A Very Few Became Very Many. . .

A History of Oregon Masters Swimming

by Earl Walter

Editor’s note: During this year of the 50th anniversary of OMS, “Swim Bits” will be bringing to you memories of OMS.  Earl Walter, author of this piece, was significant in the organization and was called “Ol’ Barn” (a.k.a. the Old Barnacle).  Earl wrote summaries of each meet and was the organizations historian.  Earl Walter was a significant member of Oregon Masters Swimming and a longtime participant and contributor to Oregon swimming in many capacities.

It is only fitting that we first look at the beginnings of Masters Swimming nationwide.

Ransom J Arthur, M.D., is considered to be the father of Masters Swimming.  However, without the help of John Spannuth, President of American Swimming Coaches Association, in the late 1960s, it would have taken many more years to bring about this organization.

Ransom Arthur had been trying to interest the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in such a program for 10 years, during the 1960s, to no avail.  Along came encouragement from John Spannuth, who offered the use of the Amarillo Aquatic Club facility for the first national championships.  Encouragement was also forthcoming from Bruce Hopping, Chair and Founder of the Kalos Kagathos Foundation of Laguna Beach, CA.

Overcoming many obstacles, they finally got the entry blanks out, and with a total of 45 swimmers, held the first Nationals at Amarillo, Texas, in May, 1970.  In October of 1971, Masters became an official part of the AAU.  This was followed by the start of Swim-Master, a monthly publication, with June Krauser, of Ft Lauderdale, serving as Editor.

Early on, the Navy lent a big helping hand by supplying Dr. Arthur with the funds, equipment and manpower to research the program.  It was found conclusively, that swimming was the best exercise overall.  They started with age groups of 25+, 35+, and 45+.  The events contested included: 50, 100, 200, 400 Free, 100, 200 Back, 100 Breast, 100 Fly, 100 IM and Relays.

In 1971 the contestants at Nationals numbered 112.  John Spannuth arranged for a dinner at the country club in Amarillo.  The 200 Breast, 50 Fly and Relays 25-34 and 144+ were added.  The Frog kick and Dolphin kick were both declared legal for the Fly.

In 1972 the Short Course Nationals were held at San Mateo, CA, under the direction of John Spannuth, and the Long Course Nationals were at Bloomington, IN, under the direction of Dr. James Councilman.

Oregon and the Northwest join the program.

Research shows that Karl Von Tagen actually was the “start-up guy” for Masters swimming in Oregon.  He had read of Ransom Arthur’s efforts and thought he would begin here with a meet in Oregon.  He approached Olive Mucha (MAC Aquatic Director), and asked if she would help put on the First Oregon Masters Swimming Meet.  Karl then sent out the announcements to many Northwest pools and received 25 entries.  The meet was held at the MAC, under the sponsorship of the David Douglas Swim Club and MAC, on April 22, 1972.

The official final results of that first Oregon Masters meet shows that Jim Bigler, Ralph Mohr and Ron Nakata (all current members of Oregon Masters Swimming), swam in that first meet.  Jim Bigler swam the 50, 200, and 500 free; Ralph Mohr swam the 200 free, and the 50 and 100 fly; Ron Nakata swam the 100 free, the 50 breast and the 100 IM

The Records Chair for Oregon was Olive Mucha of MAC.

Karl Von Tagen’s account of that first meet was this: After the meet they all adjourned to the “Elephant Castle” and celebrated with beer and fish & chips.  Karl remembers Connie Wilson coming to the first meet.  She was very interested in the program, she was very enthusiastic and put an enormous amount of energy into the fledgling movement.  Karl’s recollection of Connie was of a very excited person, asking all kinds of questions, and wanting to get involved right in Olive’s office down at MAC, and, as they say, “the rest is history.”  Karl’s involvement in the program continued by his putting on meets.  He did not want to get involved at the Board level.  He was a pioneer for OMS, and a very important one.  He lit the fire and was responsible for the program getting started.

This first meet was followed by a Short Course Meters meet on July 2, 1972, at David Douglas; a SCY meet at Tualatin Hills; then the final meet of 1972 was at Reynolds High (SCY) on December 31, 1972.  Alice Zabudsky (a current member of USMS) swam at that meet.


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