February 28, 2019
When The Woodlands opened in 1974, the commercial core was a project originally identified as the CLCC (Commercial Leisure and Conference Center). This project included The Woodlands Conference Center, the Wharf Shopping Center, and The Woodlands Athletic Center (the WAC). In July 1973, Dick Smith (U.S. Olympic Diving Coach 1964 and 1968, International Swimming Hall of Fame Honoree) and Tom Boak (International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame Honoree) met in Scottsdale, Arizona, to develop the program for what would become the WAC. It was from this program that the plans were developed and the facility was built. Originally planned to open in October 1974, when the outdoor pool was measured to be certified, they found that the pool had been built short of 50 meters, so that opening was delayed until February 1975.
The WAC became home to Woodlands Diving, with Dick Smith as the head coach, Woodlands Masters Swim Team (WMST), and The Woodlands Swim Team (TWST). Early TWST coaches included George Campbell and Walt (Founder of the American Swim Coaches Association and International Swimming Hall of Fame Honoree) and Nancy Schlueter. However, it wasn’t until John Vogel and Joel Engel were hired that there was long term consistency in swim coaching at the WAC. In addition, together with leaders of WMST, they developed a spirit of cooperation between age group/elite and Masters swimming that existed until the WAC closed.
Dick Smith believed that we had a responsibility to the world of aquatics to host local, regional, national and international events. Beginning in 1975, the WAC became recognized worldwide as a host of major events. Some of the events hosted at the WAC:
- 1978 – AAU National Swimming Championships (Jesse Vassallo and Tracy Caulkins Set World Records)
- 1979 – First FINA World Diving Cup
- Third FINA World Diving Cup
- First, Third and Fifth International Age Group Diving Championships
- 1982 – U.S. Masters Short Course National Championships
- 1987 and 1990 – U.S. Masters Swimming Long Course National Championships
Eventually, Joel Engel moved to Washington, and Tim Bauer was hired as the assistant coach. When Vogel left, Tim became the head coach. It was during his tenure that the relationship between TWST and WMST was taken to a new level. In 2007, the two organizations jointly hosted the U.S Masters Long Course National Championships. TWST supplied the personnel to run the wet side of the event while WMST handled the dry side with the understanding that the event would become a fund-raiser for TWST, ultimately resulting in a check to TWST for $33,000. This model became a great example of how aquatic organizations can work together for the benefit of all. “If pool space becomes a turf battle, everyone loses.”
Unfortunately, this was the last major event to be hosted at the WAC. Unwilling to continue to subsidize the operation of the facility, owners of The Woodlands decided to close the facility in 2008. While the loss of this facility was traumatic for many, TWST and WMST transferred their programs to the new Conroe ISD Natatorium, where they continue today, and in 2013 the Texas Swimming & Diving Hall of Fame inducted retired TWST Head Coach John Vogel.
WOODLANDS SWIMMING FROM 1981 TO 1997 TWST PRODUCED:
- 26 First-Place Texas Age Group Championship Teams (TAGS)
- Seven Junior National Team Championships
- Top-10 Finish at Senior Nationals
- Finalist Swimmers at Three Consecutive Olympic Trials
- Two Olympians
- Never Lost a Dual Meet with Any U.S. Swim Team
- Won Seven Consecutive Relays at Long Course Junior Nationals
- Provided a program for All Ages and Ability Levels, from Age Group Swimmers to Olympic Trial Finalists
- Woodlands swimmers were recruited to major colleges across the United States. Most of whom received college scholarships. Many of those swimmers came home in the summer to train with the team
- TWST swimmers have represented their country at the Pan Packs, The World Championships and the Olympic Games