- 1 Background
- 2 Links
- 3 History of New Trier Swimming 1912-1994
- 3.1 IN THE BEGINNING
- 3.2 A POOL IS BORN
- 3.3 TAKING "THE PLUNGE"
- 3.4 ENTER COACH JACKSON
- 3.5 THE BIG NEW POOL
- 3.6 A FITTING DEDICATION
- 3.7 SWIMMING FOR ALL
- 3.8 THE COMPETITION HEATS UP
- 3.9 THE MAKING OF A COACH
- 3.10 BUILDER OF CHAMPIONS
- 3.11 THE METHOD BEHIND THE MAGIC
- 3.12 THE DREAM TEAMS
- 3.13 AND THE FANS WENT WILD!
New Trier Swim Club, a Silver Medal Club located in Winnetka, IL.
Looking for a full-time assistant coach in 2011. This is a full time, salaried position with full benefits. Candidates will be an ASCA certified Level 3 coach or equivalent who is a creative teacher eager to be a member of our staff.
NTSC is a year round club with over 400 athletes annually. Consistently one of the top club teams in Illinois and the Midwest, NTSC has been represented at the last two Olympic Trials and consistently sends swimmers to Senior and Junior Nationals.
History of New Trier Swimming 1912-1994
The following articles were originally published in the New Trier Swim Club Shark Report during the 1995-1996 winter swim season. They cover the history of swimming at New Trier from its start to the present day, and focus primarily on the high school's competitive swimming program. In researching this series, information was obtained from the Aquatics Director's files and archives, from the "swimming history" in the pool's east balcony, from the Trevia Office where old copies of Trevia, Vestiges and Echoes yearbooks were referenced, and from various articles which originally appeared in the Pioneer Press. Special thanks goes to New Trier Aquatics Director Mark Onstott for making much of this information easily accessible and available.
IN THE BEGINNING
The original New Trier High School had no pool. This was not surprising, since no American high school at the turn of the century did. But swimming was a sport on the rise, having been sanctioned by the newly formed Amateur Athletic Association and having been featured (three events only) in the 1896 Olympic Games. Though no record exists of exactly when competitive swimming began at New Trier, there are mentions of a boys' swim team, which worked out in the Patton Pool at nearby Northwestern University during the early years of the twentieth century. Under the direction of coach Chauncy Hyatt, (who was hired by the School Board in 1913 for the sum of $125 per month), they competed against the few other high schools in the area that had swim teams, most notably, University High of Chicago, Evanston Academy, Crane and Lane Tech. The New Trier swimming archives note that:
"With an opportunity to work out only two times a week, these first competitive contests were not victorious for New Trier, Coach Hyatt attributing most of his problems to 'lack of depth.'"
A POOL IS BORN
But enthusiasm for the sport of swimming was rolling ahead and in 1911, the New Trier School Board voted to sell bonds in the amount of $170,000 to construct two new gyms, a shop, an assembly hall and what was to be the first indoor high school swimming pool in the United States. That pool is not the current NTHS pool, rather it was much smaller than the one we use today, and was situated in an entirely different part of the building. It was during the construction of that first pool that New Trier appears to have won their first boys' swim meet, in a cliffhanger 25 to 24 against University High.
The pool, which opened in 1913 was a 20yd. model (in those days, events were swum in 40 and 80 yard increments) and appears to have been only 4 lanes wide (or a very narrow 6!) It's maximum depth was only 8 feet, making diving competitions all the more thrilling. To kick off the opening, a public swimming exhibition was held on the night of May 3, 1913. It's recorded in the yearbook that:
"A large and enthusiastic crowd attended the affair, and showed their approval by liberal applause. In the fancy diving some startlers were given the crowd. A diver named Sweet gave us a couple of high dives off of the middle beam, one a swan dive and the other a back gainer. The duck chase was the most exciting event of the evening. In this event two ducks, borrowed from the Lincoln Park Zoo, were turned lose in the tank, and then about twenty fellows were sent into the tank to catch them and bring them out. Sounds easier than it actually was. It took over twenty minutes to catch those ducks, and the way they dove under water and swam on top of it was a caution. Mr. Hyatt had a little exhibition all his own, and showed us how to scull and to swim across the tank in two strokes with the breaststroke, besides a lot of fancy diving which made quite a hit. The potato race between the Irish and the Germans caused a lot of excitement, some of the fellows experiencing difficulty in getting down to the bottom of the tank to get their potato. (In the end, the Germans were victorious.)"
