March 28, 2014

The birth and early years of competitive swimming in Dalton (1958-March 1974)

Editor’s note: Dalton native Scott Farrow researched the competitive swimming in Dalton and wrote an extensive piece about its history. A portion of the article appeared in the “Progress” edition on March 28. Below is a full version of the article.

In 2013, Dalton High School’s boys team won its second Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Swimming and Diving State Championship, 20 years after its first. Since Dalton’s first title in 1993, no other high school outside of the metropolitan Atlanta area has won a GHSA Swimming and Diving Championship, girls or boys.

Before 2000, all classifications competed together at the GHSA State meet. (GHSA’s classification system has frequently changed over the years; there are currently six classifications — A through 6A— with A consisting of the smallest and 6A the largest schools.) Beginning in 2000, GHSA’s largest classification competed separately while the remaining classifications still competed together. Since the separation in 2000, no public school has won a boys or girls swimming title in the combined classifications (A to 5A in 2013) except for Dalton’s 2013 championship. Atlanta area private schools have won all other titles in the combined classifications while Atlanta area public schools have won the largest classification.

Dalton’s program has achieved a rare level of success for a public or private school outside of the Atlanta area. For each state championship, there were at least four swimmers who had outstanding meets. Much has been written about the 2013 team and the sweep of Taylor Dale (first) and Ethan Young (second) in the 100-yard backstroke and butterfly, combined with relay titles in the 200-yard medley relay and the 400-yard freestyle relay, where Dale and Young were joined by Pierson Scarborough and Taylor Mathis. A similar quartet scored most of Dalton’s points in 1993: Shane Williams, Nicholas Rehberg, Bucky Wright and Jonathan Rehberg.

A state championship is the fruit of a dream planted years before. Who planted the seeds of Dalton’s program and set it on the course to success? How did a small city in northwest Georgia start a swim program that would be the envy of others?

This is the story of the birth and early years of Dalton’s competitive swimming program, including the start of Dalton High School’s team.

1958: The Dalton Dolphins are born

Although 1974 was the first year of Dalton High School’s swim team, the roots of competitive swimming in Dalton can be traced back to 1958. The high school team grew out of the Dalton Dolphins, a community team. Without the Dolphins, there would have been no high school team because all of Dalton High’s early swimmers gained their competitive experience through the Dolphins.

The best place to begin the story of the Dolphins is the spring of 1957. Dalton’s voters had just passed a $250,000 bond referendum to fund the construction of the Dalton Recreation Center. As soon as the measure passed, the city purchased a 40-acre tract of land in north Dalton off North Glenwood Avenue and began constructing a swimming pool and recreation center building.

Around the same time, Ellis Whitehead, vice-chairman of the Dalton Recreation Commission, called the National Recreation Association in New York City and asked its Director of Personnel, Woody Sutherland, for the names of possible candidates to serve as Director of the Recreation Department. Sutherland had the perfect candidate, John Davis, having just met with Davis the week before to discuss job opportunities.

Davis was in New York at Columbia University, completing a master’s degree in health and physical education. He had previously received an undergraduate degree from Furman University and served as director of Parks and Recreation in Spartanburg, S.C., for two and a half years. Davis came to Dalton, toured construction of the recreation center and interviewed with James Brown (chairman) and the other members of the Recreation Commission, in a private room at the Oakwood Cafe. He liked Dalton and its people, and was excited about the prospect of building a recreation program around the new facility. When offered the job, Davis immediately accepted and started in June 1957.

Dalton was indeed proud of its new recreation center. A 1958 article in the Dalton Citizen, Dalton’s weekly newspaper at the time, proclaimed, “It would probably be difficult to find a better (recreation) center for a city the size of Dalton anywhere in the South.” The crown jewel of this new center was its swimming pool. Even by today’s standards, Dalton’s pool was unusually large. The same 1958 article provided the following details about the pool:

“Almost exactly in the center of the 40 acre tract of land which composes the Dalton Recreation Center is the huge 330,000-gallon ultra-modern swimming pool. The location of the pool is apparently most appropriate, since it is perhaps the center of activity at the recreation center during the summer months. The $70,000 pool is one of the largest in the South and is only a few feet shorter than the longest pool in Georgia. The pool is divided into three distinct units — a wading pool, a diving well, and a main body for the average swimmer. The main body of the pool is 164 feet long and 42 feet wide. It is about 65 feet longer than the next largest pool in the Dalton area. One of the most interesting aspects of the pool is the diving well which has 12 feet of water. It measures 42 by 40 feet.

“On the end of the diving well are two excellent diving boards, one a three-meter board.”

After starting his new job, Davis pushed to get the pool opened before summer’s end. Opening day for the pool was Aug. 16, 1957, even though the adjacent building and locker rooms were not finished. Mothers helped wash the feet of the waiting swimmers to minimize debris in the pool. The demand for the new pool was overwhelming: 809 swam on opening day and more than 1,000 on a “free swim” day a few days later.

The excitement and huge turnout surrounding the pool’s opening had shown Davis the demand for a strong aquatics program. During the winter of 1957-58, Davis set about hiring a first-rate staff to oversee the pool. His choice as aquatics director was Floyd Hale, son of the superintendent of Dalton Public Schools, Clifford Hale. Hale had graduated from Dalton High School and was a freshman at Emory University. Even though he never swam competitively before college, Hale joined Emory’s swim team as a freshman and would swim competitively all four years there. Hale’s chief assistant was David Clement, who had graduated with Hale from Dalton High and then swam competitively on Georgia Tech’s freshman team. Clement served as head lifeguard and brought an expertise in diving to the staff.

