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Alumni Stories

Calling all alumni!
We are interested in getting in contact with as many alumni as possible so we can start holding special alumni events, such as picnics, banquets, and alumni swim meets.  If you used to swim on the team, or had kids who swam on the team, and wish to participate in future alumni events, be added to our mailing list or get involved with the team again, please contact Coach Dave Hedden and let us know your story!

 

Alumni Stories
The following are stories submitted by former JETS swimmers about their experience and sharing their knowledge of the team's history.  To submit your own story, please e-mail Coach Dave.


March 29, 2010: Letter from Mike Simpson, former JETS Head Coach
My time with the Joliet Jets program was very brief but, when I look back now, those 1 ½ seasons with the JETS are still some of my favorite moments in 25+ years of coaching.

Sherwood Watts and I had grown up together in Sarasota, Florida.  When he was leaving the JETS program in 1984, he convinced me to interview for the Head Age Group position.  Not sure what Head Coach Bill Wadley was thinking, but he talked me into moving my pregnant wife to Illinois (my first child will always say that she was born where Mike Alstott came from!).

All I can remember from that first workout was the bloodbath that took place during the warm-up set. It was a race to see who could finish first.  There was thrashing, pulling, yelling, finger-pointing...and we were only 10 minutes into practice!  The Rubocki brothers, Beck brothers, Bambi Bowman, Melissa Wilzcak and others were screaming about who touched first in the 500 easy!  It only got more intense from there.  I quickly found out that Sherwood had the most competitive group of swimmers ever assembled!  That summer was a blast!  As I’ve said many times since then, I felt that all I had to do was write a workout and then get out of the way.

At the end of the summer, Bill Wadley informed me that he had the opportunity to take a college job.  I remember sitting at Dairy Queen begging him to stay since we had only had a few months together.  But God had other ideas.  Someone on the parent board listened to Bill when he said that I could step in as Head Coach.  What was he thinking!?  Well, as it turned out, they listened to Bill and I had the chance to work with an amazing senior group that it had taken years to put together.  From Jean Wiegand and Tim Hill (my high school coach in Florida) to Ira Klein, Sherwood Watts and others, dedicated professionals had put together a group of kids that had the most incredible work ethic and competitive drive!  It was a pleasure to go to work every day, throw together the hardest challenge of a workout you could muster and then go to meets and watch the JETS dominate!  The only issue was whether we were going to make it to our cars alive when leaving practices at the downtown Boys Club pool.

It did not matter what the group was competing in--Frisbee golf, pentathlon set for time (400 of each stroke then 400 IM) or YMCA Nationals with no divers--they never made excuses or backed down from anyone.  The rivalry with Schroeder YMCA was intense.  Five high school age swimmers went to Senior Nationals, and every single one of them made finals:  Stephanie Putzi, Ben Bates, Bridget Bowman, Lisa Rakoski and Jodi Quas had quite a week in east Los Angeles.  They then brought the rest of the crew to Y Nationals in Orlando a few weeks later and almost pulled off a huge upset with a women’s title over the dreaded Schroeder!  It was clearly quality vs quantity.  The quality was way faster (5 relay national records and 1 US age group record, and wins in every event except a couple).  The men were equal to the task, highlighted by Clarence Red’s anchor leg sprint first 50 leading the 800 free relay (the last 100 yards brought lifeguards with rescue tubes to Clarence’s lane!).

I now have the privilege to work and coach at a Christian university in North Carolina, Gardner-Webb University.  It has been wonderful starting both a women’s and men’s team from scratch.  Sometimes it seems like Joliet days were a million years ago.  Sometimes it seems like yesterday.  Many of the same principles that Rick Walker (SIU Head Coach) and I implemented in 1984 (wow does that sound like a million years ago!) are still a part of our college program today.  We learned so much from a dedicated group of swimmers and parents that wanted to be the best, and were willing to do whatever was thrown at them to achieve their dreams.  Our family (which grew to 4 kids) has very fond memories of our time in Joliet, even when I relive the story of coaching at an Illinois Chicago Circle Campus age group meet with 90 below wind chill outside--nobody ever believes that one--if they only knew (and Gomer’s Pizza actually delivered when it was 90 below!).

Thanks,
Coach Mike Simpson


March 27, 2009: Letter from Colleen (Maloney) Szerlong, JETS alumni
Craig McCarter's letter was fun to read and fairly accurate--for someone so YOUNG!! (Just kidding!)  I was 11 when I started swimming at the Y and it was the old basement 20yd, 4 lane pool.  Ken Walker was the coach.  We had a blast in that pool--and we truly didn't think anything of it--many Y pools were like that--it's just how it was!!  I remember swimming 5 laps for a 100, and the 40 yd free too!!  In fact, the dolphin kick had just been official for a few years back then!  We also dove into the shallow end--very flat racing dives to "stay on top of the water."