With the successful launch of the new pool, competitive boys swimming began in earnest at New Trier. By 1916, Coach Hyatt's team had set two interscholastic records, and were being viewed as more realistic contenders among the other high schools.
TAKING "THE PLUNGE"
But the events swum in competitive meets back then were unusual by today's standards. Not only were the distances in 40 yard increments, but the strokes were different. What we know today as freestyle was then the Australian crawl. Backstroke was not a standard event, but sidestroke was. Breaststroke was popular, having been the stroke (albeit in an archaic form) used by James Webb in the first successful English Channel crossing in 1875. In the meet programs of the day, however, it was known as the "Breast to Water" event. And butterfly would not reach New Trier's competitive program until midway through the century, it having been a 1950's invention of clever breastrokers looking for a more rapid stroke recovery (they found it by bringing their hands through the air rather like a butterfly, rather than through the water).
In addition to these events, the early meets also included some unusual items, giving the contests an almost a carnival-like atmosphere. However, in 1913, these were serious events. A program from a dual meet against Sheboygan High School lists, among others:
- Plunge for Distance
- Tub Races
- Dive for Plates
Though there is no record of what "Tilting" actually involved, the Plunge is well documented. It was a popular event in which the swimmer took a dive into the water and then glided (strokeless) to the end of the pool. The event was won by the fastest glider, and in 1916, New Trier Boys set a new Interscholastic record in the 60 foot Plunge with a time of 24 1/5 seconds. The Plunge was also included in the Illinois State Championship Meets and, as a result, each year there was an Illinois State Champion "Plunger".
ENTER COACH JACKSON
In 1918, coach Hyatt left New Trier and went to the Athletic Club of Minneapolis, finding there, in his words, "a more lucrative job." Taking his place at New Trier was Coach Edgar B. Jackson, a former P.E. Director of the Oak Park YMCA and an instructor in "military training." Jackson ended up staying for 34 years, and his arrival marked the beginning of championship swimming at New Trier. Curiously, little is written of Jackson's early years at New Trier (and virtually no mentions are made of any significant swimming accomplishments by his team). Whether he was initially unsuccessful, or whether this is the result of limited record keeping is unclear. But more important for us, Jackson apparently had a vision for a new and better swimming facility at New Trier, because in 1934, despite the Great Depression, he succeeded in convincing the School Board to build the magnificent facility that we swim in today.
THE BIG NEW POOL
Immediately dubbed "Lake New Trier" by taxpayers, the natatorium, which was completed under the supervision of the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, boasted an 8 lane pool which was the new 25 yard length. It held 213,00 gallons of continuously filtered water and had a maximum depth of 10 1/2 feet. (It has since been deepened.) In it's original incarnation it had 4 low diving boards and 2 high boards. As for other amenities, it was said to have the latest in sound proofing and acoustics and was designed with exceptionally wide decks to accommodate large groups in lessons. Its three balconies seat 1200 spectators comfortably. And, in what was considered the best science of the day it contained four "contestants' alcoves" under the east balcony (now used for equipment storage), heated to a higher temperature than the pool room proper, where swimmers could remain warm between events. The pool also boasted 4 large locker rooms and offered:
"...clean, sterilized suits and towels furnished to (and required for) all swimmers" The old pool, which by the late 1920's had become antiquated, was floored over and used as a gymnasium until its demolition during the remodeling of the early 1970's. But the new pool was truly visionary, It was an incredible facility for its day, being regarded as the finest high school swimming facility in the country. With such a large, state-of-the-art structure, New Trier began to host high level swimming competitions, including Illinois High School State Meets and Big Ten competitions.
