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Joe Hunsaker
Words of Wisdom

Joe Hunsaker – College Junior

Note to Reader: Dad has written a memoir he has shared with the family. This document is around 500 pages and covers most of the significant events of his life. He wrote about his college swimming experience and we will be sharing these as blog posts (Freshmen, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years) over the next couple of weeks. While Dad had a great memory, he was not perfect. If you have any additional information or pictures to share, please comment. – Scot Hunsaker

I was very discouraged at the end of the summer 1957.  I had spent the summer training with Doc Counsilman, working very hard and yet had a disappointing performance at the Outdoor National Championships.  I felt tired and pondered in my mind that having worked so hard with little progress whether or not I should continue to swim.  I actually considered quitting.  I was, however, on a scholarship and without it there was no way I could continue studies at the University of Illinois.  In any case, I did lay off during the month of September and part of October.  I felt that I was entitled to a rest.  This period coincided with early pre-season when very little was being done by any of the Illinois swimmers.

Once the Dolphin Show was the fun part of the fall semester, along with the excitement of football weekends.  (Throughout my life the autumn has been a good time, one that I look forward to each year.)  In adulthood this has been because of the swimming business, which always caused a lot of pressure in the spring and summer and the fall was when everyone forgot about us and we had time to relax.  During my high school and college days, when I was swimming, the spring was always the welcomed break after the excitement of the winter season.)  As previously mentioned, the swim team began training in October and by November I was training hard.  This consisted of dry land exercises, running and some swimming.  As I began to spend more time at the pool in the presence of the other swimmers I noticed a motivation start to take place.  I was enjoying a quasi-celebrity status, which had developed, apparently because of my training with George Breen and under Counsilman.  Many of my teammates wanted to know what is was like.  I naturally enjoyed describing the hard workouts and my familiarity with Doc and George, as well as, some of the other national caliber swimmers I trained with that summer.  George Breen, being a world-record holder and an Olympian, added to the prestige of my sacrifice, which was beyond anything my teammates had undertaken.  Because of this experience, there was a certain expectation that I would show a new inspiration having trained under what was at that time a radical regimen that many people felt was impossible.  This translated into a sort of expectation on their part regarding me and my potential ability.  As a result, I tended to make up my own workouts, which were considerably harder and longer than what the Illinois coach, Don Van Rossen, would post each day.  I found this somewhat fun because the conditioning I had undergone during the summer was now starting to show results as Doc had predicted.

I had to admit that I had missed the training for the past six weeks and I really enjoyed getting back into the discipline.

The breakthrough came during our Orange and Blue intra-squad meet in November.  I was going to swim my usual 200-yard breaststroke and a relay.  For a third event, I asked to swim the 200-yard individual medley because that was my high school event and I had done a lot of medley work with Counsilman during the summer because it was his method of coaching.  He felt it was a means of breaking the monotony of training in only one stroke.  Because I had been an individual medley swimmer, I was able to improve my swimming I the other three strokes somewhat.  I was excited and having fun as the meet progressed because it was sort of a kick off for the season.  I hadn’t swum the I.M. since high school and hoped that I would go around two minutes and twenty seconds.  The meet was on a Saturday afternoon, which meant the pool was brightly lighted with sunshine coming through the south windows.  The individual medley was my first race of the day so, understandably, I was fresh.  The race went well and I felt strong at the end, which is always a positive sign because frequently the freestyle leg, which is the last, is the hardest.  My time was two minutes sixteen seconds, setting a new pool record and breaking the old record which had been set by an Olympian from Ohio State by the name of Al Wiggens several years before.  At the time he set it, it was a world record, which was before the short course race was eliminated from world recognition.  Everyone and especially the coaches were excited and congratulated me.  It was possibly one of the best times in the Big Ten so far that year.  I could hardly believe it.

My 200-yard breaststroke was good for the beginning of the season and was close to my all time best.  I began to feel a gratification for all the hard work the summer before.  I also sensed a star status starting to occur.  I couldn’t wait to push harder and harder.  As a result, I threw myself into training and spent hours in the gym using pulley weights and other weight work.  We swam a few dual meets before Christmas and then the team moved to Fort Lauderdale for our two-week training program down there.  At Ft. Lauderdale we began to train earnestly and hard although our time in the pool was somewhat limited because of the many teams that had to share the 50-meter Casino pool.  After Christmas we began the serious part of our dual meet season and my times continued to improve.  In February when the Big Ten Championships were only several weeks away, my time in the individual medley was the best in the Big Ten and possibly the best in the nation.  Could it really be happening?  I was excited and also feeling that something was going to happen to burst the bubble.  Something did.  Its name was Tony Tashnic.  Tashnic was a sophomore swimmer at the University of Michigan and two weeks before the Big Ten Championships he swam a time better than mine by less than a second.  This was like a very cold shower and sobered me quite quickly.  I really began to concentrate on my swimming and trained very hard.  My coaches, however, wanted me to taper off and begin to take it easier as a means of developing strength for the coming championships.