In the summer we swam at Inwood and he's correct--it was L-shaped--but we practiced both ways--the 50yd way and across the L as well.  Jane and Joanne Crossen were "old" swimmers then (you know--at least 15 or 16 years old!) and we all really looked up to them.  Les Lindholm and Mary Kay Dawson were awesome--I really learned a lot from them.  They pretty much set up my 11 year swimming career.

I went on to move to South Bend and swim for the Michiana Marlins--and then back to Sterling IL and the Sterling Stingrays, and Southern Illinois University from 76-78.  I started coaching the Stingrays and have since coached for nearly 20yrs in both Illinois and Wisconsin--with state champs and national level swimmers on every team.

When you talk about 20yd pools, and fiberglass ropes for lane lines it all sounds so strange to anyone who didn't experience it.  But those were fantastic days.  It never occurred to anyone to complain--that was the facility we had and we were having a good time.  We also learned to work through some tough circumstances.  When I began swimming in 1967 (in that 20yd pool) no one had goggles.  We just got red eyes, showered, went home, slept, and got up and did it again.  We didn't think it unusual at all.  Today, I have to make my swimmers remove their goggles for a set or two every so often to experience it--and they cannot believe we swam EVERY day without them!!

All in all--though I was only with the Joliet Swim Club a short time--they set up my lifelong love of swimming--and I always look back fondly on my time there.

Some of my accomplishments in swimming:

  • State champ, 200 MR & FR for South Bend Y Dolphins 1970
  • Y National qualifier SBYD 1970-72
  • Multiple Team Record holder Sterling Stingrays 1972-76​
  • SIU Saluki swimmer 1976-78​
  • Coach:  Sterling Stingrays 1976-78 (state champs in 8U 1976), Milton Marlins 1995-2001 (10U state champ 100 breast 2000), Fort Atkinson Swim Team (several multiple state champs, Sectional and National swimmers

All I can say--is I still feel swimming is the greatest sport ever--and I am quite certain that the Joliet Swim Club was instrumental in that feeling and the endurance of my career!

Colleen (Maloney) Szerlong

PS--Thank you, Craig, for the service you are giving to our country!!  We are proud of you!!


March 3, 2009:  Letter from Jennifer (White) Espenschied, JETS alumni
I swam in the days of coach Mark Broucek, "Psychos R Us" practices, "The Elite Team", chlorine in gas form bubbling up out of Inwood pool, chlorine so high it would make us cough at Briggs Y, "The five year plan", playing Ultimate Frisbee in off season, using our only day not working out doing "team time' stuff like bowling and golf, and stinking hard workouts!

I had always been aware of the rich history the JETS held and was proud to swim on that team.  It is a blessing to be a part of a winning team.  Some of my best and worst memories come from here, and all are part of life's lessons.  I swam in 5 or so Nationals and I did earn a scholarship from Illinois State and enjoyed 4 years of swimming there.  I was disappointed not to fulfill the "5 year plan" and be a part of an Olympics, but it seemed God had other plans for me. :)

Kudos to you as coach and to the kiddos that are blessed to be a part of a great team and sport!


February 2, 2009:  Letter from Kris Schmitz, JETS alumni
I started with the JETS when I was 7 and we worked out at the downtown YMCA in the 20 yard pool, then moved up to the Boys Club and were finally lucky enough to have 2 beautiful new YMCAs completed.  Ironically, my senior year (82-83), we ended up back at the Boys Club, where I had spent my youth!  My brother Karl swam all those years as well, and he and I both went on to swim at the University of Iowa.  Our sister Karol swam as well, until she was 11.

It was great to read the letters below.  I graduated with Craig McCarter, and Dave Marchant was a year behind me.  Dave Sims was 2 years older than me and I was lucky enough to train with him when he swam "one arm" for an entire season due to shoulder injury.  Dave's one-arm and my two-arm were the same speed.  It was fantastic to share a lane and share sets with him.  What a motivator he was, and still is I'm sure.  In fact, Dave Marchant's mom and my dad started dating when we were swimming and just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in January (2009).  It's all because of the Joliet Jets.