A FITTING DEDICATION
The dedication ceremonies for the new pool were much more serious than the 1911 frolic had been. The program makes no mention of duck chases or potato diving. Instead, it featured a number of selections by the New Trier band and choral groups, a series of school cheers by the cheerleading squad, and a formal address by the President of the Board of Education.
These were followed by various demonstrations, and while these included members of the Boys' team and a "Girls' Group," most of them were done by outside pros. Henry Holquiest, the State High School Diving Champion, put on an exhibition; D. Melville Carr, Director of Life Saving Services with the American Red Cross put on the safety demonstration; the Shawnee Country Club Water Ballet Team put on a beautifully lighted Aquatic Dance; and the 1933 World's Fair Streets of Paris Professional Divers wrapped up the program with a fabulous diving show. The program booklet detailed the first-rate attributes of the pool, and it seemed from the ceremonies that the tone had been set for a new era of competitive swimming.
SWIMMING FOR ALL
In 1937, the first full year in the new pool, the New Trier Boy's team steamrolled to a 9 and 1 dual meet record, won the Suburban League crown and placed 3rd in the Illinois State Meet, which was, for the first time, held at New Trier
But in Coach Jackson's mind, there was more to swimming than the Boys' competitive program. And so, Jackson began to expand things well beyond the original competitive confines. Swimming became part of the gym rotation for both boys and girls. Many types of instructional and safety programs were offered to the community. In 1936, he formed the New Trier Guard, a service organization of high school students interested in swimming and leadership. The guard began to actively teach and supervise the expanded number of swimming programs for both the high school and the community, including Saturday Morning Swim Classes for Children, Adult Lessons, Family Swim and Boy Scout Swim Nights. In fact, Jackson's innovation of the New Trier Guard remains an essential part of New Trier swimming to this day. In short, he turned the pool into a center for community activity, and began to nurture a love for the sport among all residents. New Trier soon was dubbed "the swimmingest township in America."
THE COMPETITION HEATS UP
But despite all of this, competitive boys' swimming was still the crown jewel in Coach Jackson's collection. By the time he retired as head coach in 1952, Edgar Jackson had achieved a substantial competitive swimming legacy. In the archives, he refers to his team's accomplishments as "a record that cannot be equaled by any team in the nation." This was no overstatement. From Dual Meets to Conference Championships to State crowns, Jackson won many. (see box below)
In addition, 5 of the state championships were consecutive (1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952), a feat not accomplished by another swim team until the late 1960's with the ascent of Hinsdale Central. But perhaps of most local interest is that between 1942 and 1950, New Trier had a record 118 straight victories in Dual Meets. In 1950 this streak was ended by a terrific Evanston team, coached by the young Dobbie Burton.
In 1952, Edgar Jackson, now ably assisted by several younger coaches, retired from New Trier. He sent the following farewell note to his team and staff:
"It has been traditional that New Trier swimmers and divers are loyal to their coaches and their organization. They do not display jealousy over the success of their team mates, and that if they do their best in practice as well as in a contest, the winning will take care of itself.
New Trier has never had a poor team, and if we continue our policy of sane training, loyalty, and sane living, we never should have a poor team. Down through the years, New Trier swimmers have placed their standards high and have established a record of clean winning which cannot be challenged by any outfit in the U.S.A. What is more important, New Trier swimmers have always known how to conduct themselves in their own pool as well as in other pools. Their conduct has always been of high standard on trips, whether local or over night.
As your director and Head Coach I challenge all future New Trier teams to carry-on with this record of 3 decades. They should never lose sight of the fact that, while coaching is important, there is no substitute for hard work, loyalty, sane training, a clear conscience, and family cooperation. Championships are never presented on a silver platter."
