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September 2005

 

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AASC thanks these sponsors of 50 Years of Memories: 1956-2006

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50 Years in Review

AASC Retrospective: Part One

By Linda Hass

When the late RoseMary Dawson started a competitive swim club for teenage girls in Ann Arbor, she had no idea that the fruit of her labor would span decades, produce Olympic athletes and blaze a trail for women. But it did.

Dawson died in 2003 at the age of 81, but her legacy lives on. The Ann Arbor Swim Club will celebrate its 50th anniversary during the 2005-2006 swim season. In fact, it is the oldest of the 84 Michigan clubs registered with USA Swimming, according to Jennifer Parks, former president of USA/Michigan Swimming.

This milestone has prompted many AASC members to reflect on their club’s founder, and on the twists and turns that have transformed the fledgling club into a swimming powerhouse.

I N   T H I S   I S S U E

AASC’s Roots

1956-63

1963-64

1965-71

1972-89

1990-97

1997-2000

2000-05

Current Profile



"Today’s club is very different from the one RoseMary started. It is no longer just for girls, and members range from 7-20 years. But one thing remains the same: an enduring commitment to excellence," said Liz Graziano, club president.

"For 50 years our club has provided opportunities for athletes to hone their skills, to develop a sense of accomplishment and to practice good sportsmanship. This not only makes a positive impact on young peoples’ lives--it benefits the larger community as well," Graziano added.

AASC’s Roots

AASC traces its roots to a Canadian sports and wilderness camp called Ak-O-Mak, located about four hours north of Toronto. The camp, founded by legendary U of M swim coach Matt Mann II in 1928, was renowned for its swimming program and for attracting athletes from around the world. Every summer Mann and his family would travel from Ann Arbor to the rustic camp in Ontario. Mann’s daughter, RoseMary, flourished there, swimming her first mile at the age of 7. (1)

Ultimately, RoseMary’s love affair with the water blossomed into a knack for coaching competitive swimming. The camp provided the training ground in which she honed her skills. As RoseMary matured, she developed into a top-notch coach whose expertise inspired many Ann Arbor prodigies to ask if she would start a fall/winter swim club in their hometown. They wanted to continue perfecting their sport and sought lessons closer to home.


Encouraged by popular demand, RoseMary and her husband Buck Dawson applied for the club’s membership in the Michigan Association-Amateur Athletic Union. The AAU was the predecessor of USA Swimming, said Don Rich, a former Michigan Swimming registration contractor who found the AASC application in the archives. The application was dated 1955, but it took several months for it to be accepted and for the Dawsons to secure pool time at Michigan Union Pool, among preparations, said Buck Dawson. With the first practice in 1956, the Ann Arbor Swim Club was born.

1956-63

Records indicating a specific month for the first practice are not available, but people familiar with the club’s history peg that practice sometime in the fall. The first team attracted about 60 girls from nearby schools, including Tappan Junior High School and Ann Arbor High School. "Girls paid 50 cents per lesson in the club’s early days," said Buck Dawson, who served as team manager. Membership eventually swelled to about 200 members, he added. The majority of swimmers were middle- and high school-age, but a few were younger, recalled Marilyn Corson Whitney, RoseMary’s daughter. Older swimmers taught strokes to younger ones, recalled Marilyn Corson Whitney, referring to early practices. "I remember at the age of 10 teaching younger swimmers to do flip turns," said Corson Whitney.


In the late 1950s and early 1960s, club swimming was the only option available for girls who wanted to compete, members recalled. "High schools and colleges only offered sports for men in those days," said former member Marty Sinn Catalano, Bloomfield. That period was a "tough time" for women, she added. "I considered my AASC training cutting edge at that time." (2)


Divers faced a similar dilemma. "There weren’t many training opportunities for women who wanted to dive, either on the club level, or the college level," said Dick Kimball, who coached diving at the University of Michigan for 43 years before his retirement.

"Knowing the history of our club — who started it and why — will help us appreciate what we have. We’ll know what it took to get here."