I have to add one story that I still tell today and has really stuck with me.  One day before practice, Coach Hill excused three 12 year old girls from the meeting and told the rest of us "the plan".  The plan was that lanes 1 & 2 would be all "positive".  Only upbeat talk, laughing, motivating, etc.  Lanes 3 & 4 were not to speak...at all.  Lanes 5 & 6 were to only say negative things...that they hurt, that this was a bummer, etc.  Each of the three girls was placed with one of these groups, not knowing the plan.  About an hour into the practice, Coach announced a Get Out Swim.  He randomly chose a few people to do a race, off the blocks and all, and if they hit the time that he said, the entire team would get out of practice right then.  Lots of pressure.  As Coach Hill scanned the pool to see who would do the Get Out Swim, the positive lanes were yelling "pick me, pick me".  The negative lanes, which I was in, avoided eye contact and whispered "oh, please not me"..... When Coach Hill chose Beth Hirmer from our negative lanes, she started to cry.  Michelle Red, in the positive lanes, was receiving cheers from her lanes and was jumping and ready.  Needless to say, Michelle killed her time; the neutral one, just reached the needed time, and I think Beth was so upset, that she stopped in the middle of the race.  Beth has never forgiven Tim for that, I think.  But we all learned an invaluable lesson about attitude and its effect on others.  The 3 girls were told after the race of the setup and the point he was trying to make.  I still cringe when I remember that I was put in the "negative" lane and still, more than 25 years later, am conscious of how attitude affects your own performance and the others around you.

I'd love to volunteer in some way, but have a 2 year old, which limits my availability.  Hopefully she'll be swimming with the JETS in a few more years!


November 13, 2008:  Letter from David Marchant, JETS alumni
I concur with David Sims in my congratulations to Coach Dave for this new forum for staying apprised of JETS news, and in touch with other swimmers.  I won't leave a long history account here, partially because that is not my strong point--remembering details of the past--and because both Craig and David (both of whom I remember fondly) did a nice job at covering my period in the team's early history.

In my day, I was a decent swimmer.  I was a butterfly, breaststroke, 400 IM guy.  I won gold medals in YMCA State championships 5 times.  I usually ranked top 5 in my age group in the state.  I went to Nationals 5 times, but my best individual finish was only 11th.  My senior year, I earned a spot on the 4x200 relay at Nationals that took the silver medal.  It was an awesome experience, and I still have that medal!

Now, David Sims was great.  There is a reason his picture is on this site's homepage!  He was a couple years older, and he was like a hero to me.  He was (and I suspect still is) a fantastic human being--kind to everyone, a supportive teammate, and really impressive in a distance event.  I wasn't there, but I remember when we heard he won the 1,650 at Nationals--I am not certain of this, but maybe the first in our team history to win a Nationals Gold (someone help me out--or did Paula win one?)  [Comment from Coach Dave: Joann Crossen was the first JETS swimmer to become a YMCA national champion in 1967].  The second time he won it, I was there--standing at the end of the pool keeping his laps--an honor I requested because I wanted to be part of that gold medal, even if in a small way.  The victory was huge--he had lapped most of the other finalists, some a couple times.  But when David made the Olympic team in 1980 we all celebrated, and mourned.  That was the year President Carter boycotted the Moscow games and to this day I feel an ache in my own heart for David not getting to go to the Olympics.

What makes David's victories and achievements all the more meaningful, is the triumph of will and courage and persistence it was.  For at least a year prior, David suffered from a shoulder injury.  I don't recall him ever complaining, stopping or feeling sorry for himself.  Instead, he practiced every day just like the rest of us, but swimming with only one arm, the injured one dragging at his side (and he still swam faster than most of us!).  David's determination, indomitable spirit in adversity, and then great success was a real inspiration to us all.

Today, I am 42, a professor teaching contemporary dance at Washington University in St. Louis for the past 15 years.  I started dancing in college (after I stopped swimming), and found that I was good at learning movement because of my swimming training.  So I owe my current passion and career (and therefore, my beautiful dancer wife Holly!) to the time, the work ethic, the skilled coaching, the team spirit, and the sense of discipline and perfectionism I learned from my swimming years.

I appreciate David trying to give me credit for the JETS name--I honestly can't remember who came up with that one; maybe I did, but I thought it was coach Tim Hill.  I do remember voting on it, in the weight room at Galowich Y--I had forgotten Craig's "Amberjacks"--nice!  We should have picked that one!  What David may be remembering is that I designed the first JETS swim team logo for our sweats and swim caps.