The Robertson Years of Swimming Champions
Of all the history that accompanies New Trier swimming, none is more profound than the era of Dave Robertson. During his 30 year reign as Aquatics Director and Head Boys Swim Coach, Dave Robertson created the true legend that is New Trier swimming. When you view the State Championship plaques and All American certificates from the balcony, you're mostly viewing the products of the extraordinary direction of this coach, one of the great architects of the New Trier Swimming tradition.
Dave grew up in Wilmette, where he enjoyed sports, was an avid Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and, eventually, an Eagle Scout. He began swimming early in his life and by high school, was a member of Edgar Jackson's Boy's Varsity Swim Team at New Trier. But this was not just any New Trier Swim Team -- Dave was a member of the 1942 State Championship Team which managed to win every event in the State Meet but one. Robertson's personal contribution to that meet was to become State Champion in the 100 Back.
THE MAKING OF A COACH
But beyond becoming a State Champion, Dave's high school years marked the beginning of the making of a great swimming coach. During his junior year, Robertson chose as his topic for the big Junior Theme research paper, the subject of "Occupations." And, in the paper he went on to describe how he would one day become a swim coach. Or, more specifically, the swim coach, at New Trier High School.
Part of what propelled Robertson in this direction was New Trier Coach Edgar Jackson. Not only did Dave swim on Jackson's team, but he was also Head of Jackson's invention, the New Trier Guard, and worked for Jackson during the summers. Jackson became something of a mentor to Robertson, fueling his desire to make New Trier swimming his career.
Upon graduating from New Trier in 1944, Dave served in the Navy and then went on to the University of Michigan, where he continued to swim, placing 6th in the Big Ten in Backstroke. the Illinois State Meet, which was, for the first time, held at New Trier. But his college days were short-lived. In 1946 he received a call from Edgar Jackson, who convinced him to leave Michigan and take on the swim coaching job at New Trier. Though he later finished up his studies at Northwestern, Robertson arrived at New Trier with only a year and a half of college under his belt. To this best of his knowledge, he is the only non-degreed teacher ever hired by the school.
BUILDER OF CHAMPIONS
Upon arriving at the school, Robertson threw himself into the work of being a coach. With his mentor, Edgar Jackson, still in residence, he received excellent on-the-job training. According to a Pioneer Press interview in 1989, Robertson said of Jackson:
"Edgar B. taught me that to be successful, you have to learn how to organize first, and that to be organized you had to run your program with discipline."
And discipline he did. By the mid-1950's, New Trier had garnered a reputation as having one of the most organized, disciplined, well-coached and successful high school teams in the nation. Upon Jackson's retirement there was a seamless transfer of power to Dave Robertson.
THE METHOD BEHIND THE MAGIC
But the success of Robertson's teams was not built on discipline and organization alone. What really drove them to accomplish what they did was Dave's interest in finding new ways to make swimmers go faster, coupled with a serendipitous observation.
That observations was Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile barrier in 1954. Sensing a correlation between track and swimming, Robertson began to examine how Roger Bannister trained. What he learned was that Bannister rarely trained in miles, but rather in quarter mile increments run almost to perfection. This led Dave to come up with the idea of substituting shorter distance but higher quality workouts in swimming for the traditional long yardage workouts that were popular in those days. As he told the Pioneer Press:
"The idea was more intense workouts with almost perfect form. You swim three good lengths as opposed to thirty lousy ones and then rest. I remember yelling myself hoarse over proper technique."
And so, the Interval Training Method was born at New Trier. It quickly became adapted by teams of all levels throughout the world as the new swim training standard.
THE DREAM TEAMS
The rewards of Interval Training were almost instantly obvious. The long yardage five-in-a-row State Championship teams of the late forties and early fifties had been Dave's successful debut into the sport. But the interval trained teams of the later fifties and sixties were the ones that made forever rendered him famous. The 1961 team, in particular, has gone down as perhaps the best high school boys swimming team ever assembled. Not only did they sweep the top spot in every event in the Illinois State Championships that year, but they went on to attend the national AAU meet, at which they finished third in the nation behind Yale and USC! Members of that team also set five national high school records. At the end of the season, Sports Illustrated chose the New Trier Swim Team for a story about the greatest high school sports accomplishments in the nation. New Trier netted a 5-page photo spread and write up.