The Big Ten championships were held the at the University of Iowa that year and the Iowa pool was 50 yards long with a permanent bulkhead built at the shallow end at 25 yards.  The spectator seating was rather large and all in all it was a good pool and natatorium for a championship meet.  When I got there I recalled that I had visited it for the same Big Ten championships when I was a junior in high school and here I was going into the meet ranked as one of the top two swimmers in the IM and possibly the breaststroke.  As always the 1500 meter freestyle was on Thursday night and then on Friday half of the other shorter events occurred with the prelims during the daytime and the finals at night.  As I recall, I qualified first, but had only cruised to qualify without going all out Tashnic did the same.

I climbed on the starting block for the final championship event and realized that this was the moment of truth with a show down between the two of us.  I had never swum against Tashnic before so I did not know really how he would go out or what his strong strokes were.  In any case I felt I had to take him in the breaststroke and go into the freestyle ahead because my freestyle was not particularly strong.  Butterfly was his main event so I knew I should keep close to him if at all possible for the first butterfly leg.  The gun went off and we were in the water.  In the butterfly it is hard to see anyone around you and since I was on the right side of him going down the pool and I turned to the right, I never really saw him until I had done my flip turn at the end of the butterfly, pushed off on the backstroke and came up swimming on my back.  I saw that I was about two feet behind him at this point.  This motivated me to try harder and I finished the backstroke at his knees.  I executed a flip turn from backstroke to breaststroke while he used an open turn.  The long push off, which I was known for, helped me gain ground.  I caught him at the first turn of the breaststroke and pushed off ahead.  During the second length of my breaststroke I pulled strong, hurting a little bit, but knowing that I had to make time now.  I turned at the wall and had and had a body length on him when I pushed off into the freestyle.  I had open water going down and began to realize that winning was there for me.  I simply had to make my turn and swim back to the other end of the pool and I would have won the Big Ten Championship.  As I went into the turn, for some reason, I turned farther away from the wall than I should have and, as a result, I got a very poor push off.  He executed a good flip turn and we came out of the turn almost together.  I could see him on the right side of me and realized that I had to swim faster.  I made a calculated decision to shorten my stroke to try to get a higher turnover.  As a result, I made a tactical mistake and actually made my arm stroke inefficient.  As a result, we hit the end together and he touched me out by two-tenths of a second.  We had shattered the Big Ten record, as well as, the national record.

Everyone was amazed at our time, we had not only broken two minutes and ten seconds, but had gone in the low 2:08.  The rest of the field was far behind.  I was crushed with losing this race after I had it won.

After the race we went up to the award stand and I climbed to the second-place position and Tashnic went to the first.  A swimmer from Michigan State congratulated him as a fellow Michigan athlete, which sounded like they were rooting for Tashnic and against me.

After the meet that night, Dick Whittaker, my best friend and roommate for the trip, and I went out to eat.  I remember that I played pin ball for about 30 minutes trying to unwind.  We went back to the room, watched a little TV and turned out the lights and tried to go to sleep.  I was so uptight from the race and from the disappointment I did not sleep all night.  Furthermore, I developed a cramp in my back from tension.  I was panicked because I still had to swim the 200 breaststroke on Saturday.  I desperately needed sleep and so did Dick because he had to swim the 440.

Dick’s father, a doctor, and his mother came to all of our meets.  They were staying a few rooms away in the motel.  Finally, we called his dad and asked him if there was anything he could give me to make me sleep and, thereby, let Dick get some sleep.  He came to our room and gave me a half tablet of a tranquilizer.  It helped and I was able to relax, but I still really did not go to sleep.

The prelims began at 11 a.m., which meant that we had to be at the pool no later than 10 a.m. for warm-ups.  I finally got out of bed at 9 a.m., grabbed a few bites for breakfast and went over to the pool.  During my warm-up I was extremely sluggish and groggy.

This proved to be the result of the tranquilizer and it greatly influenced my performance that morning.  I never will forget what happened when I got up on the block for my preliminary heat.  (I was the heat leader.)  When the starter commanded “take your mark” I leaned over as always, but was so relaxed I went right on into the pool.  This was classified as a false start.  In those days you were allowed two false starts, but on the third you were disqualified.  I climbed back on the block and this time tried to be a little more alert.  When the command came the second time, I went down carefully, but, again, lost my balance and went into the pool.  This created quite a sensation because of my standing in the meet.  Several officials came over to me and asked if I was all right, as did several coaches.  Bill Huesner, who was the assistant coach at Illinois when I went there, but left before the season started in 1955, expressed genuine concern.  (He was then the coach of the University of Minnesota.)  He told me to just stand up straight and don’t even bend over.  I did this, the gun went off and I started the race.  My swimming was sluggish also, but I did manage to qualify third for the finals.

After the prelims we went back to the motel and I was able to sleep a little bit so that when I returned for the finals that night I felt pretty good.  The leading qualifier in the race was Cy Hopkins, who had won the national championship the year before.  My times were close to him (within a second and a half) and I had planned my race to swim at his side, approximately half a body length behind and then take him on the last 50.  Everything went according to plan until we got to the last 50 and I tried to catch him and he moved away from me.  I later told Doc Counsilman of my strategy and he said that was a mistake with Hopkins.  The only to beat him was to get out in front of him.  I had another chance at the NCAA Championships in two weeks.

We went back to the University of Illinois and I was discouraged, but determined to beat Tashnic at the National Champion.  I trained hard, but with less yardage so as to build up my strength.  I practiced that fateful freestyle flip turn over and over and over with the image of Tashnic coming off the turn right next to me.

