaches
Phil Poist and Doug McKell 1967
George Wenzel 1967
John Engelman 1968
Jim DiPaola 1968
Jeff Campbell 1968
Jim Dumphy 1969
Pearl Miller 1969 – 1974
Joe Wright 1975 – 1978
John Schauble 1978-79
Ron Buda 1980 – 1981
Joe Wright 1981 -1983
Bill Pullis 1983 – 1988
1988 – 1991 parents rotated as coaches
Tracey McFarlane 1991-92
Rob Mirande 1992 – 1995
Chris Duncan 1996 – 2000
John Cyganiewicz 2000 – 2003
Todd Lybeck 2003
Dwight Hernandez 2003 – 2008
Tim Hill 2008 – 2010
Adam Schmitt 2010 – 2012
Jeff Conwell 2012 – current CEO and Head Coach
Special thanks to Jane Taylor Wang for providing news articles, photos and memories, and to June, John and Bill Corrigan for their information and memories.