AND THE FANS WENT WILD!
Fans were also frenetic in those days. Swim meet attendance sky-rocketed, and an evening at the New Trier pool became a coveted ticket for many North Shore residents. So big was the demand for viewing even dual meets, that the New Trier Pep Club had to deal with rationing the limited student seating. This situation was only worse at other pools with less spacious arrangements when New Trier came to town. Dave Robertson recalled in his Pioneer Press interview:
"I remember they invited us to Waukegan for a dual meet. Fans packed the stands in the pool, and there were just as many fans who couldn't get in. So we swam one meet, cleared the place out, brought in a new crowd and swam again."
It's no wonder this happened given the kinds of teams that Dave Robertson produced. In looking through the records there are only rare mentions of the statistics you normally see -- Dual Meet Wins, League Championships, etc. Instead, Dave's accomplishments are reflected on the higher plane of State Championships, National Records and All Americans, and it is an impressive list.
Dave retired from New Trier in 1976. Thirteen years later, he became the second high school coach ever to be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame
The Girls! The End of an Era
Dave Robertson's departure from New Trier in 1976 marked the end of an era in Boys' swimming. Incredibly, the competitive swimming program at New Trier had been run for over half a century by only 2 head coaches, and highly talented ones at that. But times were changing. The Boys' teams of Robertson's last few years had many victories, and individual champions, but the State Championships were fewer and farther between. As Boys' competitive swimming headed into the 1980's, the unusual string of State Championships and national acclaim and the impressive depth of the teams of the fifties and sixties was becoming a part of New Trier history.
Several factors contributed to this. Other teams, taking their cue from Robertson's successful training innovations became far more competitive, and schools like Hinsdale Central successfully developed top notch teams. Also, with New Trier West in full swing, the township swimming talent was split in two, with some swimmers at one school and some at the other, competing on separate teams until the reunification of the schools in 1983." To add to the situation, hockey had become a major winter sport on the North Shore, drawing a number of boys away from the traditional winter pursuits, including swimming.
Boys' Swimming Post Dave
While the State Crown was no longer a given, New Trier East continued to field very competitive teams, by any standard. In 1977, Eric Matz, one of Dave Robertson's assistants (and the parent of 2 former NTSC swimmers) took over for Dave beginning in1977, and proceeded to produce an number of quality teams for the next 5 years, three times placing in the top five in state.
The Green, Grey and Blue
But while Eric Matz was producing admirable swim seasons at New Trier East, a second swimming program was getting underway at New Trier West. During the years prior to the opening of the New Trier West campus, New Trier sports teams had always been called the "Indians" and the school colors had been green and gray. But with the split into two schools in 1965, there was a desire to create a separate yet related identity for the "new" New Trier. To no one's great surprise, all New Trier West sports teams became known as the "Cowboys". The color blue was chosen to represent the new identity of West and the color gray was chosen as a continuity with the East campus. And so, for the next dozen years, until the closing of West in 1982, a healthy rivalry between the two schools developed. Fueling it was round after round of Cowboys vs. Indians sports competitions. This included swimming, in which the usually underdog Blue Wave (Cowboys) of New Trier West tried in their best to top the Green Wave (Indians) of New Trier East.
And in 1980, it finally happened. Bruce Woodbury, who had helped launch a small girls' swim squad at West in the mid 1970's, stepped over to take the reins of the West Boys' Team. His arrival resulted in a really big victory of Blue Wave over Green, when, in 1980, his Cowboys swamped Eric Matz Indians in their dual meet and in the conference championship. The Cowboys went on to capture 3rd in State, with Matz' Indians taking 7th. It was the best finish ever for a New Trier West Swim Team.
Back Together Again
But demography was the ultimate destiny for West, and in 1982, with the township's high school age population plummeting, New Trier West closed its doors, and the triumph of the Blue Wave took it's place in New Trier history.