The National Collegiate Championships that year were held at the University of Michigan in their brand new natatorium, which was a T-shaped, 25-yard tank with a diving alcove.  It was a beautiful facility in its day and certainly one of the finest in the United States.  There was seating for approximately 1,000 spectators, excellent lighting, ample deck space and, for the championships, there was going to be live television on Saturday night.  In addition, we had coverage by Sports Illustrated, a major sports magazine, in the United States, with photographers and reporters popping up everywhere.  The most remarkable aspect of the Sports Illustrated coverage was an underwater photographer in scuba gear who took underwater photographs during the races.

Again, the individual medley was on Friday night, which was my first event of the meet.  Tasnic had to swim the 200 butterfly that day, which meant he had preliminaries in two events and finals in two events, although the individual medley was the first final in the evening.  During the preliminaries I cruised for qualifying, but the excitement made me go a little faster than I thought I was going.  Since I had been beaten by Tashnic at the Big 10 (I had a slightly slower time.), I was the lead swimmer in the second to last heat of the preliminaries (in preliminaries a fast swimmer is placed in the center of each heat so that the top swimmers do not swim against each other in the preliminaries).

At the end of my heat I had the fastest time so far with Tashnic still to swim his heat.  Understandably, I watched with interest during his swim.  Shortly after he finished in the lead, a murmur started to go through the crowd and the athletes.  John Fix, a teammate of mine, and one of our assistant coaches, turned to me wide-eyed and explained Tashnic missed qualifying.  He had swum slow to qualify and had underplayed his hand with the result that he qualified 7th and only the first six made the finals.  This was a situation that no one had foreseen and resulted in conflicting emotions for me.  It made the possibility of me winning the nationals much better, but it also disappointed me that I was not going to have the opportunity to go head-to-head with him again.  My major mistake had been the last turn at the Big 10’s.  Tashnic’s was swimming too slowly at the NCAA prelims.

Since I qualified first, I was in lane 3.  The second fastest time was that by the defending champion P. Timothy Jecko from Yale.  Jecko had won three gold medals the year before and had been named the outstanding swimmer of the meet.  Cy Hopkins from Michigan was in lane 5.  Jecko looked rather mournful and I was really psyched up for the race.  As hgad been my habit, I would breath heavily, pace back and forth and move aggressively behind the blocks and spring onto my starting block quickly and with determination.  I wanted to get the race underway.  My goal was not only to win, but to better the time that Tashnic had swum at the Big 10 Championships.  Jecko’s best time was three seconds behind mine, however, I had no way of knowing what he would do in a national championship situation.  The gun went off and we began the race.  At the end of butterfly Jecko was ahead as was expected because butterfly was one of his major events.  At the end of backstroke I was about a half body length behind Jecko and I did my flip turn from back to br3east, pushed off with my long underwater stroke and when I surfaced I had passed him.  There was open water ahead of me and I poured it on even though I could not see anyone nearby.  The crowd was effective and the novelty of the pool was helpful in turning out a good performance so I kept straining.  When I went into freestyle I could see that Jecko was hopelessly far behind and Hopkins was the closest one to me.  I swam down freestyle and concentrated on making a good flip turn, pushed off the wall and brought it home with open water on both sides of me.  When I hit the end of the pool, Dick Whittaker was at the edge and slapped me on the back when I stood up.  Shortly, my coaches gathered around to congratulate me.  I pushed off from the wall, kicked out into the water on my back and with 1,000 spectators I rolled over, stood on the bottom, buried my face in the water and said a prayer of thanks.  It had really happened.

That night I slept fine.  There was, however, an interesting aspect of that particular swimming meet and my sleeping.  Our coach, Al Klingel, was known for getting good accommodations for his swimmers, much better than most of the other coaches.  For the National Championships he had made arrangements to lodge our team at the University of Michigan Student Union.  This is where VIP’s usually stay and how he arranged it I am not sure.  In any case, we had lovely rooms on the 2nd floor.  There was one problem, however, and that was that my room (which was shared with Dick Whittaker) was directly over the bowling alley, which stayed open ‘til midnight.  As a result, when we turned out the lights and tried to sleep, we could hear the ten pins crashing below.  I couldn’t believe this was happening.  I thought it was unbelievable that I would train for seven years for this very moment in time and then be sleeping over a bowling alley.  It really wasn’t a big problem because we could sleep in until 9 o’clock the next morning.

I qualified 2nd in the 200-yard breaststroke and was really feeling good because of the championship the night before.  The finals, which were on Saturday night, were being televised live nationwide.  Knowing that we were on television added more drama to the experience.  It was really quite exciting being in a brand new natatorium with 1,000 people watching and knowing that you were being watched by friends and relatives everywhere.  The 200-yard breaststroke was shaping up to be quite a race because of the six finalists.  There was less than a two-second spread among us.

