50 Years in Review
AASC Retrospective: Part One
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
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 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.
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
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.
history of our club — who started it and why — will
help us appreciate what we have. We’ll know what it took to get
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
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
Her team also placed first or second in nine National Long
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).
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
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
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.
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."
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
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
Whoever documents the 75th
birthday will have a foundation to build on."
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.
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,"
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
Our country’s boycott of the 1980
Olympics dissapointed several Olympic qualifiers from Ann Arbor
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Sadly, on May 3, 2005, Don Canham,
the Natatorium’s namesake and former University of Michigan
athletic director, died. (9)
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
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.
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
(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
(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
(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
(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,"