Sabrina Letwin, 13, AASC Member

At the invitation of Buck Dawson, Kimball became the AASC head diving coach in 1961. Several of his university divers served as assistants throughout the years. Kimball’s expertise propelled the fledgling club into the state and national spotlight. AASC divers won four Michigan AAU championships. (3)

RoseMary Mann Dawson RoseMary Mann Dawson

In the meantime, RoseMary focused on the swimming side of the Ann Arbor Swim Club. Her efforts paid off when the young club went on to win six consecutive State of Michigan Championships. It placed second in the AAU National Championship in 1961.



Her team also placed first or second in nine National Long Distance Championships.


In the early years, the club did not offer year-round practice. To fill the void in the summer and to keep athletes in the water, RoseMary coached water polo for women under the AASC banner, and she coordinated tournaments. Her efforts ended up reviving women’s AAU Water Polo, which had been dormant in the U.S. for 30 years. RoseMary’s two goalies later went on to win Olympic medals: Marcia Smoke Jones (1964 bronze, kayaking) and Micki King (1972 gold, diving).

1963-64

The year 1963 was pivotal for the Ann Arbor Swim Club. Not only did the University of Michigan announce that Union Pool would soon close, but the University of Western Ontario (London, Canada) offered RoseMary the position of head swim coach. It was an offer she could not refuse.

Before her departure, she asked Frank Legacki, captain of the U of M swim team, to take the club’s helm. He accepted, serving as head coach from 1963 to 1964. Practices continued in Union Pool until spring of 1964, Legacki said. Former swimmers recall using the pools at Forsythe and Tappan Middle Schools after that.

By current standards, the Michigan Union Pool (which no longer exists) was less than desirable. "Compared to Canham Natatorium, with its good ventilation and ample seating, the Michigan Union pool seemed small and overheated, and the air was always stuffy. But that was typical of most pools back then," said Leah Wanzeck, Ann Arbor, who served as club president in the mid-1960s. Her two daughters swam with the club during that time.

Water polo training was apparently discontinued around this time, since former swimmers do not remember it being offered throughout the rest of the 1960s. In the wake of RoseMary’s absence, the team seemed to grapple with its sense of identity, choosing a curious mascot: the elk. Legacki said he does not know the reasons for this choice, but he suspects that the team was sponsored by a fraternal organization. (4)

The Ann Arbor Swim Club experienced several bright moments during Legacki’s tenure, including a trip to Ft. Lauderdale for a 3-week training camp. The girls swam up to three miles per day, according to a 1964 newspaper article.

The weather was particularly hot and humid during the Florida trip; so much so, that coach Frank Legacki recalls being amazed that the girls wore long-sleeved blouses when he took them out to dinner. "I asked them why they chose long versus short sleeves, and they told me that when they cut steak, short sleeves showed their muscles. They were quite conscious about it and preferred to cover up," said Legacki, of Ann Arbor. Legacki left the club in 1964 after his graduation from the University of Michigan. Various U of M swimmers coached the club after his departure.

During the early 1960s, the club’s competition schedule took on an international flare, with meets regularly scheduled against teams from London and Toronto, Canada. A typical meet schedule also included such familiar names as the Livonia Bulldog Swim Club (now the Bulldog Aquatic Club) and some names that have faded into history, such as the Water Wonderland Invitational at Brennan Pools, River Rouge. Events unusual by today’s standards include the 250-yard freestyle, 40-yard sprints and 160-yard relays.


1965-71

The AASC Board of Directors was first formed in the 1965-66 season, said former members. Around this time, the team gave strong performances at various meets around the state. (5) Since newspaper articles no longer referred to the term "Elks" after 1967, the mascot was apparently dropped.