Davis considered swimming to be an important part of Dalton’s recreation program. As he explained, “My basic thinking was I needed a comprehensive program. I wanted to meet everyone’s needs. I knew swimming had to be a part of it with a pool that size.” To Davis, it was not a matter of if Dalton would have a swim team, but when. Once Hale assured Davis that he was comfortable coaching a swim team, Davis instructed him to start Dalton’s first team.

The inception of Dalton’s team can be traced to the following short article in the June 6, 1958, edition of the Dalton Citizen:

“Swim Team Tryouts Set

All boys and girls desiring to try out for the Recreation Swim Team which will compete in the District swimming meet at the Dalton Recreation Center on June 27 should meet at the municipal swimming pool at 10:30 on Monday morning, June 9.

All participants must be able to swim.

Boys and girls will be divided into age groups and all competitive events will be conducted accordingly.

There will be no swimming instruction on the morning of the 27th of June due to the swimming meet.”

Dalton’s Recreation Department was a member of the Georgia Recreation Society (GRS), which later changed its name to the Georgia Recreation and Park Society (GRPS), and then to the Georgia Recreation and Park Association (GRPA). The GRS was a nonprofit corporation with a goal of promoting recreation and parks in Georgia. In 1958, Dalton’s Recreation Center was part of GRS’s District 7, which included Marietta, Cartersville, Rome, Summerville and Calhoun.

Davis recalled regular meetings with the other recreation directors in District 7 during which they exchanged ideas for programs. Davis believes the idea for a district swim meet in 1958 arose out of these meetings. According to the tryout announcement, the Dalton Recreation Department had agreed to host the district meet before organizing a team. This sequence of events is consistent with Davis’ recollection that other recreation departments in District 7 were a factor in the organization of Dalton’s team.

This first team enjoyed a considerable advantage with Hale as its head coach and Clement as his assistant/diving coach. It was remarkable for a small city with no history of competitive swimming to have two college swimmers as its coaches. In addition, because Hale and Clement were both Dalton natives, they knew many of the local children, which helped them in recruiting swimmers.

The four-team District meet on June 27, 1958, was the first meet held at Dalton’s new pool and probably the first team meet ever held in Dalton. The Dalton Citizen described it as “one of the greatest exhibitions of swimming and diving Dalton has ever seen.” The team results of the District meet were: Marietta (142); Cartersville (121); Dalton (58); and Calhoun (16).

By today’s standards, the first meet was unorthodox in many ways. Due to the number of swimmers, there were only three age groups (12-and-under, 15-and-under, 16-and-over) rather than the five or six seen in equivalent meets today. Three strokes were swum: freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke. There was no butterfly event, which, according to Hale, was probably due to a lack of swimmers who could swim that stroke. Most of the individual events were 50 meters, except the two older age groups also had an 100-meters freestyle event. There was an individual medley event (typically consisting of one swimmer swimming butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle) open to any age but it is not clear from the newspaper coverage whether the event included the butterfly. The only relays were freestyle relays open to any age.

Event winners for Dalton in its first meet were:

• Jerry Hix (16-and-over 100-meter freestyle, 1:30.7);

• Jack Beavers (16-and-over 50-meter backstroke, 47.2);

• Carlton McCutcheon (15-and-under diving, 39 points);

• Kay Bryant (16-and-over diving, 41 points); and

• Troy Farmer (any age individual medley).

The remainder of Dalton’s season consisted of two dual meets with Cartersville:

• July 9 (away), Cartersville 130, Dalton 90;

• July 30 (home), Cartersville 148, Dalton 126.

Besides the swimmers identified above, several other Daltonians are mentioned in articles about this first team, including Tommy Hogshead, Hilliard Jolly, Edwin Norton, Tommy Rollins, Shirley Barganier, Judy Broadrick, Wayne Metcalf, Wilbourn Felker, Danny Wrinkle, Eddie Eldridge, Sandra Springfield, Marilyn Mitchell and Woody Glenn.

The new pool awakened a passion for aquatics that Daltonians expressed in other ways besides the swim team. Hale recalled a drive to teach people how to swim. So many people registered for free swimming lessons that Hale enlisted the help of 30 women to serve as volunteer assistants. With the help of five paid instructors and 30 volunteers, more than 300 children and adults learned to swim. The staff also taught intermediate classes along with junior and senior lifesaving.

The pool was the place to be for anyone who enjoyed the water. For diving enthusiasts, there were diving classes and the Dalton Diving Clowns (David Clement, Oscar Camp and David Gross), who performed in Dalton and Calhoun. On July 4th, a water-ballet troupe performed for the public. Mondays were “Dime Dip Night,” which allowed an entire family to swim for a dime. One Monday night featured water games, including father-son relays, bobbing for apples and diving for goldfish.

