Over the past 4 decades, the Jersey Wahoos have dominated the sport of swimming locally. From its inception in 1973 to the present, Wahoos teams have reigned over the sport of swimming in South Jersey and the Middle Atlantic region. No other team has won more Middle Atlantic Senior and Junior Olympic Team Championships during this period of time. Nationally, the age group team is consistently ranked in the Top by ASCA (American Swim Coaches Association) while their Senior Team has placed in the Top 10, on numerous occasions, at the Senior and Junior United States Swimming National Championships.
During this same period, Wahoos swimmers have dominated South Jersey's Tri County and Suburban swimming leagues while representing their respective summer teams. The same is true with high school swimming, where Wahoos swimmers consistently lead their teams to league and state titles. At the collegiate level, graduates of the Wahoo program have excelled individually and as members of various conference and national championship teams. Wahoos swimmers and graduates have also represented the United States at various competitions throughout the world, including the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the 1994 World Championships, and the 1995 Pan American Games.
Being a Wahoo, however, is more than just being successful in the pool. Despite the increased time demands placed on these swimmers as they progress through the program, most of these student athletes still find time to excel in the classroom and in other activities. Over the years, nearly 100% of the Wahoos have gone onto college, where many have earned advanced degrees and are now emerging as leaders in diverse fields as medicine, law, academics, business, the arts, science, and the military. Although the Wahoos came into existence in 1973, their roots date back even further...back to 1957.
South Jersey Sea Jays (under Al and Madelyn Gourdier)
Back in the late '50's, swimming was limited to a few high schools, ocean and lake competition, AAU and YMCA competitions, and an emerging summer league. After running aquatic shows at nearby Olympia Lakes and coaching Tavistock Hills Swim Club in the newly formed Tri-County Swimming League, Al and Madelyn Gourdier formed South Jersey Sea Jays in 1957.
They started with 13 swimmers and trained in such out of the way places as the YMCA, YWCA, YM&WHA, US Navy yard and the Aquarium, all located in Philadelphia, plus the Camden YMCA. Despite limited hours and lack of a permanent facility, the team was one of the best in the region as it won numerous Middle Atlantic and regional titles. Many of the swimmers broke National AAU Age group records while other earned Top 10 Age group rankings.
In August 1963, a dream came true when the Sea Jays moved into their facility in Mt. Laurel. The team eventually grew to 278 swimmers at its height. The team continued its winning ways and reached a milestone in 1968 when Sheli Bower (Burgess) finaled at the Olympic Trials and former teammate, Diane Gieble (her family had been transferred to California) made the Olympic Team where she placed in the finals of the 200 meter butterfly in Mexico City. It was at these same Olympics that former South Jersey Standout, Debbie Meyer (her father had also been transferred to California), won an unprecedented 3 gold medals in individual events (400, 1500 freestyle, 400 I.M.) During these years, Sea Jays and Sea Jay graduates Dick Paoletti Bower, Diane Gieble, Jim Coyle, Brad Glenn, Kathy Love (Hoh), Janie Albertson, and Cherly Kranzley all went on to participate in the AAU Senior National Championships.
Soon after, Al Gourdier became ill and Madelyn no longer had the necessary time to devote to coaching and managing the facility. As a result, the numbers gradually declined. Madelyn eventually retired from coaching in 1973. Soon after her retirement from coaching, they moved to Florida. Al passed away in the late 1980's. Madelyn passed away in January 2005 at the age of 87.
JERSEY WAHOOS (under Bob Hoyt)
At this time, a group of parents headed by the dynamic duo of John Yacovelle and current Wahoos board President Burt German, stepped to the front and made a commitment to re-establish a top level swimming program in South Jersey. Hence, the Jersey Wahoos came into existence after signing a long-term lease for use of the Sea Jays facility.
Former Sea Jays, Kingston Estates, Cherry Hill West and Princeton swimmer, Bob Hoyt was hired to take over the head coaching and managing duties in July of 1973. During his tenure, the club grew from 35 swimmers to a high of 420 and developed into one of the top age group programs in the region. In 1976, after three years at the helm, Hoyt left to attend law school. Today he is Senior V.P. of a regional conservation company, the Chesapeake Bay foundation.
JERSEY WAHOOS (under Bob Casci)
In the summer of 1976, after a national search, the club hired Bob Casci of the Modesto Swim and Racquet club of California. Bob quickly moved the team into the national spotlight as several Wahoos swimmers, Judy German, Gary Faykes, Karen Delk, Renee Goldhirsh, and Kim Fisher, began competing at the Senior National Championships.
After one year, Casci returned to California where he founded and serves as President of Coast Line Casuals, located in Berkeley.
JERSEY WAHOOS (under Hugh Merkel)
Hugh Merkel came aboard in the fall of 1977 after swimming locally (Woodcrest, Tavistock, Camden YMCA, Sea Jays, West Chester State College) and coaching in the area for many years at Kingston Estates, Greenfields, Haddon Township High School, & Gloucester County High School. Without missing a beat, the team continued its climb to the top as it dominated both age group and senior swimming at the local and regional level.