The race began and this time I tried to get out in front of Hopkins or at least stay with him.  This I was not able to do, but I stayed much closer than before.  It was during this race that a strange development occurred.  We were all going out at a rather fast pace and in breaststroke it’s hard to see people on either side of you, but I could vaguely see splashing up ahead of me approximately three lanes over.  I stayed with my pace and tried to shadow Hopkins.  We finally went into the last turn and coming out of it we were close together and I really tried to pour it on, but I could sense that Hopkins was slightly ahead.  What was unique in this particular race was that several times I could spot strobe lights going off underwater and could even see the scuba diver with his camera just off the race course.  There was a television camera mounted in the center of the ceiling of the natatorium and they would do overhead shots at different times during each race.

I was later told by my friends in Champaign, who had watched it on television, that for the last lap they used the overhead camera angle and Frank Modine from Michigan State University had gone out very fast and was the splashing I had seen earlier in the race.  But as we came down to the finish, the other five swimmers were catching him and it ended up being a touch out with a little more than a second between the six finishers.  It was a very exciting finish to watch.  At the time, I was disappointed in my third place finish behind Modine and Hopkins.  In retrospect, it was a respectable performance in a field of outstanding athletes.  Modine’s time was a new national record and he was congratulated on that.

I returned to Champaign in a wonderful state of mind and was already starting to think about next year.

My plans for the summer could not include swimming with Counsilman for two reasons.  After the previous summer he had taken the position of varsity swimming coach at Indiana University, which was a rival in the Big 10.  The second reason was the fact that I had chosen to complete the ROTC program and receive an Army commission upon graduation.  As such, I was required to attend a six-week summer camp at Fort Gordon, Georgia.  This ruled out any competitive training that summer.  This concerned me.  However, at the time I did not realize how important year-round swimming was to achieving the national class performances.

 

All Stories

Joe Hunsaker – College Sophmore

Note to Reader: Dad has written a memoir he has shared with the family. This document is around 500 pages and covers most of the significant events of his life. He wrote about his college swimming experience and we will be sharing these as blog posts (Freshmen, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years) over the next couple of weeks. While Dad had a great memory, he was not perfect. If you have any additional information or pictures to share, please comment. – Scot Hunsaker

I returned to St. Louis for approximately a week or two and then left for Champaign where I worked as a fill-in lifeguard at the country club and helped get the fraternity house ready for rush week.

In retrospect, my sophomore year at the University of Illinois was rather uneventful.  This period was like that of most second-year students, a time of adjustment and acclamation to the lifestyle of a college student.  Highlighting this period, however, was the opportunity to compete on the varsity team and, presumably, win a varsity letter.  I felt very comfortable in knowing my way around the campus as well as understanding how university culture all fits together and works in an interdependent way.  My major began to come into focus as more courses were studied.  An added impetus was created when I was able to take field trips through the Department of City Planning and Landscape Architecture.  I have to admit that I had some difficulty in visualizing myself working in the profession that was being outlined before me.

The start of the varsity swim season was exciting.  We did dry land exercises in the first two months, i.e., September and October, and then phased the dry land out as we went into swimming.  (This is in contrast to college swimming today where dry land exercise and weight work is continued throughout the season as just another element of training.)

 

During my sophomore year (my first in competition) I swan only breaststroke, i.e., the 100 breaststroke on the 400-yard medley relay and the 200-yard breaststroke in dual meet competition.  There was no 100-yard breaststroke in dual meet competition.  I had relative success during my first season and easily lettered, which required ten points.  Five points were awarded for the winning of a race, three for a second place and one for third place.

The high point of the season started to take shape in mid-March with the Big 10 Championships, which were held at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.  The natatorium was a small and dark arena, which seated approximately 500 people.  The pool was deep throughout with open wall-fixed bulkheads at the ends of the race course.  I placed 4th in the 200-yard breaststroke and 5th in the 100-yard breaststroke.  (During championships the 100-yard breaststroke was also an event.)  In those days we swam the breaststroke underwater as much as possible, which meant that you swam four or five strokes off the dive and then would surface for one quick breath and then go on down and swim another two or three strokes.  It was a very awkward form of breaststroke swimming and extremely different from what is swum today by my son, Eric, at the University of North Carolina.  Apparently I piked (bending slightly at the hips) during my underwater strokes.  This was noticed by an old St. Louis swimmer, Ronnie Johnson, who was at the meet for some reason.  He may have been an assistant coach at that time.  Ronnie had trained under Ernie Vornbrock in St. Louis and was one of our family that bridged swimming with Ernie from Jim Counsilman’s days in the late 30’s to my swimming in the late 50’s.  Ronnie had also made the Pan American team that competed in Mexico City in 1955.  He told me that I needed to straighten out my body during the underwater strokes and made several other suggestions.

It was a fun meet.  I remember that after the meet was over on Saturday night a bunch of swimmers got together in the hotel where we were staying and caused a lot of racket and let off steam.  One of the individuals that I teamed up with temporarily for horseplay, which annoyed a lot of the regular hotel guests, was Ronnie O’Brien.  Thirty years later Ron has turned out to be one of the top diving coaches in the world, primarily because he is the coach of the great American diver, Greg Louganis.  (We have maintained our friendship into our 60s and 70s.).