1959–1961: The Dolphins Grow

The three summers following the first season were similar in many respects to the first season. There was a district meet but no state meet. The winner of the district meet from 1959-61 was Rome with Dalton finishing third in 1959 and second in 1960 and 1961. The other teams in the district meet were Cartersville, Summerville, Calhoun and Marietta. Besides the district meet, Dalton typically swam two or three dual meets against teams in its district.

Floyd Hale returned as the head coach in 1959 and recruited Charlotte Jolly, a lifeguard from the Dalton Country Club, to the team. Floyd and Charlotte would later marry, becoming the first Dalton swim-team marriage.

Tommy Hogshead served as Floyd Hale’s assistant coach in 1959 and then rose to head coach in 1960. Jim Hale, an Atlantan who was no relation to Floyd Hale, served as head coach in 1961.

Beginning in 1959, the structure of the swim meets became more conventional. The age groups were: 10-and-under, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, 17-and-over. There were events for all four strokes along with medley and freestyle relays for each age group.

One of the standouts during this period was Mike Jones. An article dated Aug. 12, 1960 from the Dalton Citizen noted: “Mike Jones, who has been on the Dalton Swim Team all three years of its existence, is undefeated in the breaststroke during all three years in any meet.” Other notable swimmers during the 1959-1961 timeframe were Frank Hogshead, Neil Wester, Carlton McCutcheon, Charlie Hunnicutt, Pat Bond and Pat Hair.

The first newspaper reference to the team as the Dalton Dolphins is an article in the Dalton Citizen dated Aug. 12, 1960. An article in The Daily Citizen-News in 1964 referred to the team as the Blue Dolphins. By the end of the decade, the team had changed its colors to green and white.

1962-1970: The Charlie Hunnicutt Years

In 1962, the Georgia Recreation Society held its first state meet in Albany. The top-two finishers in each event at the district meet went to the two-day state meet held during the second week in August. The state meet gave Dalton’s swimmers the chance to compete against swimmers from throughout Georgia with the winner taking the title of state champion. The top-three finishers in each event at the state meet received medals. Both swimmers and parents looked forward to the out-of-town trip and often headed to the beach after the meet.

Besides the state meet, the rest of the season during these nine years was similar to 1958-61. There were typically two to three meets against other teams in the district, sometimes dual meets and sometimes meets with three or four teams. In late July, the regular season ended with a district meet. In 1963, an 8-and-under age group was added. In 1966, a 15-17 age group replaced the 15-16 and 17-and-over age groups.

An article in The Daily Citizen-News in 1966 noted that Rome’s team, typically the strongest in the district, had left GRS competition for AAU meets. Rome’s departure highlighted the downside with Dalton swimming exclusively in GRS meets — the competition consisted of summer-only teams that were a level below AAU meets. In addition, the distances for many GRS events were shorter than in AAU meets, which meant teams did not practice as much as teams competing at higher levels.

Without Rome, the team competition at the district meet became a two-horse race between Dalton and Marietta. In 1962, the district meet had six teams: Rome, Dalton, Marietta, Calhoun, Summerville and Cartersville. By 1970, the district meet was down to four teams: Dalton, Marietta, Calhoun and LaFayette. Calhoun and LaFayette had some outstanding swimmers but lacked the numbers of Dalton and Marietta, which meant they often did not fill events and rarely won relays.

Charlie Hunnicutt was a lynchpin of the program during this nine-year period, first as a swimmer and then as a coach. Despite battling polio as a child, he became Dalton’s most decorated swimmer in the early 1960s, winning five gold medals (1963: 13-14 50-freestyle, butterfly and freestyle relay; 1965: 50-freestyle and medley relay). After high school, he walked on to the University of Georgia’s swim team and then returned during the summer to coach the Dolphins in 1967, 1968 and 1970.

According to Sissi Carroll, a swimmer on all of Hunnicutt’s teams, he was superb at demonstrating and teaching technique. He also made practice fun by ending a difficult workout with games, such as sharks-and-minnows or Marco Polo. Hunnicutt frequently got into the water to demonstrate a stroke or turn, or to play the shark at the end of practice. His love of swimming and enthusiasm for the sport was contagious. Other head coaches during this period were Jerry Hix (1962), Frank Broome (1963), Mrs. Robert Shields (1964), Tommy Drummond (1965), Jim Wilcox (1966), and Bob Morley (1969). One of the diving coaches from the late 1960s through 1972 was Allan Spreen.

Newspaper articles sometimes did not report the results of meets during this period. The available records show that Dalton won the district meet in 1963, 1966 and 1970. Dalton’s best finish in the state meet was third in 1970, Hunnicutt’s last year. A significant factor in 1970 was five gold medals amassed by the 8-and-under boys, including two individual golds by Jay Avrett (individual medley and butterfly), one individual gold by Wilfred Moore (freestyle) and two relay golds.

The following are the other individual gold medalists from 1962-70, to the extent reported in The Daily Citizen-News: Pat Hair, Mike Jones, Ann Strain (diving), Susan Bailey (diving), Mayson Moore, Norma Chitwood, Scott Bridges, Shirley Whitworh, Jeff Houston, Sissi Carroll (diving), Billy Chamblee and Frank Broadrick. A list of gold medalists by year and event is included in the attached appendix.