December 1, 2007:  Letter from David Sims, JETS alumni
Dear Coach Dave,

What a great idea and my compliments to whomever is running this website.  It's very well done and provides a great way for swimmers, parents, coaches and alums to communicate.  I swam with Craig McCarter who wrote the great letter below.  He gives a very good history of the JETS.  I wish him well in his military service. For the benefit of the young kids on the JETS today who may never have heard my name, I am the uncle of current JETS swimmers Angela, William, and Anthony Sims.  I grew up in Joliet and started swimming at the age of 8.  I was taught to swim four competitive strokes by one of the Kienlen girls in their backyard above-ground pool, with the exception of butterfly, which I learned from former Joliet swimmer, Dan Kennedy.  I was extremely lucky that I had a December 4 birthday, which allowed me to compete the full winter season in the same age group, even though by March I was the oldest swimmer in my age group and should have been swimming in the higher age group.  This allowed me to have a taste of success as an 9-year old competing as an 8 & Under.  It was the early success that kept me in the sport and trying hard to experience it again.

If you had seen me between the ages of 9-13 you never would have known I was an athlete.  I was overweight and my swimming success just kept getting worse.  It was a bad combination of not enough yardage (too many kids in a very small pool) and poor nutrition and bad eating habits.  However, my parents were very into the team and my brother and sister were both on the team as well, so we stuck with it.  In fact, my sister, Maureen Sims, was nationally ranked in several events as a 10-year old freestyler, breaststroker and butterflyer.

In 1977, when I was 14, the parent board recruited coach Tim Hill from the Sarasota YMCA.  At Sarasota, he produced several nationally ranked swimmers and the team had won Y Nationals.  We had high hopes that he could do the same in Joliet.  Our swim team and the ultra-dedicated group of parents helped to build two new YMCA's and expand the old Inwood pool to 50 meters in length and made it deep enough for competitive swimming.  Under Tim Hill, everyone on the team was forced to improve their technique and we increased our yardage tremendously as we grew accustomed to doing it Coach Hill's way.  He was famous for "Do it right or do it over."  I began to experience some more the success that I had as an 8 & Under.  It was after Tim's first season that we sat down to have a long talk about my talents and it was then that he wisely suggested that I switch from sprinting to distance events.  It was a great call.  The more success I had, the more I was willing to accept the increasing levels of pain and sacrifice, both of which were enormous.  Friends and family found it hard to understand why I wanted to be so dedicated but I really didn't care what they all thought.  I just knew what I wanted and I had a coach and parents that believed in me and were also willing to make many sacrifices, too.  All in all, I would do it all over again if given the chance.  I can't wait to see the next great swimmer to come from the Joliet Jets Y Swim Team.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.  It's all mind over matter.

Here's a list of some of my accomplishments, which all started with the Joliet YMCA Jets:

  • YMCA State Champion
  • IL Age Group Record Holder
  • IHSA State Champ 1980, 500 Free
  • YMCA National Champion, 1978, 1980
  • USA Junior National Champion 1979, 400 M, Freestyle
  • USA Senior National Champion, 1650 Freestyle, 1980, 1984
  • PAC-10 Champion and Record Holder, 1980-1984​
  • NCAA All-American, 1981-1984
  • Captain Stanford Men's Swimming Team, 1984
  • Member USA National Team - 1980-1985 -Soviet Union, China, Israel, Canada, Japan, Puerto Rico
  • 1980 US Olympic Swimming Team - 1500 M Freestyle
  • Recipient of Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement
  • Kiputh Award Winner (high point scorer), USA Nationals 1984
  • Graduated Stanford University, B.S. Biology Member
  • Athletes Advisory Council, Chicago 2016

For the record, I believe it was David Marchant who came up with the "JETS" name in 1978 or 1979.

David Sims
December 1, 2007


June 27, 2007:  Letter from Craig McCarter, JETS alumni serving in Afghanistan
Dave,

I guess I'm sitting here in Afghanistan thinking of home.  I was checking out the JETS website and clicked on the history.  Since I'm feeling nostalgic tonight I think I can supply quite a bit.  I was born in Joliet in 1965.  My two older sisters already swam for the Joliet Beach Club back then.  The Beach Club was at a filled in quarry off of Rowell Avenue.  There were two floating platforms out in the lake spaced about 25 yards apart.  I remember they had the old lane ropes made out of fiber glass with little floats.  You had to be careful to never touch the ropes or you'd get an arm full of fiber glass.  The platforms were pretty far out and the big kids used to swim out to practice with little kids on their backs.  There was heavy equipment abandoned at the bottom of the quarry and everyone would swim down to take a look at the crane, but the water got very cold about 20 feet down.