Although former members recall male swimmers in 1964, the earliest record available appeared in the March 5, 1969 issue of "The Michigan AAU Bulletin," a state-wide magazine published by the Amateur Athletic Union. The Bulletin presented a dramatic, front-page photo of a swimmer soaring in mid-air during a dive. The photo cutline read:

"Pete Daley, a 14-year-old Ann Arbor freestyle star, takes off in the Ann Arbor Swim Club meet. He set a state record of 2:08.76 for the 13-14 year old boys’ 200 individual medley. He also took a first in the men’s open 500 freestyle in 5:13.66 and a second in the 13-14 100-yard freestyle in 52:11."

The times are slower than today’s records, but they reflect different training standards. "By today’s standards, a 2:08 in the 200 IM does not seem record-breaking," said Sheila Jeffrey, who swam with our club from 1964-69. "But back then, even athletes in the fastest group of our club did not swim more than 4,000

to 5,000 yards per day--and there were no doubles."

Evelyn Griffith, whose late husband John Griffith served as club president and meet entry chair around 1970, agreed that the club of the 1960s and 70s did not train as hard as today. "I don’t remember the team doing as much dryland exercises as it does now. Today’s athletes seem to work a lot harder," added Griffith, whose two sons swam with the team during that time.

"Informing members about the club’s first 50 years lays the groundwork for future historians.

Whoever documents the 75th birthday will have a foundation to build on."

Janie Johnson-Hairston, AASC Parent

In 1969, Connie Corson, RoseMary’s daughter, became head coach, said Jeffrey, who served as Corson’s assistant. Glenn Cole, who swam with AASC during Corson’s tenure, recalls that Corson was direct and tough, but she also could be very rewarding. Maggie Stevens, who swam with AASC from 1964-71 and set several records, welcomed the stability that Corson brought to the club. "Connie was the first coach who stayed for more than a year during the time I was with the club. University students provided good coaching, but no consistency from year to year," she said. Maggie Stevens flourished under Corson’s tutelage: she was an Olympic trials finalist in the 100 fly in 1972, and she was named swimmer of the year by Michigan AAU Swimming that same year, among many honors.

Liz Hill, who swam with AASC, recalls that Corson had a tremendous amount of energy. "She was a very active coach during practice and would jump up and down and get excited if people were swimming fast. She wasn’t afraid to yell at you if you were not working hard," said Hill, who achieved several national times and now coaches with her husband, Dennis Hill, head swim coach at Pioneer High School.

Around 1969, Huron High School’s pool was added as a practice venue. The pool, which was state-of-the-art at that time, was a "welcome addition," recalled Jeffrey.


1972-89

When Corson departed in 1972, AASC hired Johanna Cooke-High to serve as head coach. The club also benefited from several assistant coaches, including Dennis Hill, who coached in the summers through the City Recreation Department. Hill recalls taking teams to Junior National Championships.

By this time swimmers were using pools at Scarlett and Tappan Middle Schools, Huron High School, and Fuller during the summer, said Jenny Johansen, who was president of the board in the mid 1970s. Johansen had three daughters and one son who swam with the club during this time. Johansen, of Ann Arbor, said much about AASC has changed over the years, including the yardage swum by athletes and the practice venues. Much also has remained the same, including the self-discipline and commitment that the sport demands of its athletes. Jenny Johansen marvels at how the sport of swimming cultivates a sense of self-reliance and organization, she said. "When my kids were swimming, the rule was you had to get homework done before you could go to practice. Based on what I see among AASC swimmers today, that has not changed," said Johansen.

Dick Kimball continued to serve as AASC head diving coach until the mid 1970s, when many sports, including diving, split from under the umbrella of AAU to form their own governing bodies. AASC mirrored this national movement, with the diving and swimming groups parting ways. (6)

By the 1980s, older athletes in the fastest group were swimming about 10,000 yards per day, recalled Francine Hume, who served as board president from the late 1970s to early 1980s. Jim and Francine Hume, of Ann Arbor, had two sons who swam with the club at that time. One unfortunate milestone during Francine Hume’s tenure was our country’s boycott of the 1980 Olympics. Several AASC athletes qualified for that international championship, said Hume. "They had worked so hard toward that goal, and many showed great promise, but that was the year our country boycotted the Olympics. It was hard to explain to them," Hume added.