After a two-week period of concentrated training, a small group from the team left for the NCAA Championships at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  (Thirty-two years later my son Eric enrolled at UNC.)  It was the end of March and in Champaign it was quite cold, windy and gloomy.  Upon our arrival at Chapel Hill, I was surprised by the mild weather and even the buds coming out on the trees.  UNC has the reputation of a beautiful campus and it certainly lived up to that description.  The swimming pool was not a good choice for a National Collegiate Championship.  It has very few seats and was approximately 100 feet long with a fixed bulkhead built in at 25 yards.  Seating existed on one side and at the end of the shallow end bulkhead and was supported by scaffolding that actually extended into the water beyond the bulkhead.  As was the case in those days, the National Collegiate Championships were, basically, a re-run of the Big 10 Championships with one or two people outside of the Big 10 who were good enough to make the finals.  In my events, the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke, five of the six finalists in each event were from the Big 10.  The 100 breaststroke was won by a relatively unknown from the University of Oklahoma by the name of Gordon Collette.

This was the only National Championship that he won to my recollection.  He has, however, stayed in the sport of swimming and is a coach in California at the present time.  His winning was a major upset since a Michigan swimmer by the name of Cy Hopkins had won the Big 10 event and was predicted to repeat at the nationals.  I made the finals in both events and finished one notch back of my finish at the Big 10’s, i.e., 5th place in 200 breaststroke and 6th place in the 100 breaststroke.  I did not swim the individual medley, but was attracted to the event as I watched from the side lines during that meet.  The most memorable facet of the championships was the three gold medals won by a swimmer from Yale by the name of P. Timothy Jecko.  He won the 100-yard butterfly, the 200-yard butterfly and the 200-yard individual medley.  He received the most valuable swimmer of the meet award and was heavily written up in the local papers and even made the New York Times.  He was, understandably, considered the superstar of the meet.  As I recall, the University of Michigan won the team championship with Yale close behind.

As I’ve said before, I believe there are several major forks in the road that each person comes face-to-face within their own life.  One of those forks occurred at these NCAA Championships when I sat down and talked with Jim Counsilman who was there as a coach with two of his swimmers from Cortland State Teachers College.  Jim had finished his doctorate at the University of Iowa; (hence, the nickname Doc, which has been a part of his name ever since) and after the completion of his studies he accepted a position at a small teachers’ college in upstate New York.  Everyone thought he was making a major mistake by not working as an assistant coach at one of the major swimming universities.  The reason seems to be that he had functioned in that capacity during his masters’ and doctorate studies (Illinois for his masters, Iowa for his doctorate) and felt that he would be frustrated working as an assistant coach again.

Another motivation for this decision was that he had developed a revolutionary concept for competitive swimming and probably felt that he could have more freedom to develop swimmers with this theory if he were head coach, even though it would be at a small school.

In any case, we talked about the possibility of my spending the summer in Cortland and training with him.  He thought that was an excellent idea and saw a number of things that were wrong with my stroke during my performance at the Championships.  He said that if I could get to Cortland, he could get me a summer job as a lifeguard and arrange lodging at one of the rooming houses near the campus.  I would be training with a handful of other swimmers one if which was George Breen, who was Doc’s first world-record holder that he had developed in a matter of three years.  This was an exciting idea for me and a challenge that I definitely wanted to take on.  I immediately started making mental plans for my trip to Cortland and what I would be doing that summer.

As was the custom in those days, I stopped swimming after the nationals in April and didn’t begin again until I arrived in Cortland, New York in mid-June.  I knew this was going to be very difficult for me to take on the extensive workouts that Counsilman would demand.  In retrospect, I should have kept swimming all spring.  This was contrary, however, to the way most swimmers trained in those days and I did not have the foresight to see that my summer would be more beneficial if I stayed in condition after the indoor nationals.

Shortly after my last final exam was taken at Illinois, I went home to St. Louis for several days and then packed my gear for the trip to Cortland, New York. I had not hitchhiked over a great distance before and so I determined that I could afford to take a Greyhound bus as far as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which is located in the center of the state and approximately 250 miles south, southwest of Cortland, New York.  The bus ride was relatively uneventful although it did take place over one night.  When we arrived at Harrisburg I disembarked the bus, consulted my road map and found my way to the edge of the city where I began to hitchhike.  Hitchhiking in those days was rather fun and adventuresome.  I would meet a number of interesting people and usually had no great wait in catching a ride.  In any case, I arrived in Cortland in early evening and called Doc from a pay phone on the edge of town.  He came in his car, picked me up and took me back to his house where I spent the night.  The next day he took me to a fraternity house that was being occupied by several of the swimmers that he was going to be training that summer.  When we arrived, I met George Breen and was very pleased to find that I would be rooming with him for at least several weeks.  There was one major complication, and that was that Doc was working in Philadelphia at an athletic club during the week and driving home on weekends to be with his family and to go over workouts for the week ahead.  Fortunately, this was not a permanent situation and was going to last only several weeks.

The workouts that Doc left with George were unbelievable from my point of view.  I had never trained as hard as Counsilman required.  We swam two and three times a day and some of the workouts were long mile swims, which are really quite boring without a coach around.  Also, I could not swim freestyle as fast as Breen (world-record holder), so I didn’t even have the advantage of working out with someone.

After several weeks Doc finished his Philadelphia requirement and was available on a daily basis.  At this time, several other swimmers arrived from around the country.  One was Frank Brunell, who was an outstanding age group swimmer.  Another swimmer (with a name) that arrived was Gene Adler.  Gene was a real phenomenon as an age grouper.  He matured quite early and I remember swimming against him at the National YMCA Championships where he won both the breaststroke and the individual medley.  