With the reunification of the two schools, the Cowboys and Indians names were both dropped, and New Trier teams became the "Trevians." To retain elements of both schools'' colors, green and blue were adapted and gray, much to the joy of cheerleaders, pom pom squads and fashion conscious athletes, was retired. Boys' swimming was headed up by Coach Ric Petersen (1981-1983, and then Dan Greabel (1983-1988), who fielded a number of impressive boys' teams during the mid-eighties, placing in the top ten in state four out of the six years he was head coach.
Here Come the Girls
But the real story of New Trier Competitive swimming in those years centered around the girls. Prior to the 1970's, Girls' interscholastic sports had never existed to any degree among public high schools in Illinois. Swimming was a summer country club or private team sport for girls. At New Trier, girls had long had ties to the swimming programs, but their roles had been non-competitive, centering around activities such as the New Trier Guard and the Water Ballet Troupes. Their only involvement in competitive swimming at the high school had been to serve as timers. Yearbooks from the early 1970's featured photographs of huge groups entitled "Girl Timers" alongside the photos of the Boys' Swim Teams. But during the 1970's, girls' interscholastic sports programs became more commonplace in public high schools. At New Trier, they became the rage, and swimming was no exception. In 1977 Both New Trier East and New Trier West debuted Girls' swim teams. The West squad was very small and took a number of years to get going, but at New Trier East, Girls' swimming had some big early successes. The team premiered under the direction of Boys' Coach Eric Matz, and in their first year, captured sixth in State. The following year they leap-frogged to second, and in 1979 the Girls brought home their first State Championship Trophy to New Trier East High School. During Eric's final two years with team in 1980 and 1981, they captured 2nd each year. Girls' swimming was off to a wonderful start at New Trier East, but this was only the beginning.
Bruce Woodbury's Record Run
Bruce Woodbury had, as mentioned earlier, been the Boy's Coach at New Trier West in the latter years of that school, and had been the architect of their 3rd place State finish in 1980. But when the two school's were reunified in 1983, Bruce switched over to coaching Girls' swimming. In that first year, Woodbury, assisted by Coach Tony Harper, re-captured the State Championship that Eric Matz team had garnered in 1979.
It was an auspicious start, but what happened next was unique in New Trier Swimming History. For the next seven years, until Woodbury retired from coaching the team, the New Trier girls' had a virtual lock on the State crown. Despite formidable rivals, Bruce and his staff managed to coach the girls each year to the same position:
1st in Conference 1st in Sectionals 1st in State
Yearbooks recorded the repeat, threepeat and other "peats" with growing interest: "4 in a row, way to go!..." and so on, right through 7.
When Bruce finished his New Trier swim coaching career in 1987, he left with the string of seven championships in a row a record that has yet to be repeated! (He came back again in 1997 )
Tony Harper took over the Girls' Head Coach position from Bruce after his first "retirerment", and continued to field strong teams. With a 3rd in state finish in 1988 and a 2nd in 1991, 1992 and 1993. Tony retired from coaching after the 1996 season and Bruce once again was named the head coach. The second time around he produced an undefeated 5 year run with 3 state runner up finishes and another 2 state championships. Coach Woodbury "retired" again after the 2001 season. Mark Onstott the boys coach was named head coach and presided over the team for 4 years producing a 2nd, two 3rds and one 4th place finish at the state meet. While continuing to win CSL championships and sectional titles. When Onstott resigned from the girls postion after the 2005 season guess who came back!! We will see how this third run goes!! In the meantime, Aquatics Director and Head Boys' Coach Mark Onstott, assisted by Bruce Burton, Mike Leissner, Larry Stoegbauer, Greg Sego, Erik Saszik, Bruce Kimball and Joe Huyler, have brought the New Trier Boys' program back the top in state. With many CSL and IHSA Sectional Championship in the past 12 years. Also, they added to the state championship total (now 18) with championships in 2004 and 2006.