Their consolation was the satisfaction of knowing they had developed their talents to a level of perfection rarely achieved by athletes.

Olympic Rings
Our country’s boycott of the 1980 Olympics dissapointed several Olympic qualifiers from Ann Arbor Swim Club



The Ann Arbor Swim Club officially incorporated as a domestic non-profit corporation in 1980. Another milestone about this time was the club’s affiliation with USA Swimming, the national governing body of amateur swimming. Today, USA Swimming, not AAU, sanctions thousands of meets nationally.

When Cooke-High departed in the mid-1980’s, the club hired Dave Johnson to serve as head coach. Former members recall that he had a passion for building a team that was competitive on the national level. Johnson was followed by Allison Lloyd, who was a swim coach at Huron High School for many years.

1990-97

In 1990, the board hired Richard Suhs as head coach. Casey Nicholson, who swam with the club from 1989-97, remembered Suhs as a coach who emphasized strength training, who gave equal attention to all swimmers, and who was dedicated to honing the team’s competitive edge. "He worked us hard, but several swimmers got to Junior Nationals and the Olympic trials under his leadership," said Nicholson, who holds a state record.

Stand-out swimmers in the 1980s and 1990s include Annette Salmeen, who won an Olympic gold medal as a member of the U.S. 800-meter freestyle relay in 1996; and Adam Messner, who earned a gold medal as a part of the U.S. 800 meter relay team at the 1999 Pan American Games. Others include Matthew McVittie and Mark Loveland, both of whom hold several state records. (Look for profiles of these individuals in future issues of 50 Split.)

The fast times of these swimmers still rank among the fastest ever by an Ann Arbor Swim Club member. Their records, and those of their peers, can be viewed from the Top Times section of the
club’s website.

"When we researched the historical hardcopy swim results to load these decades-old swims into the club’s database to generate the Club Top Times files, it was very impressive that these swimmers moved right to the top of the list. Their fast races have held up amazingly well over the years and continue to motivate our current swimmers," said Heather Keeler, who headed the AASC website committee at the time of this writing.

In the early 1990s, AASC merged with the Ann Arbor Y, opening another round of championships for all members. "The Y meets were seen as beneficial for two reasons: they provided younger members with a venue for dual meets and they provided a national meet with time standards that many swimmers could attain," said Jeffrey, who served on the board of directors at that time.

Also in the 1990s, a portion of AASC practices were moved to Canham Natatorium at the University of Michigan. (7) At some point in the mid-1990s, AASC chose another interesting mascot: the aardvark. Although this choice provided catchy alliteration for the club, the aardvark fared little better than the elk, and the term lumbered into extinction after several years.

1997-2000

Several milestones occurred in 1997: Suhs departed to accept another coaching position, the board hired Stephanie Kerska as his replacement, and AASC switched its affiliation to the Plymouth Y. In 1998, Kerska left to accept a position as assistant women’s swim coach for the University of Michigan and the board hired Shawn Kornoelje. In addition to his duties as head coach, Kornoelje helped to promote adaptive swimming for athletes with disabilities.

Among those who benefited was Jason Wening, a congenital bilateral below the knee amputee. He practiced with AASC from 1997-2000. At the time of this writing, Wening holds world records in the 800- and 1500-meter freestyles and the 400-meter individual medley, and has earned a reputation as one of the world’s dominant disabled swimmers. He also won one bronze and five gold medals in three Paralympic Games.

"I seriously doubt I would have swum that well without the Ann Arbor Swim Club. It provided me with three of the best years of training I ever had. The sense of community was very motivating," said Wening, who currently works as a research prosthetist for Scheck & Siress, Chicago.

2000-05

Kornoelje left in 2000 to accept coaching positions elsewhere. He also served as head coach for the U.S. Swim Team at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia, and as assistant swim coach at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.