One year in the late 60's the swim team moved out to Inwood, the local outdoor public pool and reformed as the Joliet Swim Club.  We were just a club team then swimming in summer league.  There were a few other teams around the area at Oakwood and the Joliet Country Club.  Moving to the pool was great, but it was a bit of a strange pool back then.  It was shaped like an L with the short side being 25 meters and the long side 50 yards.  The long side wasn't usable for swim practice back then due to the shallow end being about 2 feet deep.  No one really swam long course then anyway.  The team did pretty well despite the funny lengths of the pool.

Speaking of funny length pools, there was the old Y downtown.  I don't remember when the team started swimming year round.  Must have had something to do with Mark Spitz in 1972.  One of the only indoor pools in the area back then was the old Y downtown.  This was a real old style YMCA complete with a lounge area filled with big overstuffed leather club chairs and a fireplace, handball courts, a gym, a snack bar, a gated attendants station where you could get towels or a key for a locker, and several floors of rooms for men who needed a place to stay (just like in the song).  The pool was nothing short of a hazard.  The floor of the locker room was all covered in the most slippery tile they could find back in the 1920s when the place was built and of course they had steps up into the showers and steps down into the pool.  I don't ever remember feeling safe on that wet floor.  The pool itself was on the lowest level of the building.  It had a very low ceiling and was only 20 yards long.  Winter swimming was always fun because kids from all three local summer league teams came together as the Joliet Y team, but practices were a feeding frenzy as 10 kids pummeled each other in those 20 yard lanes.

Despite the difficult conditions, the team continued to prosper and needed a real pool to use for winter practice.  At some point we started swimming at the Boys Club down by Joliet Central High School.  The Boys Club was a regulation 25 yard pool.  It had a few maintenance issues from time to time, but it was much better for workouts.  There was a big metal door in the corner where the swimmers came in and out to avoid going through the whole building to get to the pool.  Every time the door opened and the 15 degree outside air met the 90 degree inside air a huge cloud would roll across the pool so you couldn't even see the pace clock.

I can hardly believe the Dr. Pepper Invitational is 35 years old.  We were always proud to host the best meet in the state and maybe the best meet in the whole country.  There was an ice rink next door to the pool at Inwood, so there was great area for staging, bullpens, and hanging out.  There was also lots of grassy areas around the pool and we could accommodate large numbers of participants easily.  The parents did a great job running a tight ship.  Of course all of that is fine, but the best part was the six packs of Dr. Pepper for every heat winner.  What a great meet.  No one wanted to be seeded fast at that meet!

With success came some positive changes.  The city agreed to fix the long side of Inwood Pool making it 50 meters and deep enough to dive (just barely).  The Y expanded and built two new facilities (without the hotel part) on the east side (Briggs Y) and west side (Galowich Y).  Both had full 25 yard pools.  We had great coaches over the years with Les Lindholm, Mary Kay Dawson, and Dave Kienlen.  About the same time as the major pool upgrades, Tim Hill came to coach.  Tim really put Joliet over the top into the category of elite national team.  Dave Sims made the 1980 Olympic Team, and former world record holder (for half a day) Mary Decker came to work out with us for a summer.  Sometime in the 70's we had a big team vote on a team name.  I can't remember why we needed to change the name, but I think it had something to do with the three former summer league rivals forming one year round AAU (now USA-S) team and no longer swimming in a league.  Rather than adopt the Joliet Swim Club name, we all picked a new name and a new mascot.  There was intense lobbying and lots of brainstorming.  Someone came up with Joliet's Energetic Team of Swimmers (JETS) and it won (I liked the Joliet Amberjacks, but hey, you can't win 'em all).  I'm glad to see we picked the right name and it's persisted all these years.  The team kept the momentum going when Ira Klein took over as head coach and we contended for Y National titles during the early 80s.  After 1983 I went on to college, the Marine Corps, and Desert Storm and didn't have much time to keep up with Joliet, so someone else will have to pick up the story from there.

Well, I don't know how much more you want to know.  Maybe more of the old timers will chime in and correct some of my selective memory.  I'm sure there are lots more details to add.  The only other thing I want to note is how this team went from truly humble beginnings swimming between platforms in a quarry and crazy 20yd/25m/50yd pools to the national prominence reflected in the number of NCAA Division I swimmers the team produced over the years.  The teams I know of that JETS went on to swim for include Iowa, Auburn, South Carolina, Tulane, Arizona, Stanford, and of course the US Naval Academy (Go Navy!).  The JETS had a profound impact on many kids who learned lessons of hard work, team spirit, and maximum effort and applied those lessons to great success in and out of the pool.

NO LIMITS!

Semper Fidelis,

Craig McCarter
Bagram, Afghanistan June 27, 2007