The age group program continued to place many swimmers in the AAU/USS Top 10/25 National Age group rankings. The Wahoos National team became consistent Top 10 finishers at the USS Senior and Junior National Championships behind the swimming of Senior National qualifiers Gayle Hegel, Karen Delk, John Yacovelle, Renee Goldhirsh, Richard Hughes, Amanda Martin, Kathy Conroy, Teri Querubin, Maureen Mackson, Alison Evangelista, Roger Power, John Marion, Chris Gally, Brent Mathers, Sean Killion, Doreen Battles, Chris Mayfield, Donald Martin, Judy Haughton, Karen Jacobson, Belinda Martin, Sean Morrissey, and Craig Taylor. In March of 1986, the roof of the Wahoos Mt. Laurel facility collapsed. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured, but the incident did receive national media attention. "It's not a building, it's a spirit" and "When you have no roof, the sky’s the limit" became the rallying cry as the swimming community rolled up their sleeves and went to work to rebuild the structure while keeping the team together.
In the spring of 1987, after 10 years with the program, Hugh Merkel retired from coaching. He currently heads up the successful Prudential Fox & Roach Real Estate office in Stone Harbor.
JERSEY WAHOOS (under John Carroll)
John Carroll took over in 1987 after serving as a Wahoos assistant for nine years. John, a local product as well, had swum for Wahoos, Woodstream, Lenape High School, and Glassboro State (now Rowan) and coached Woodstream in Tri-County before joining the Wahoos staff.
Under his leadership, the history of Wahoos excellence continued as Sean Killion broke the American record in the 800-meter freestyle during Johns first summer at the 1987 USS Senior Nationals in Clovis, California. As we all know, Sean had an excellent career which was highlighted by his earning a spot on the USA Olympic Team and competing in the 400 and 1500 Freestyle at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Carroll and the Wahoo coaching staff continued to pump out top swimmers as reflected in both the USS Top 25 Age Group individual and relay ranking and by placing near the top of ASCA’s National Age group team rankings. USA National Championship qualifiers include: Sean Killion, Chris Gally, Chris Mayfield, Brent Mathers, Tim Kelly, Stephanie Scwhab, Michelle Palmer, Joanna Dinsmore, Andrea Gaber, Peter Wright, Bruce Brockschmidt, Jason Rosenbaum, George Willard, Sprague Wise, Gwen Mayo, Tammy Kouser, Dean Hutchinson, Julia Mason, Sheri Burns, Bryan Casto, Bill Pilzeuk, Bryan Parker, Leslie Hoh, Sean Tedesco, Heather DeHainaut, Kyle Egan, Ryan Egan, Jennelle Ritchie, Kristel Haesler, Shannon Lynch, Christian Cantwell, Katherine Conroy, Brad Bowser, George Wilkinson, Kirk Hampleman, Dennis Matelewicz, Jessica Aveyard, Patty Murphy, Matt Campbell, Ryan Campbell, Bridgette Cahill, Graham Parker, Andrew Patrizzi, Henning Fog and Mark Neiman. Many of these swimmers have continued to represent Wahoos, their colleges, and their country in various international competitions including the World Championships, Pan America Games, and Pan Pacific Championships, to name a few.
However 1995-1996 may go down as the most successful year to date as four current Wahoo/Wahoo Graduates made it into the finals and consolation finals of the United States Olympic Team selection meet in Indianapolis. These swimmers were international veterans Peter Wright, Dean Hutchinson, Bill Pilzeuk, and Jason Rosenbaum. The obvious highlight of the competition was Peter Wright making the U.S. Olympic team in the 1500-meter freestyle! Wright, a student at the U. of Virginia, took a year off from his studies so he could stay home and train with Coach Carroll and the Wahoos coaching staff. The highlight of the 1999-2000 season was Dean Hutchinson medaling in the 50 meter freestyle at the World University Games in Palma de Mallorca, Spain last summer. Dean was further honored when he was asked to carry our country's flag and lead our delegation at the closing ceremonies. In August of 2000, twelve Wahoos / former Wahoos, including Christian Cantwell, Dean Hutchinson, Kate Conroy, George Wilkinson, Dennis Matulewicz, and Jennelle Ritchie, participated in the 2000 Olympic Trials held in Indianapolis, IN. At the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, Wahoos was represented by 12 current / former swimmers: Annie McCotter, Owen Burns, Mary Kate Davis, Tommy Glenn, Patrick Olson, Matt Belecanech, Joseph Petrone and Andy Schuehler.
As swimming continues to grow and prosper at all levels, the demand for expanding facilities continues to grow. The Wahoos currently operate out of their headquarters in Mt. Laurel, which is a six-lane 25-yard indoor facility. They also train at the Pennypack pool in North East Philadelphia on selected Sundays throughout the winter and spring. In the summer, Wahoos swims morning practices at the Ramblewood Country Club long course outdoor pool. One of the main goals is to eventually build a larger year round facility, that will accommodate these growing demands.