AUBURN SWIMMING AND DIVING HISTORY Auburn organized a “tank team” five years before swimming was recognized as a Southeastern Conference sport. The 1932 squad was coached and captained by Howard Morris, a sophomore engineering student from Montgomery. Even before this team was officially established, Auburn competed in “telegraphic” meets. The pool in the basement of Alumni Gym was only 55 feet long and 25 feet wide. Three lanes were marked off, and the athletes swam three laps for 165 feet, or 50 meters. They timed themselves and compared the results with other schools via telegraph. How Auburn fared is shrouded in lost memories. By 1936, “Boots” Chambless, a former Auburn athlete and assistant football coach, headed the swim team known as the “Paddlers,” or the “Tank Team.” With 16 student-athletes eligible for intercollegiate competition, the team received new equipment, swimming suits and robes and were able to take 10 swimmers on the road to compete against other universities. Chambless was unable to coach during the 1938-39 season and by 1940, the team was captained by Henry Mohns and Sterling Smith, with an organization “built among themselves.” Various coaches helped out with training and scheduling meets. The 1940 team is the first to show up on official SEC records, finishing fifth at the SEC Championships. The Tigers finished fifth again the following year. What happened after 1941? Very little, if anything, judging by the lack of records. All collegiate sports took a hiatus during 1943-44 because of World War II and when they resumed, Auburn elected not to have a swim team because of inadequate facilities. Bo Torbert, a former Alabama Supreme Court Justice, was a member of the team that resumed competition in 1947. “We were the first after the war to have a swim team,” Torbert recalled. The SEC Championships resumed in 1948. The 1950s and 1960s were quiet years for the swim program, which consisted mainly of volunteers, the best swimmers from Auburn’s mandatory swim classes. One of the major accomplishments was the construction of a new pool adjacent to Memorial Coliseum. Students had been pressuring the administration for a new pool, but were met with constant resistance until Harry M. Philpott became Auburn’s president in 1965. He was a driving force behind the construction of Auburn’s first competitive swimming fa96
The 1974 team was Auburn’s first top-20 team, finishing 17th at the NCAA Championships.
ty cility. A new era of AU swimming began in 1970 when coach Bill Washington headed the new swim team formed that fall. “We got money to travel, but we had to buy our own suits, T-shirts and warm-ups. We swam in seven meets and lost all of them,” Washington said. The next year the team swam in 11 meets and won two. The third year, with Tennessee added, Auburn won five and lost eight. During this period, the conference developed into a nationally respected arena for top swimmers. At the same time, Washington moved into a full-time teaching position in the physical education department and the university hired Eddie Reese as the new swimming coach. Auburn’s rise to national prominence under Reese is unprecedented in NCAA history. In his first season, 1973, he took Auburn from last in the conference to fourth and was named SEC Coach of the Year. In 1974, Auburn jumped to third place in the SEC with the help of Mike Drews, who won three SEC titles and was named SEC Swimmer of the Year. With a 17th-place finish at the NCAA Championships, the Tigers served notice that they were becoming a national power. Auburn’s success enabled the Tigers to recruit better athletes to continue the success. In 1978, the men’s team hit its all-time high with a second-place finish at the NCAA Championships in Long Beach, Calif. Two-time SEC Swimmer of the Year Scott Spann captured individual titles in the 200-yard IM and the 100-yard breaststroke at the 1978 Championships. Auburn began a women’s program in 1974. Although no scholarships were offered until 1976, the Lady Tigers swam competitively under Reese. Following the 1978 season, Reese left Auburn for the same position with the University of Texas, which had just moved into a brand-new fa-
cility He has remained at Texas since leaving cility. Auburn and has served as the head coach for the U.S. National Team at the Olympic Games on three different occasions. Richard Quick, a former Southern Methodist All-American, who had developed a national reputation as a talented young coach, was chosen to replace Reese. Quick led Auburn to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships in 1979 and a fifth-place finish in 1980, a position the Tigers would maintain for the next two years. From 1978 to 1980, Auburn swimmers David McCagg, Bill Forrester, Rick Morley and Rowdy Gaines dominated the 400- and 800-yard freestyle relays winning three NCAA titles. Women’s swimming became an official SEC sport in 1982 and Auburn’s team, lead by Annie Lett and Carolyn Goodley, finished fourth at the AIAW Championships in the first of three consecutive top 10 performances. But the era belonged to Ambrose “Rowdy” Gaines, one of the greatest athletes in school history. Gaines was known around the globe as the world’s fastest swimmer. As a sophomore he led the Tigers to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. By 1980, when he helped Auburn finish fifth at the NCAA meet, Gaines was practically invincible and was chosen for the United States Olympic Team. After the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games, Gaines would later win three gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic
Shawn Corrigan-Asmuth earned seven All-American honors in 1980, the first Tiger to reach that feat.
2010-11 Auburn Swimming & Diving Guide