In 1968, Rowena Martin and Sara Houston formed a parents’ booster group called the Dalton Swim Club. Rowena and Jim Martin were the first and Sara and Neil Houston were second presidents of this group. Although husbands were always listed with their wives as officers of the Dalton Swim Club, the wives did most of the behind-the-scenes work. Rowena and Sara selected the green-and-white striped, baggy racing suits that the team wore for several years. They also started an annual end-of-the-season picnic at the recreation center and raised money for starting blocks.

Rowena and Sara, along with Billie Little, Wylene Carroll, Donna Stefanek, Anne Farrow and others organized the scoring table and bullpen for each meet. Without the aid of computers, the scorers performed the complicated record keeping by hand and were proud of their ability to keep up with the pace of the meet. Fathers typically handled the timing of races and judging of finishers.

Circa 1959-1971: The community center swim team and integration of the recreation center pool

When the recreation center pool opened in 1957, Dalton, like the rest of the South, was a segregated city. Although the recreation center pool was never posted as a “Whites Only” pool, African-Americans swam at the community center pool. According to Rodney Stokes, who grew up in Dalton in this era, African-Americans in Dalton referred to the recreation center as “the White Recreation Center.”

Just like the recreation center, the community center had its own swim team. The first reference in the Dalton Citizen to the community center team is in an article dated Aug. 21, 1959. The team had finished second in a meet with Atlanta, Rome and Marietta. Dalton’s team was led by Frank Mack (first in 15-and-older breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle) and Marilyn Winfrey (first in 14-and-under backstroke, second in breaststroke and freestyle).

According to Stokes, all of the community center’s meets were against other African-American teams from community centers in north Georgia. Henry Gaston was one of the early coaches of the team. Stokes swam on the team for several years and then took over as coach from 1965 to 1971. Gary Cleveland and Fred Patton served as Stokes’ assistant coaches. Stokes remembered several outstanding swimmers on the community center team, including Fred Patton, Paul Kilgore, James Alan Weaver, Gary Cleveland, Mitchell Cooper, Lance Dillard, Carol Alford and Judy Alford.

Despite the short distance between the recreation center and the community center, there was no interaction between the two teams with one exception: Paul Kilgore, a star of the community center team also swam for the Dalton Dolphins. There were few newspaper articles about the community center team, the last being in 1968. Despite the lack of public attention, however, the efforts of the community center team demonstrate that Dalton was becoming a town that was serious about competitive swimming.

The recreation center pool was integrated in approximately 1967 when three African-American boys arrived one day for the afternoon swim session. Charlie Clegg, the director of the recreation department at the time, vividly remembered the day. He was in his office when a female pool attendant rushed into his office and said three black boys were in line at the pool. He told the attendant to sell them a ticket and then went to the pool to make sure there were no problems. After waiting on the pool deck for about 15 to 20 minutes without seeing the boys, Clegg asked one of the lifeguard to go into the men’s locker room and see what had happened to the boys. The lifeguard came back out and said they were standing by the door, daring each other to walk out. The boys finally got up the nerve to leave the locker room and swam without incident. Clegg recalled seeing one family leave but no one else seemed to be concerned with the situation.

What Clegg did not realize was these African-American boys had not arrived at the pool by happenstance. Stokes, who worked for the recreation department at the community center pool and coached the community center team, brought Kelvin Stokes, his brother, and two of Kelvin’s friends to the pool that day to see if they would be allowed to swim. Rodney Stokes feared he may be fired if his superiors found out he had initiated this test, so he watched from afar. After their swim, Kelvin and the others told Rodney that everyone had been nice to them. From that point on, there was never a question about whether African-Americans could swim at the recreation center.

1969: The Alton Little episode

In 1969, Bob Morley was hired as the swim team coach because Charlie Hunnicutt was taking classes at the University of Georgia. As the summer began, Alton Little assumed the role as the director of the recreation department after the departure of Ralph Turner. Dalton was hosting the district meet that summer. On the day of the meet, a parachute was placed over the fenced area next to the concession stand to provide shade for the swimmers.

According to Little, the parachute had come down and blocked people inside the fence from getting to the concession-stand window. When Little learned of the problem, he told Morley to move the parachute. Morley was apparently busy with other details and told Little that he did not have time to move the parachute. Little thought the parachute needed immediate attention so he ordered Morley to move the parachute. When Morley refused, Little fired him on the spot for insubordination.

Firing Morley on the day of the district meet was the political equivalent of hitting a hornets’ nest with a baseball bat. Swimmers who finished first or second place in the district meet were scheduled to compete in the GPRS State meet in two weeks. Without a coach, who would train these swimmers and coach them at the state meet? Sara Houston, Wylene Carroll and Donna Stefanek immediately went to Little and tried to change his mind. According to Houston, Little refused and quickly showed them the door.

Little had grossly underestimated the political clout of these three women. They got on the telephone and in a short time had every member of the Dalton Recreation Commission at the district meet. When each commission member arrived, they blasted Little’s decision and the way they had been treated by him.

News of Morley’s firing quickly spread and other swim-team parents began complaining to commission members about the decision. The issue resulted in a hastily called meeting between the commission and Little. After explaining his reasons for firing Morley, Little told the commission that he would not rehire him. In an effort to reach a compromise that did not undercut his authority, Little suggested that the commission rehire Morley as the head coach for the remainder of the season. After the state meet, Little would again terminate Morley. The commission appeared open to Little’s proposal and when he left the meeting, Little thought the issue had been resolved.