Dan Ohm replaced Kornoelje as AASC head coach in 2000. Ohm, who started as an assistant for the club’s senior development group in 1996, also works as head of the aquatics program at Ypsilanti’s Estabrook Elementary, where he teaches swimming.

In December 2001, AASC responded to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 by donating over $5,000 to the Twin Towers Orphans Fund. (8) "Our club is not only interested in turning out top-level athletes, but in developing responsible and community-conscious young men and women," said Terry Johnson, Ann Arbor, one of many people who helped coordinate local donations for the Twin Towers Orphans Fund. Club members also have participated in Toys for Tots, which generates toys for needy children at Christmas, added Johnson, whose son and daughter have swum for the club for many years.

In 2003, RoseMary Dawson died in Ft. Lauderdale following a 40-year battle with diabetes. A memorial service was held at Camp Ak-O-Mak and an oceanside service was held in Ft. Lauderdale.

In March 2004, AASC swimmers earned some very impressive victories at the YMCA National Championships in Ft. Lauderdale. The combined team took second place overall and the girls team won first place. "It was a very proud moment for me," said Buck Dawson, who watched his former team dominate the meet.

About this time, USA Swimming expanded its menu of offerings, providing new championships for swimmers at various levels, said Alexandra "Z" Platusch, lead age group coach. For this and other reasons, the board decided that our club would return to its roots as a strictly USA-affiliated swim club.

"I’ve been swimming for the Ann Arbor Swim Club for quite awhile; it would be nice to know how it all started."
John Gorine,
13, AASC Member

In March 2005, AASC relays set seven Michigan records at the Junior National Short Course Championship in Orlando. "After being successful on the YMCA National level the past few years, I thought the team was ready for this new challenge," said Ohm. Indeed it was. The women captured first place overall and the men took eighth place, giving the club a combined ranking of second place overall.

AASC swimmers responded well in a very grueling schedule of events against one of the fastest 18 and under Junior National championships in the last 20 years, said Dan Ohm. "Every swimmer who made the trip to Orlando was on at least one scoring relay. To finish second overall against teams of 800-900 members is a testament to all the hard work our swimmers put in through the year," said Ohm, who took 16 swimmers to the meet. Meet officials agreed with Ohm’s assessment of the team’s performance. They gave him with the "Coach of the Year" Award in a ceremony the last night of the meet.

During the 2004-05 season, the national achievements of our swimmers earned AASC a Silver Medal in the USA Swimming National Club Excellence Program.

Silver Medal Club




Sadly, on May 3, 2005, Don Canham, the Natatorium’s namesake and former University of Michigan athletic director, died. (9)

Current Profile

At the time of this writing, the AASC Board of Directors is composed of 10 members, headed by the president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. The board makes policy decisions, sets fees and determines practice timetables and venues, among responsibilities.

The club’s mission statement sums its purpose: "Our mission is to prepare motivated young athletes to maximize their potential as competitive swimmers, as part of a team supported by outstanding coaches and involved parents."

Although membership fluctuates, depending on the high school sport season and other factors, AASC currently has about 200 swimmers, ranging from 6-18 years, and it offers five practice groups. The swim development group, for youngsters who are at least 5, and the intermediate group, for those 7-10 years, practice at Clauge Middle School. The junior group, for those 8-11 years, practices at Tappan Middle School. The senior development group, for those 10-14 years, and the senior national group, for those who are 14 years and older, practice at Canham Natatorium.


Ohm and Josh Morgan, the head age group coach, work with six assistant coaches whose experience ranges from USA national champions to Olympic bronze medalist Chris Thompson, a graduate student at the University of Michigan.

"The University of Michigan is one of many factors that has a positive ripple effect on our club," said Morgan, noting that many athletes from the U of M swim team and Club Wolverine have served as AASC assistant coaches through the years.

The City of Ann Arbor also deserves credit for contributing to AASC’s longevity, said club members. Voters have passed bond issues that build and improve pools, and school booster clubs routinely raise funds for athletic facilities and equipment, all of which has provided a supportive environment for the sport of swimming. The ripple effect has enabled the city to enjoy the reputation of being a strong swim town.