As I said before, the workouts were unbelievably long and hard.  But I had no choice, I had to stick with the program or lose a tremendous amount of face and be considered a quitter by the others and myself.

After about four weeks I started to see improvements in my endurance and conditioning.  My swimming performance with regard to the breaststroke did not improve much at all and this was very discouraging.  Doc kept reassuring me that the benefit would occurnext winter and it would not take place now because of the “tear down” by the workouts and that success comes when the body rebuilds itself during the layover between the summer season and the winter season.  It was interesting that in all my swimming for time, other than the breaststroke, I improved.  I swam the individual medley, I swam individual strokes other than breaststroke and I did a lot of kicking and pulling for time.

The summer season ended with all of us going to the outdoor National AAU Championship in Philadelphia.  The meet was held at the big Kelley Olympic pool.  I swam the 400 individual medley (There was no 200-meter event.) and the 100-meter breaststroke and the 200-meter breaststroke.  My individual medley time was not very good because the event felt so foreign.  My 200-meter breaststroke was a little better, but not good enough to make the finals.  I did make the finals in the 100-meter breaststroke, which was quite surprising because I was always a 200 breaststroker.  There were eight swimmers in the finals at the outdoors and it was covered by TV.  I finished the 100 with a number of positions being touch outs.  There was some confusion over who finished where, and I was asked to go to the victory stand along with everyone else.  When I got there, I soon realized that I had placed 7th out of 8 and they were giving medals only to the top six.  This was a little embarrassing, but I was probably the only one to even notice.

I swam in lane 7 out of 8 in the 100 breaststroke.  The swimmer in lane 8 should have been a slow qualifier and he was.  The reason was because he swam only to qualify.  Bob Hughes was huge breaststroker, maybe 6’7”, 250 pounds and very strong.  I felt like a high school sophomore standing on the block beside him.  He later qualified for the Olympics for the 200 breast and water polo team competition.

I remember when the race was underway in the shallow water.  I would look down and see this large dark shadow ahead of mine.  He won the race.

After the meet was over I sand goodbye to everyone, packed my gear and took a bus to New York City.  The bus arrived at the New York Port Authority terminal.  From there I managed to get to the Sloan House, which was a YMCA with hotel rooms.  The rooms were considerably less-costly than was the standard of the day.  Because it was a men’s hotel, the rooms were elongated closets with a single size bed with showers and toilets being down the hall.  It was really like a dormitory with individual rooms.

I had never been to New York before and it was an adventure.  I was going to treat myself following the hard summer.  I spent three days visiting landmarks, points of interest and just walking around looking at the tall buildings.

Several things stand out during that trip.  One was that I usually ate my meals at hot dog stands or at the coin-operated Horn and Hardet.  This was a unique experience that I had seen in movies.  Two walls of this large eating room were filled with little windows behind which were single servings of all kinds of food.  You would insert the necessary coins, turn the handle and the door would open and you would remove your food.  I also stumbled across a tremendous find.  It was Tad’s Steak House on 42nd Street near Times Square.  For 99 cents you got a steak, baked potato and a salad.  The beverage was extra.  (The restaurant was still in the area in 2006.)

Finally the time came for me to leave New York.  I bought a bus ticket from the Port Authority Terminal to Wheeling, West Virginia.  I could afford that far and it gave me a way of getting out of the city congestion and even through Philadelphia.  Wheeling was a small town at that time.  Once I left the bus I was able to make my way I some fashion to th4 edge of town.  I hitchhiked with short rides for several hours and then was picked up by a person who was going to St. Louis.  It was a stroke of luck, although costly to a certain degree before the trip was over.  This individual, who was a young person, was driving home and was pretty low on money.  When he ran out of money I gave him some of mine to buy gas.  That turned out to be insufficient so at one point he sold his spare tire to a gas station in exchange for a tank of gas.  With no spare and a tank of gas we were limping our way into St. Louis.  We made, however, and I was dropped off at my door at approximately 3 o’clock in the morning.  The summer had really been unique and challenging.  I experienced a number of adventures and was looking forward to some time off before the start of school.

I hitchhiked back to Champaign, helped clean up the fraternity house in preparation for rush week and spent some time working at the country club as a lifeguard.  Our rush week was quite productive and we pledged an impressive group of young men.  In my opinion, it was a better group than my own pledge class.  The sophomore class usually has the most impact and influence over rushes planning to pledge because they will have to spend three years with the sophomores.  In that regard, I have to credit our sophomores with doing a very good job in rushing.

Note to reader:  The Junior Year will be published in about a week. 

 

 

Joe Hunsaker – College Freshmen

Note to Reader: Dad has written a memoir he has shared with the family. This document is around 500 pages and covers most of the significant events of his life. He wrote about his college swimming experience and we will be sharing these as blog posts (Freshmen, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years) over the next couple of weeks. While Dad had a great memory, he was not perfect. If you have any additional information or pictures to share, please comment. – Scot Hunsaker

I spent my summer of 1955 in Champaign, Illinois, the home of the University of Illinois, at the invitation of the varsity swimming coach, Mr. Al Klingel.  It was a pleasant summer, primarily because I worked at the country club as a lifeguard and had 2’1/2 months to become familiar with the campus and the lovely community of Champaign/Urbana.  These two sister cities have grown up side-by-side with the University campus straddling both sides of the common city limit boundary line.  My memory of that summer is quite idyllic because it involved very pleasant working conditions, many new friends including and lazy days bike riding around the campus, which was almost deserted and quite picturesque with its many trees, broad campus walkways on the quadrangle and the sleepy stirrings around the fraternities, sororities and rooming houses.