Two days later, a member of the commission appeared in Little’s office and terminated him. To this day, Little does not know what occurred after his meeting with the commission that resulted in his firing. Little decided that he would not go quietly. He called a press conference and told his side of the story. After his account of the story appeared in the newspaper, Little received several calls of support and nine job offers. Little declined the job offers and decided instead to obtain a doctorate degree (Ed.D.) in parks and recreation from the University of Georgia.

The firing of Little had no direct impact on the Dalton Dolphins as Little had already agreed to a compromise that would have allowed Morley to finish the season as coach. For the swim team, the significance of the firing was the message it sent to future recreation directors. Little had learned the hard way that the swim team parents were a powerful and influential group. When they united and voiced their opinions, the commission listened carefully. Although there may have been other factors in the commission’s decision to terminate Little besides the parents’ complaints, there is little doubt that the complaints influenced the commission’s decision.

The swim team parents’ flexing of their political muscle also signified a new stage in the evolution of the Dolphins. When formed in 1958, the swim team was the creation of the Dalton Recreation Department. John Davis hired the first coach, who then organized the team. In the beginning, swim team parents were involved in organizing and running swim meets but the director of the recreation department hired the coaches. The firing of Little, however, served as a reminder to Little’s successors that the views of the parents must be considered in any decision that affected the swim team.

1971: Only one gold medal

During the winter of 1970-71, Dalton’s program had its first true winter program at Dalton Junior College’s (DJC) pool in the Bandy Gymnasium. When DJC’s pool opened in 1970, it was the first public indoor pool in Dalton. Charlie Hunnicutt remained in Dalton and supervised the winter workouts. He recalled telling parents that the swimmers had to start working out year round if they wanted to advance to the next level. The winter program was the first step in Dalton’s program becoming more serious.

As the summer season began, parents were excited about the team’s prospects given the winter training. The Daily Citizen-News printed only a few articles about the team in the summer of 1971. Shirley Whitworth, who had grown up in the program and won a gold medal in 1966, became the coach after assisting Hunnicutt in 1968.

One of the bright spots of 1971 was 14-year old Paul Kilgore’s arrival to the team. Kilgore had been a star on the community center team from 1966-1970. Why did Kilgore join the Dolphins? He recalled that Cathi Weaver, a classmate at Fort Hill School and long-time Dolphins swimmer, brought her swimming medals to school one day. He was fascinated by the medals and asked her about them. When Kilgore told Weaver that he too swam on a swim team, Weaver remarked, as only a child can do, that he could not even make the Dalton Dolphins.

Kilgore set out to prove her wrong. When summer arrived, he rode his bicycle each day from his home near the community center to practice at the recreation center. Kilgore became a standout on the team and a member of the 13-14 freestyle and medley relays. Kilgore was the first African-American to swim for the Dolphins and the only swimmer ever to move from the community center team to the Dolphins.

The Daily Citizen-News did not report the results from the state meet in 1971. The author attended this meet as an 11-year-old and remembered his mother, Anne Farrow, being disappointed that 8-year-old Roger Hackett was Dalton’s lone swimming state champion. Perhaps with the winter program and the team’s third place finish in 1970, she had expected a better showing. This disappointment became a motivating factor in the changes she made with her husband, Roy Farrow, in the following year.

1972: The Dolphins join the Chattanooga Swim League

In 1972, Anne and Roy Farrow became co-presidents of the Dalton Swim Club. They believed the team would benefit immensely from swimming and diving against better competition. Although Anne Farrow cannot recall who first had the idea of Dalton joining the Chattanooga Swim League (CSL), she contacted the CSL and initiated the discussions that led to Dalton becoming the first Georgia-based team in the league.

Realizing that the Dolphins needed a coach with serious competitive swimming experience, the Farrows began searching for the right person. Representatives of the CSL recommended Bill Landry, a Chattanoogian who had grown up in the CSL. Landry was from a family of nine siblings who had been mainstays of the Stuart Heights Swim Team, a well-established CSL team. While growing up, Landry swam in the winter for Chattanooga’s AAU team. The Farrows talked with Landry and decided he was perfect for the job. They convinced him to apply and then urged the recreation department to hire him. Landry was not available until the summer so they hired Roger Pressley, a local teacher, to supervise indoor workouts at DJC. Pressley was assisted by Gordon Rehberg.

Landry’s competitive experience, upbeat personality and dynamic speeches made him an ideal coach. He had attended the University of Tennessee (UTC) at Chattanooga on a football scholarship. While there, he caught the acting bug after attending an audition with a friend. He began acting in every UTC production. The swimmers enjoyed staying up late on Saturday night and watching him introduce the weekly horror movie on Channel 3 (WRCB-TV – Chattanooga) as Mac Flecknoe, a hunchback character with a pet rat.

Landry arrived in Dalton in June with bushy hair, a mustache and goatee. Anne Farrow recalled seeing another mother roll her eyes when Landry introduced himself at the first practice. Although Landry was not the stereotypical clean-cut coach, he knew how to connect with people and motivate them. The swimmers liked him and wanted to please him. Skeptical parents soon realized how fortunate they were to have Landry as a coach.