Knowing this proud tradition and the club’s history sets an important precedent, said Ohm. It also provides incentive for future accomplishments. "When swimmers realize that others before them have succeeded on a high level, it raises the bar for everyone," he said.End of Feature Article

Editor’s Note: This article presents a historical record of the Ann Arbor Swim Club. It may seem long by feature standards, but condensing 50 years is no small task! In many cases, personal recollections were used to fill gaps caused by the absence of documentation. Please keep in mind that personal recollections are subjective by nature, and may or may not be accurate. Attempts were made to locate all who are mentioned in the article and include their comments, but this was not possible in all cases. Record-breaking swims mentioned in the article are not intended to be inclusive; only to provide a brief sampling. Future issues of 50 Split will focus on current records.


Endnotes

(1) Camp Ak-O-Mak offered a well-rounded curriculum that included a variety of sports, taught and coached by famous athletes and trainers, said Buck Dawson, RoseMary’s husband. "Matt used his persuasive magic to get great teachers to come to his camp for a working vacation," said Dawson.

(2) Marty Sinn Catalano was featured in the March 6, 1964, issue of Life magazine for her marathon swimming victories. She also was recently inducted into the Ann Arbor Pioneer High School Hall of Fame.

(3) Two of Kimball’s divers, Micki King and Lani Loken, were the first women to do a complete men’s list off the women’s tower in 1967. That milestone helped "set the pace" for women’s diving, said Kimball. "A few years later, everyone was doing the same thing," he said.

(4) Three Elks lodges are listed in the Ann Arbor phone book, although calls to these organizations did not yield any information on a connection. Regardless, the term "Ann Arbor Elks" was used frequently in the news. One 1963 article in the Ann Arbor News highlighted the results of a dual meet with the London Aquatic Club coached by none other than RoseMary Dawson. The article credited RoseMary with having "coached the Elks team until moving to London."

(5) This revitalization was reflected in several newspaper articles, including a 1967 sports brief that stated: "The Ann Arbor Elks Swim Club showed some of the spark that has characterized the team in the past with a powerful showing at the Buick Age Group and Open Meet." Among winners in that event: diver and future Olympics gold medalist, Micki King.

(6) AASC remains one of the few clubs in the nation to have had a diving coach of Dick Kimball’s caliber, said former club members. Kimball went on to serve as coach for several Olympic teams and to earn many honors and awards for his coaching acumen.

(7) Moving a portion of the practices to Canham not only made a world-class facility available to our swimmers, it benefited the university because invitationals sponsored by our club provided national exposure and earned revenue for the host site, said former board members.

(8) The Twin Towers Orphans Fund was established to benefit the educational, mental and physical needs of children orphaned by this sad event in our nation’s history. The money was raised through the donations of U.S. swim officials, individuals, businesses and a raffle held at the club’s annual Holiday Invitational swim meet that year.

(9) Don Canham, hired as U of M’s fifth athletics director in 1968 and inducted into the Michigan Athletics Hall of Honor in 1987, retired in 1988. His successes include hiring Jon Urbancheck, former head coach for the U of M men’s swim team, and spearheading construction of the AASC home pool. "Don understood Olympic competition. He promised us a pool, and he delivered," recalled Kimball.

 

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September 30 is the deadline for ordering the club anniversary book, 50 Years of Memories: 1956-2006, or to personalize a message for your swimmer.

Entries for the book’s Cover Art Contest were due August 29 at in-person registration. Check next month’s issue for contest results.

50 Split: Celebrating the first 50 years of Ann Arbor Swim Club
Life-saving yellow barrels? Strength-building buckyballs? Check out these (and more) "
nifty 50" NSF-funded inventions, innovations and discoveries.

Dan Stephenson 
Next Issue: A profile of legendary coach and club founder RoseMary Dawson, part two of a three-part "AASC Retrospective"



 

 

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