Sahuarita Swim Team History
The Sahuarita Swim Team, initiated in the summer of 1970, was the “brainchild” of two families of the community: the Larry Ott and Howard Wootan families. They both had moved to Sahuarita in 1969 from the Rolling Hills section of Tucson, where they had been active in a summer competitive swim program, sanctioned by the Southern Arizona, Aquatic Association. This is an organization which establishes the rules and regulation of all the community swim teams in Tucson and the surrounding areas. Their children were outstanding swimmers, and were anxious to remain involved in the activity that had come to be a part of each of their summer vacations.
Their inquiry about using the twenty-five yard, six lane pool, located on the Sahuarita High School campus, for practice and meets of a summer program they were trying to organize was, much to their surprise, greeted with little encouragement by the Sahuarita School Administration of that time. Not being a sports enthusiast, the superintendent expressed concern about the liability of the district and the fact that school district personnel would not be involved.
Nevertheless, this setback only made them more determined to find another alternative. They knew that the Pima County Parks and Recreation facility used the pool in the summer to conduct a swimming lesson and water safety program for this area. Therefore, they contacted the county officials in charge, and through much persuasion and finagling, managed to establish Sahuarita’ s first swim team. The county agreed to sponsor the team and pay the coach, Jeff Wootan, a whopping $200.00 for the entire season.
They were underway; they had a site, a coach, a pool, and were registered with the SAAA. The challenge left was to find children, (other than their own four children) who were willing to join the newly formed team. It was by no means an easy task. Few children or parents of this community in 1970 had the slightest idea what a swim team was or how it operated. Vivian Ott and Judy Wootan, who were the real “work horses” of this endeavor, began scouting around, going to swim lessons to discover good swimmers, calling anyone they knew, to find enough children between the ages of five and seventeen to at least make up a skeleton team. A friend and former assistant swim coach at Rolling Hills, Dave Wear, was also a newcomer to the community and a member of the Sahuarita High school faculty and coaching staff. He helped them in acquiring some swimmers including three of his own children, and also assisted them in officiating at the meets.
Therefore, the first season of the Sahuarita Swim Team had begun. Coach Wootan was only able to use the pool for practice three afternoons per week, during the hottest time of the day, which was far from ideal. That first season could only be described as an enthusiastic struggle. Those families who stayed with it really began to enjoy it, but at the same time realized the enormous amount of work involved in developing and maintaining a top notch swim team. The majority of the new team members could barely swim freestyle and had to learn the other three strokes: butterfly, breast stroke, and backstroke. In addition to this, the swimmers needed to learn technicalities such as executing correct turns and starts. Judy Wootan, a swim instructor in her own right, spent a great deal of time individually teaching children the details of each stroke and its accompanying turn. The Sahuarita swimmers stood out at the meets that first year in their non-matching, unofficial suits, executing their often unorthodox stroke, but they really didn’t let that bother them because they were having such a good time. Barbara and Larry Ott, Jr. as well as Michael and Christ Wootan, all outstanding swimmers, became the automatic team leaders, who encouraged and helped all the other kids on the team. Now and again, they even had to dive in and rescue one of the younger swimmers, during a race, who just couldn’t quite make it all the way to the finish. They also set the good examples, which made the beginners believe they too, with hard work, could be champion swimmers. Each swimmer always received a ribbon for every race he or she swam in a home meet, no matter what place he or she might have finished. This practice continues yet today, regardless of the number of children participating. Barbara Ott brought home an individual high-point trophy from the League Championships that first year and established the tradition of excellence for the team.
By the second season, word of his positive program had traveled around the community and many new families joined the ranks. The team adopted a new official team suit and was actually able to fill most of the age groups. The swimmers’ strokes were looking much better and they were winning more and more races. Coach Wootan was back, together with his wife, Debbie, and they were feeling more positive than ever. Near the end of this season, Vivian Ott organized a support group of parents, which were called the Sahuarita Swim Team Booster, and directed them in electing an executive board, which was chaired the following year by Arno Gates, whose daughters, Kathy and Sandy swam on the team from its beginning. Other charter families who were involved in the development of the Sahuarita Swim Team, along with the Ott, Wootan, Gates, and Wear families were: The Jack Colie, Andy Anderson, Francis Constantine, Robert Esser, John Gay, Don and Keith McGee, Billy Spivey, Bob Elam, Loris Trice, Tom Black, Mary Ann Clark, and Mary Langley families. Soon after, other dedicated families, such as the Herman Meyer, Jim Bateman, De Wayne Kurtenback, Bob Ham, Norman Vesterdal, Ray Hathaway, Lewis Meinhausen, Paul Smith, Hank Balconi, J. T. Williams, Herb Craig, Ron Gerhart, Fran Lundberg, Barry Callaway, Don Kahler, Don Hogan, Harry Timmons, Ken Goodwin, Andy McCaulou, Archi Romney, John Conwell, Charles Mercer, Wayne Becker, Hemauer, Kring, and Troxel families came on board. These people and many others devoted many long hours to help establish the smooth running parent group that continues to be exceptional in the 90’s. “Those were great summers,” recently recalled Vivian Ott. “It was hard work, but we had so much fun together, and the friendships that evolved, both among the parents and children were marvelous.”
As the third year of the Sahuarita Swim Team’s history unfolded, the school district had recognized the huge benefit the team was lending to the children of the community and began wholeheartedly lending its support to the team by including it as one of the school sports. This meant the district was willing to pay the head coach and two assistants on the same scale as the coaches of the high school sports, and furnish school buses to transport the team to and from all away meets. The district was able to do this for the following few years until budget cuts made it impossible to continue. From that point on, the team has raised its own money by having various fund raisers and charging each swimmer a fee to join the team. The coach’s salaries are then taken from these funds, as well as monies for award ribbons, watches, and other team equipment, such as starting blocks and lane ropes.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, prior to the construction of large Olympic-sized facilities, such as the one at Amphitheater High School, a team in each league of the SAAA would host the League Championships at its home pool. The Sahuarita Swim Team was the host team in 1974, a year when there happened to be four separate teams with over 100 swimmers, and in 1976. At that time, championships took two days to complete. Each day consisted of morning preliminary heats, in which every swimmer in the league swam, followed by evening finals for that half of the meet. Today, the swimmers go to the Amphi Pool one morning for the preliminaries of all four strokes, and, if they qualify, return the next evening for the finals. These were the days when no automatic equipment, such as electronic touch pads and computerized placing, was available, so the judging and timing of each race was done by trained parent volunteers. Digital watches were not yet in use, so the stopwatches had to be read carefully and could only calibrate to the tenth of a second. Consequently, there were many tie situations and many more controversies concerning race results than take place today.
In the early days, the Sahuarita community was much smaller and there were many fewer summer activities for children, especially girls, then there are today. The Sahuarita Swim team provided an opportunity for the youngsters to stay active, while learning to be outstanding swimmers. Participation on the team also gave them the chance to polish many valuable social skills, such as cooperating with others, being patient, and learning how to be a graceful winner or loser. Children involved in the swim team program are bound to positively build their self-esteem, because every swimmer in one aspect or another is a winner, and no one is ever left out, but rather made to feel vital to the overall team effort.
From its onset, The Sahuarita Swim Team has been proud of its philosophy, which is to consider the enhancement of a child’s character to be every bit as important as the development of their athletic ability. As one looks back on the history of this unique community, the Sahuarita Stingray Swim Team would have to rank high on the list of its accomplishments.