As practice began, Landry faced the awesome task of preparing the team for a rigorous schedule. CSL meets were much different than GRPS meets. The 9-10 age-group individual events increased from 25 to 50 yards/meters. The 13-14 and 15-17 age-group individual events increased from 50 to 100 yards/meters with the individual medley increased from 100 to 200 yards/meters. The increase in distances required more training, which meant tougher and longer practices than before.

After a rigorous month of training, Dalton was ready for its first meet at the Jewish Community Center (JCC). The team warmed up and then Landry gathered the swimmers together. As he neared the end of his pep talk, Landry heard the JCC team erupt in a well-rehearsed cheer. Landry felt a sudden panic. In his haste to cover all the details for the first meet, he had forgotten about the team cheer — a CSL tradition.

The Dalton swimmers watched the JCC’s cheer and then looked back at their coach, as if to say: are we supposed to have a cheer? Landry said quickly, we have to give a cheer, what is our team cheer? Dalton had no team cheer. Landry saw the lost look on his swimmers’ faces and then urged them to come up with a cheer, any cheer.

Several of the boys were members of Boy Scout Troop 60, which met at the First United Methodist Church. One of the older scouts suggested “Acka Lacka Ching,” a long-time Troop-60 cheer. One of the scouts then counted 1-2-3 and the remaining scouts yelled in unison:

“Acka lacka ching

Acka lacka chow

Acka lacka ching ching

Chow chow chow

Riff raff rhah

Biff baff bhah

Dal-ton Dal-ton

Rhah, rhah, rhah!”

The other swimmers quickly caught on and joined in. “Acka Lacka Ching” had satisfied the need for a distinctive rallying cry. In that moment, it became the cheer of the Dalton Dolphins.

Dalton battled JCC to the end but lost to what had previously been the weakest team in the CSL. Over the course of the next month, Dalton lost all nine of its dual meets in the CSL. The roster of opponents included both club and community teams: Red Bank, East Ridge, Cumberland, Brainerd Hills, Country Club Shepherd Hills, Signal Mountain, Stuart Heights and Cleveland. Despite this record, Dalton’s swimmers improved each meet and showed tremendous determination against the best of Chattanooga, many of whom swam in the winter for Chattanooga’s AAU team or one of its private schools. Both parents and swimmers relished the challenge of competing at a higher level.

One of the stars of the 1972 season was 8-year-old Julie Stefanek. While other teams dominated Dalton, Julie dominated the 8-and-under division. Julie even won the trophy for the best swimmer in her age group at the Chattanooga City Meet. One article in The Daily Citizen-News headlined, “Julie Paces Dalton Team,” noted:

“The Dalton Recreation Swimming Team may not have won a meet in their first season in the Chattanooga Swim League but their opponents are aware of little Julie Stefanek. The eight-and-under swimmer reeled off victories in three individual events and swam on two winning relay teams Saturday afternoon as the Dalton swimmers fell to Stuart Heights by a 381 to 274 score.”

Julie came to represent the hope of the team. The other swimmers were proud that they had a teammate who was the best in her age group. If Julie could rise to the top of the CSL, then so could they.

By the time of the annual district meet, Dalton was a much improved team. Dalton fiercely battled Marietta, losing 461 to 446. In the state meet, Dalton finished fifth, with gold medals in four events. Julie Stefanek won two of the gold medals in individual events and helped win a third in a relay (see Appendix for other details).

1973: The Dolphins’ Leap

With the move to the CSL, something unexpected happened — the Dolphins became cool. Swimming practice can be monotonous with lap after lap staring at the stripe on the bottom of the pool. The CSL made the sport more exciting and fun with nine or 10 meets in a month at some of the nicest clubs in Chattanooga. During the CSL season, meets were every Wednesday night and Saturday morning. The team often went out after Wednesday night meets. The CSL season concluded with the Chattanooga City meet, a multi-day meet at Cumberland’s pool.

As word spread about the excitement, children flocked to the team. In 1972, the Dolphins began the summer with 50 swimmers and ended with 70. During the winter of 1973, Pat Landry, Bill’s younger brother, oversaw a 17-week winter program at Dalton Junior College’s pool. By the start of the summer in 1973, the roster was up to 84, a 68 percent increase in one year. The future was looking bright with 17 8-and-unders. Pat Landry continued in the summer as Bill’s assistant and John Bonds joined the staff as the diving coach.

At the start of the 1973 season, Bill Landry said, “They’re going to surprise themselves this year by winning ... can’t whip a team into shape in one year.” He was right. Dalton got its first CSL win against Turner Club and then reeled off three more. The Dolphins finished the CSL season with a 4-6 record.

The real measure of Dalton’s improvement, however, came in the district meet with a 728-523 victory over perennial-rival Marietta, a mere year after Dalton lost to Marietta by 15 points.

Dalton’s improvement also resulted in a third place finish at the GRPS State meet and gold medals in 11 events, surpassing the previous record of nine in 1963 (see Appendix). The most impressive performance in this meet was Sissi Carroll’s three gold medals, two in swimming (13-14 individual medley and backstroke) and one in diving. During the 1962-1973 timeframe, Sissi was the only person to win gold medals in both an individual swimming event and a diving event. Her feat is even more impressive when one considers she won the individual medley, the event signifying the best all-around swimmer.

