IN THE BEGINNING
Masters swimming as we know it officially started on May 2, 1970. The first national championship meet was held in Amarillo, Texas, after discussions between Capt Ransom J Arthur, who was a Navy M.D. and John Spannuth, who was the president of the American Swimming Coaches Association. Both men wanted to offer incentives for older swimmers to keep active. Actually, you could say that the first meet was part of Capt Arthur’s naval-funded research linking ill health with under- exercising adults. At the meet, a team of doctors and medical equipment was used to conduct tests on swimmers before and after their events. Swimming was found to be the best exercise for health, reducing the effects of aging and coronary disease in older adults. The first national meet had 49 competitors representing 11 teams and was sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). In 1971, the number of swimmers increased at the national meet to 112, including the likes of “Doc” Counsilman of Indiana and Illinois’ own Paul Hutinger. In October of that year, Masters Swimming became the governing body within the AAU and Central Masters Swimming became the governing body within the AAU to sanction competitions and register Masters swimmers for most of Illinois. Illinois swimmers started forming teams and competing in local meets. As competition grew many of the faster swimmers began to attend national meets. In 1971 there were 12 regional meets held and plans to hold a national meet in 1972.
In 1972 the first long course meet was held in Bloomington Indiana hosted by Indiana University’s coach James “Doc” Counsilman. In the first event, the 1500 meters, Illinois’ Irene David finished second. Irene went on to win 3 events during the meet. The first Illinois champion was Paul Hutinger from Western Illinois University who won the 45-49 1500 freestyle in a time of 22.45.56. The big draw at that meet was Buster Crabbe, the 1932 Olympic champion. In the crowd cheering him on were Mark Spitz and Johnny Weissmuller. Building off the momentum of that meet, Illinois hosted the 2 nd long course nationals meet in Chicago in 1973. Two teams co hosted this event, University of Illinois Chicago Circle and Ryall Masters which at that time was located in Glen Ellyn. The meet directors were Irene David and
In March of 1974, the first international meets were held in Sydney, Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand, with 36 swimmers representing the United States. One of the events held at this meet was a beer relay race!
THE FIRST ILLINOIS MASTERS
In 1975 several swimmers attending the short course nationals in Florida began to discuss the formation of a state team so that they could swim as part of relays at the national meets. This led to discussions at various Central Masters Swimming Association (CMSA) meetings. Without a decision, these swimmers decided to form a local club known as Illinois Masters, resulting in Illinois fielding an official team at national meets. This decision resulted in local teams losing some of their best swimmers to Illinois Masters. Many of the swimmers did not leave their team easily, but the prospect of swimming on relays at national meets and representing the state of Illinois was too much to forego. As many of the local teams became less competitive, the state meet became a race for second place. At the prospect of losing local teams, the CMSA board approved the creation of a unified team that would represent Illinois at national meets while allowing swimmers to go back to their local clubs for in-state competition. At that time, teams in Michigan and New England had similar arrangements. The unified team began swimming at national meets under a new name-Lincoln Masters (initially, Land of Lincoln Masters). At the 1983 LC Nationals in Indianapolis the abbreviation used was LOL! Subsequently the team let it be known the proper abbreviation was either LIN or LINC. The name caused confusion as competitors and officials thought that the team represented the state of Nebraska; so discussions began to change the team name. In 1995, Lincoln Masters changed the name of the national team to Illinois Masters. When CMSA changed its organization’s name in 2005 from Central Masters Swimming Association (CMSA) to its current Illinois Masters Swimming
Association (ILMSA) they needed to change the Illinois Masters team name to reduce confusion. So Illinois Masters (the team) became Team Illinois Masters and the organization is known as it is today, Illinois Masters Swimming Association (ILMSA). Today those names respectively still designate the out-of- state team and the governing organization to which Illinois master swimmers within our geographic boundaries belong.
In 1980, United States Aquatic Sports (USAS) was formed and became the U.S. member of FINA. In 1981, United States Masters Swimming (USMS) separated from the AAU, but the AAU continued to handle all registrations. The following year USMS became independent of the AAU and became a self-governing organization. In that year, Central Masters AAU Association became the Central Local Masters Swim Committee of USMS.