The adjustment of becoming a college student was difficult and yet my particular case was eased considerably by my relationship with the swimming team and the coaching staff.  Many helpful suggestions were given me and doors were opened by coaches and varsity swimmers, which gave me an immediate network on campus, something that most students who attend school out of state seldom have.

In 1955, the NCAA rules stated that freshmen could not compete in varsity competition.  This was based on the rationale that it takes a student the first year to get well-situated and acclimated to the university and, most importantly, to his studies.  In this regard, I believe the rule was correct.  The downside of the rule, however, was the fact that without competition and the motivation for training, the first year becomes sort of a period of limbo with regard to athletic development.  In any case, I tried to swim to a certain degree although there was a lack of incentive because of the eligibility rule.

The fall semester did, however, introduce me to another extracurricular activity, which was the Dolphin Fraternity.  The Dolphin Fraternity had one function and that was to produce the annual Dolphin Show during football weekends at the University.  The Dolphin Show was a water show, which was written, staged, produced and performed in the swimming pool natatorium using the water for most events but also with dry land acts, which took place on a small stage that was built out into the water and was at the center of the pool.  This was my first opportunity to become active in an extracurricular activity other than the swimming team.  Upper classman had written the show and was going to direct it.  It was based upon a television studio, which was a takeoff of a popular TV show that was broadcast out of Chicago at that time.  In any case, the real show featured a host by the name of Dave Garroway, who wore horn-rimmed glasses, was tall and spoke with a rather slow and easy manner.  In any case, the selection of the host/MC for our Dolphin show finally came down to me and I accepted.  It was a great experience and looking back on it now I realized it was somewhat of a gutsy thing for a freshman to volunteer for.  At the time, I felt that a lot of the exciting things in life occur because you take chances and I was willing to take a shot at this opportunity.  We spent weeks preparing the flats and stage craft, practicing lines and acts and then several rehearsals.

The opening night occurred with a full house of 500 parents and students following the football game on campus that day.  The show went fairly well with a minor number of hitches and we all had a great time.  I thought it was especially exciting and fell in love with the Dolphin Show, which became my private project during my last three years at the University.

Later in the month of December we had a freshman/varsity swimming meet, which gave all of the freshmen an opportunity to swim for time.  Most of us had been training to some degree, however, none with the commitment that was necessary if we were eligible for competition.  As I recall, I won the 100- and 200-yard breaststrokes.  Several weeks after the freshman varsity meet, the team left for Fort Lauderdale, Florida for the Christmas vacation training session.  This is still an annual affair and it is the same program that I attended my senior year in high school with Ernie Vornbrock.  As a freshman, we were given the least attractive lodging facilities.  They were still quite good and very conveniently located near the city-owned Casino Swimming Pool.  The two-week period that we spent in Fort Lauderdale was very beneficial.  We worked out twice a day and sometimes three times a day.  In between we would spend the afternoons on the beach or sleep in the morning after breakfast, which was prepared by the coach’s wives, after our early morning workouts.  The beach at Fort Lauderdale was great because it is unrestricted and a public beach for a number of miles, unlike Miami Beach, which has beach property owned by the respective hotels, which prevents walking along the water’s edge.  At nighttime we would usually go out to a restaurant to eat, study, go to movies and sometimes have a beach party.  On Christmas Day there was the annual water show, which included clown diving, fancy diving, synchronized swimming, as well as a number of exhibition races.  On New Year’s Day there was usually an East-West swimming meet.  The coaches divided up the athletes into an east team and a west team.  It was a great opportunity to see some of the best swimmers in the country perform head- to- head even though it was early in the season and the levels of performance were not that good.

The trip back to Champaign from Fort Lauderdale was always a grind because it was over 1,500 miles on two-lane highways.  With the return to school and classes staring one in the face, it was quite different that the excitement of driving down at the beginning of the vacation period.  In those days, the semester ended in late January, which meant that all of us had work assignments including term papers that had to be prepared during our Christmas vacation.  This was always very difficult because it was hard to stay inside and work on school work when your friends were out on the beach or playing in the surf.  Regardless, we managed to make it through our commitments for school and end the semester with passing grades.

The spring semester was somewhat uneventful because I was a unable to swim on the varsity team.  Several of the freshmen did to go two AAU meets as a means of keeping our interest and motivation.  With the arrival of late spring the fraternity became involved in an annual spring rite called Sheequon, which was like a large carnival or a fair held inside the huge armory at the university.  A fraternity and sorority would team up to write, produce, build and operate a large booth, which would have skits or games.  With the arrival of May, I had to decide on what I was going to do for the summer.  I had inquired about a lifeguard job back in St. Louis.  However, I was not real excited about spending the summer there.  I didn’t particularly want to work for the Champaign Country Club again because that could be rather tedious over a long period of time.  In addition, 1956 was an Olympic year (Melbourne, Australia) and while I had entertained thoughts in the last several years of training for the Olympic trials, I felt that my performance at the university my freshman year was mediocre and hardly put me in a position to compete effectively for the Olympic team.