Another interesting story from this meet was the 15-17 boys freestyle relay. When two swimming regulars could not attend the state meet, Bill Landry convinced Frank Broadrick and Jimmy Doyle to rejoin the team for the District and State meets. Broadrick had won the 50-freestyle in 1969 but stopped swimming after the 1971 season to focus on football. Broadrick was built like a linebacker, with large arms and a chiseled body from years of lifting weights. His muscular body and smooth stroke were perfect for the shorter GRPS distances.

Broadrick won the 50-yard freestyle and anchored the freestyle relay, the final event of the meet. The others on the relay were Billy Chamblee, Jimmy Doyle and Craig Davison. When Broadrick hit the water he was behind but caught the leader in the first lap. After a bad turn, he got behind again and then closed the gap in the last 25 yards, driving his hand into the wall. The race was so close that the judges debated for 20 minutes before awarding the gold to Dalton. To Landry, the race was a great exclamation point on the season. He even included an account of the race titled “An Olympic Memory” in his latest book, “Tellin’ It For the Truth.”

A pool in the new high school

In two years, the Landrys had built the Dolphins into a respectable CSL-team that would soon challenge the best teams in the league. The success of the Dolphins started the older swimmers talking about establishing a high school team. The timing could not have been better as the Dalton Public Schools was in the process of designing a new campus for Dalton High School. Several parents began lobbying members of the school board to include an indoor pool in the new high school. The parents had a natural ally in Alice McGaughey (now Squillario), a school-board member who had three daughters in the Dolphins program. McGaughey and her previous husband, Willie, had served as co-presidents of the Dalton Swim Club in 1973. The school board chairman, Tom Jones, liked the idea and thought it was in keeping with the school board’s goal of building a state-of-the-art school that was second to none.

In 1973, there was no public school in Georgia outside of DeKalb County that had its own pool. (Even today, there are only five public schools in Georgia with their own pool.) Nevertheless, Squillario cannot recall any opposition to the pool. As she reflected, she summarized the sentiment of the school board at the time: “Let’s do something special for our children. Let’s be the first public school in this area with a pool.”

DJC’s pool had provided a place to practice in the winter but the water was very choppy whenever more than a few swimmers were in the pool. The pool in the high school was designed for competitive swimming with a gutter system, which greatly reduced the turbulence, and wired for an automatic timing system. The high school’s timing system was the first automatic timing system in Dalton.

At some point during the planning or construction of the new school, Jones came to Roy Farrow and David Pennington Jr., both swim-team parents, and asked if they could raise money for the pool’s filtration system. They went to a prominent Daltonian and asked for help. This person donated money for the filtration system and later the timing system with the understanding that he remain anonymous.

1974: Dalton High’s first swim team

During the 1973-74 school year, at least 21 students attending Dalton High had competed for the Dolphins. Although the new high school would not open until August 1976, they wanted a high school swim team now, believing they needed to compete year round in order to excel against better competition. Students Mimi Moore, Craig Davison and Sissi Carroll went to Alf Anderson, the athletic director, and asked for permission to start a high school team. Anderson was supportive of the idea but noted that GHSA rules required a faculty coach. There were no teachers in the high school with competitive swimming experience. Jim Martin, chairman of the mathematics department, agreed to serve as the coach-of-record with the understanding that he would serve only in an administrative role. His daughters, Del and Marla, had been long-time members of the Dolphins. Del was a senior and would compete on the first team. The 1974 Catamount annual identified Jim and Rowena Martin as the team’s sponsors.

In its inaugural season, the Catamounts practiced at DJC under the leadership of Pat Landry, who served as a community coach. They swam in three dual meets, two against Morristown High School in Tennessee and one against a community team in Rome. The meets against Morristown were a home and away series arranged by Bill Landry, who taught at Morristown and coached its team. Dalton narrowly lost both meets 80-92 and 84-88. The Rome meet included younger swimmers (ages 6-14). At that time, Rome had two public high schools: East Rome and West Rome. Rome’s team probably consisted of students from both East and West Rome and perhaps other area schools, given that, in 1974, the Darlington School had the only high school team in the Rome area. Dalton High’s team won its portion of the Rome meet.

Dalton High’s First GHSA State Meet

The GHSA State meet was scheduled to take place on March 8-9, 1974, with diving on March 8 and swimming on March 9. On March 8, three divers became the first athletes to compete for Dalton High in the GHSA State Swimming and Diving Championship: Mimi Moore (senior), Craig Davidson (junior) and Sissi Carroll (sophomore). John Bonds accompanied the divers and served as their coach.

When Mimi and Sissi arrived at Westminster School, they looked forward to competing in their first GHSA State Championship. Both girls were attractive and athletic with the perfect figures for diving. Mimi was a high school cheerleader who had won a GRPS diving gold medal in 1972. Sissi had won GRPS diving gold medals in 1969 and 1973 and would serve as the drum major for the marching band during the 1974-75 school year. Both girls dove year round with Ed Lewis and John Bonds in Chattanooga.

When Mimi and Sissi walked into Westminster that day, they did not know what to expect in terms of competition. Because of Dalton’s location, they had spent most of their time competing against divers from the Chattanooga area. Sissi recalled watching the other divers warm up and realizing the field was loaded. In all of her years of diving, she had never seen a field so strong and deep. Among the many talented divers, one young freshman named Jenni Chandler stood out as better than the rest.