In January 20, 1985 the coldest recorded day in Chicago history Illinois Masters held the Chicago Illinois Masters 1000 yard Invitational. In addition to being held on the coldest day ever recorded, this meet was the first time ever the 1000 yard freestyle had been swum as a Master’s event. It was also the first meet to experiment with the idea of time standards. The meet director was Ross Lambert. Twenty two swimmers competed at the meet and national records were set by the winners in each age group. Some of the winners included Paul Hutinger (60) 13:40.11; Bill
Mulliken (45) 11:59.06; Phil Dobson (31) 10:56.27 and Nancy Sodini (27) 11:45.42. The most valuable performance was achieved by Richard Santamaria who provided support services to Ross and the meet officials. His greatest support service was starting many of the swimmer’s cars hourly during the meet to keep them from freezing in the extreme temperatures.
SOME OF THE EARLY RECORDBREAKERS
The early years of Illinois Masters produced numerous national and international champions. Record breakers and Olympians swam for teams in Illinois. Some of those swimmers included
Edward Shea, Art Koblish, Jurgen Schmidt and Bill Mulliken. Bill was a little known swimmer until 1960. In that year he made the US Olympic team and as the 17 th ranked swimmer in the 200 meter breaststroke, he shocked the world by winning the gold medal. Today, the ILMSA’s top award given to a member for outstanding lifetime achievements in promoting swimming is named after Mr. Mulliken. Thomas Cureton Jr. was a world- renowned pioneer in the study of physical education. Today he is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. In 1985, Thomas set 3 world records in backstroke at the World Masters Games in Canada. Not to be outdone female champions included, Mary Pohlmann, Betty Bennett, Jeannette Eppley and Irene David. Barbara Jensen Reeve from the Park Ridge swim club was a 1948 Olympian and a member of the first All-American Masters Team.
Bill and Barbara are not the only Olympians that have represented Illinois in Master’s events. Richard Hanley swam in the 1956 games and was part of the U.S.A. 2 nd place freestyle relay. Sam Kooistra also represented the USA in 1956 as part of the USA water polo team. Plamen Alexandrov swam in the 1980 Olympics for Bulgaria and Peder Dahlberg was the Spanish Olympic swim coach in 1976. More recently David Sims made the 1980 Olympic team that boycotted the games.
All- American recognition began in 1972. An All American designation is earned by having the fastest time in an individual swimming event in a given year. From 1972 through 1985, Illinois was well represented. Paul Hutinger was recognized every year. Art Koblish received the award 8 times. Jeannette Eppley was a 12 time All American and Betty Bennett made the list 8 times.
The Ransom J. Arthur Award is given annually to the USMS volunteer who has done the most to further the objectives of Masters Swimming over an extended period of time. It is U.S. Masters Swimming’s most prestigious award. In 1977 Illinois’ Paul Hutinger received the award and to this date is the only ILMSA swimmer to receive this recognition.
Paul’s son shared this story about his dad. Paul was always working to make Masters Swimming better but his other passion was to help science prove what Ransom Arthur and John Spannuth set out to prove regarding the benefits of exercise in older adults. As the story goes, “Paul was disqualified for 100m back at a St. Pete meet for going too far underwater, on his back, after the start. A “rule” back then. When told he was DQ’d he went up to the judge who DQ’d him, who looked at my Dad a tad nervously as he approached, and my dad asked “Are you the one who DQ’d me?” “Ah, yes..” said the official. Paul then asked “can you please fill out a DQ slip for me on how far I went underwater? I’d really appreciate it. I want to send it to an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas because he said it would be impossible for an 80 year old to go that far underwater.” The relieved official replied “Paul, I’d be happy to do that for you” as he grinned with relief.
WHAT ABOUT OPEN WATER
Open water swimming has a rich history in Illinois. In 1987 a 10K Open Water event was sponsored by Saluki Masters (a workout group of Lincoln Masters) and held at Little Grassy Lake in Makanda, IL (near Carbondale). For those that did not want to swim 10K they could opt for the two-mile swim. It was dual-sanctioned (USMS and USA Swimming), and had 71 participants. Clay Kolar was the event director. It was the longest Masters open water competition ever held, at that time, in Illinois.
Since 1991, the Big Shoulders 5K Swim meet has been held in September in Lake Michigan. Today it has grown to be one of the premier open-water races in the United States.
Behind the great swimmers are volunteers and officials who put this all together so that we all have the chance to continue to compete in the sport we all love. Officials like Fred Pigott, Don Drumm and Rich Mueller were very involved in working the early meets. There were many volunteers who helped guide the organization and lay the groundwork for our organization today. Included in this group are Russ Lyman, Cynthia Jones, and Pat Sengstock. There are others, some still involved today, who continue to work tirelessly behind the scenes to make Masters swimming available to thousands of swimmers in Illinois today.
ILMSA has grown through the years and in 2022 boasted a membership of 1763 members consisting of 13 clubs and 24 workout groups.
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