The diving competition consisted of 11 dives occurring over two rounds, with some divers eliminated after the first round. Sissi grabbed her towel and headed to the locker room after round one, convinced she had not made the cut. She was standing by the locker room door when she heard her name announced as one of the divers advancing to the second round.

The top three finishers in diving that day were: 1. Jenni Chandler, 2. Julie Turk, 3. Allyson Reid, all from the Westminster School. Almost 40 years later, Mimi recalled that all three were certified as All-Americans in 1974 by the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association. The more incredible story, however, is what these three divers accomplished later in their careers.

In 1974, Jenni Chandler was a 14-year old diving prodigy from Lincoln, Ala., who had enrolled in Westminster the previous fall. Even as a freshman in high school, she had developed a national reputation as an outstanding diver. In 1975, she won a gold medal at the Pan American Games. At the age of 17, Chandler reached the pinnacle of her sport by winning an Olympic gold medal (3-meter board) at the 1976 Montreal games. (At that time, the Olympics only had a 3-meter and 10-meter individual competition.) In many respects, she was the Janet Evans or Missy Franklin of her generation, having won an Olympic gold medal between her junior and senior year of high school. Chandler’s gold medal came just 29-nine months after her victory at the 1974 GHSA State Championship.

Julie Turk was the king-of-the-mountain in Georgia before Chandler’s arrival, having won the GHSA diving championship in 1971 and 1973. She was a NCAA Collegiate All-American at the University of Alabama in 1976 (1 meter) and 1977 (1 and 3 meters).

Allyson Reid, a freshman at the time, would finish second at the GHSA’s state meet in 1975 and first in 1977. Reid would go on to dive for North Carolina State, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Diving Championship in both the 1-meter and 3-meter boards from 1979-81. Her 6 individual conference championships was a conference record until 2013.

Westminster’s girls team is easily the most decorated girls program in Georgia, having won 21 GHSA state championships. On Westminster’s list of top-10 diving performances (11 dives) in its program’s history, Jenni Chandler, Julie Turk, and Allyson Reid are still 1-2-3 on the list, almost 40 years later.

With a valiant effort, Mimi finished 11th, scoring 2 points in the consolation portion of the meet. These are the first points scored by Dalton High in the GHSA state meet.

After the diving event, Mimi and Sissi walked away thinking that the competition was much tougher than they were use to seeing. The competition was much tougher than anyone was use to seeing. As fate would have it, they had faced one of the strongest fields ever assembled in a high school state diving championship.

The bus accident

As a cost saving measure, most of the swimmers traveled to Atlanta by minibus early on the morning of March 9. At that time, I-75 had been completed through Dalton but was under construction from Cartersville to Marietta, at which point traffic was routed onto U.S. Highway 41. The minibus, driven by Jim Martin, exited I-75 in Cartersville and was rear-ended by a truck a short distance from the interstate. Rowena Martin was hospitalized in Cartersville with broken ribs. Several others on the bus were banged up but no one else was seriously injured.

Because of the accident, the team decided not to compete on Saturday and returned to Dalton. Craig Davison, Sissi Carroll, Mimi Moore, Steve Farrow and David Shaheen, all of whom had stayed in Atlanta the night before, were warming up in the pool at Westminster when they heard the news. They left the meet and went to Cartersville to check on the others. In addition to those previously mentioned, other swimmers on Dalton High’s first team were Jim McFarland, Julie Manly, Guy Abernathy, Billy Chamblee, Eddie Gibson, Alan Little, Morris Pennington, Cathi Weaver, Lou Ann Boozer, Jill Dixon, Laurie Little, Karen Smith, Scott Carroll, John Chamblee, Jay Stefanek and Welton Davison.

Final thoughts

Despite its inauspicious first season, Dalton High’s swimming and diving program quickly rose to prominence in Georgia. A mere three years after its start, Morris Pennington, a freshman on the first team, led the boys to a 6th place finish in the 1976 GHSA State meet. The girls’ team finished in 11th place in 1976.

Within eight years of Mimi Moore’s 11th place finish, Dalton High’s divers won 3 individual state championships: Amy Freeman (1978), Shannon Powell (1981) and Julie Kaye (1982). Dalton High’s first individual swimming gold medal came in 1980 with Mark Griggs’s victory in the 100-yard freestyle.

Bill and Pat Landry continued as the coaches of the Dolphins in 1974 and then Pat took over the team. The Dolphins improved each year and won its first CSL-division title in 1976. The Dalton Dolphins are now one of the strongest teams in the CSL.

Pat Landry joined the faculty of Dalton High in the fall of 1979 and served as the head coach of Dalton High’s team from 1979 to 1993. After taking Dalton High’s boys team to its first state championship in 1993, he retired from coaching.

For those who were involved with the Dalton Dolphins in those early days as swimmers, divers, coaches, and parents, the athletic challenges, disappointments, and accomplishments were a small part of the story. Each carries memories of relationships, of working together to build a program that earned attention and pride for an entire town. The Dolphins were a team in every sense with older swimmers watching after younger ones and parents looking out for each other’s children. Like dolphins near the shore, the team was a pod, swimming and playing together in the water, protecting each other, delighting those who watched and cheered them on.

The Dalton Dolphins and Dalton High’s team will be a joy to follow as they continue to gain talent, strength and support.

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