For reasons outlined earlier, I had decided not to spend the summer of 1956 in St. Louis or in Champaign.  Following a weekend visit to the home of one of my fraternity brothers, Ralph Hough, who lived on a lake in Wisconsin, the two of us decided that I could stay with him and his family for the summer months.  Ralph had just graduated and had majored in journalism.  Understandably, the prospects of finding a job in journalism was somewhat difficult for a college graduate looking for an entry-level position, who happened to live in a rural environment on a lake in Wisconsin.  In any case, I made my way to Stoughton, the town close the Lake Kegonsa.

I was able to land a temporary full-time job within a few days.  It was outside work participating in the hay cutting and baling season for a farm family who lived across the highway and back away from the road in a two-story farm house with several barns.

My compensation was $1.00 an hour plus lunch and dinner (in the rural areas at that time, the midday meal was called dinner and the evening meal was called supper, unlike our terminology in which we have lunch at midday and dinner in the evening).

Learning to drive a hay cutter was not very difficult and turned out to be a lot of fun.  I drove a tractor with the cutting rig behind and was told to cut a 40-acre field and do it in a way that did not waste any of the hay.  Once the field was cut, which took two days, I was then briefed on how to work the hay baler.  As with many farmers of that time the owner hired a baling machine and its owner to come in and bale the hay with a percentage of the hay going to the contractor.  My job was to ride on the hay wagon and catch the bales as they came out of the machine, which was being pulled along by a tractor.  It was terrible work because the hay chaff got in my clothes, down my back, in my mouth and in my eyes.  Very quickly the owner gave me a pair of goggles to wear, which helped avoid the eye problem.  All in all I worked approximately one week and it was great fun and a quick start for the summer.  I have to admit that during this farm work I frequently thought about friends of mine or people I knew who were training for the Olympics.  For that reason, I felt guilty about my swimming and managed to develop some sort of a training program under the circumstances.

Throughout the summer I would swim, usually every other day and sometimes every evening.  Since there were no parallel walls I would make long distance swims out into the lake and come back.  We did not have swimming goggles at that time and so it was kind of creepy swimming in a lake that did not have clear water.

I also did dry land exercises in a shed that belonged to the Hough’s and rigged up several weights so that I could do a little bit of weight work.   I also ran in the evening and on one occasion ran all the way from Stoughton the Lake Kegonsa, which was about five miles.

During the 4th of July weekend, Ralph and I drove up to the tip of the Green Bay Peninsula in Wisconsin.  The beauty of that state is tremendous and I had not been aware of how rugged it really is.  We camped out for two evenings, the last one being on the shore of the Green Bay in a State Park.  Sunset was very dramatic and led to a quiet time around the campfire during which we were just lost in our respective thoughts. 

The week finally came for me to leave Lake Kegonsa and go back to St. Louis before my return to the campus.  I am sure I had outlived my welcome by that time.  It was difficult for someone of my age and experience to understand how difficult it can be to have a stranger in your home for eight weeks. 

Note to reader:  The Sophmore Year will be published in about a week. 

Counsilman – Hunsaker’s Beginning

After a successful swimming career that spanned high school and college and then receiving an honorable discharge as a First Lieutenant from the US Army, Dad went to work for Midwest Pool and Court Company in St. Louis.  In this position he focused on residential and commercial pools offering everything from design and construction to operational support.  In 1966, Dad founded Midwest Pool Management Corporation (MPM) which managed (lifeguard, maintenance, chemicals) pools for what grew into sixty facilities under contract.  This quick history is the foundation for the beginning of Counsilman – Hunsaker and now I will turn the story telling over to Dad.  – Scot Hunsaker

In 1969, I called Doc Counsilman at Indiana University and asked what he would charge to conduct a seminar for the various age group swim teams at my managed clubs.  We agreed on an amount and Doc drove from theBloomington,INcampus, where he was varsity coach, toSt. Louisone summer weekend.  Doc had also been the Men’sUSCoach at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and would lead the US men’s team again in 1976 at the Montreal Games.

After the two-day clinic in the natatorium at Florissant Valley Community College, I showed Doc the Claymont Bath & Tennis Club in West County and the Gaslight Bath and Tennis Club, the pools of which I had designed in Collinsville four years before.  Both of these clubs MPM now managed.  Doc was impressed and we agreed that I would look for a site in theSt. Louisarea.  When I found an appropriate piece of property at a feasible price, we would develop it together with me doing all the hands-on work inSt. Louis.

When nothing in the way of a suitable site presented itself, I suggested we create instead, a consulting service for architects commissioned to design indoor pools because history told us that new natatoria were being poorly planned, designed and constructed because materials, support spaces, fenestration and deck dimensions were being compromised without an understanding of the impact.

Doc agreed to this venture and I incorporated it with lawyer Don Clooney’s help making Doc President and me Vice President of Counsilman and Associates.  Several months later Doc called and said he had been contacted by Bob Busby, the swim coach and athletic director at Cleveland State University, the City campus which was being developed with federal Urban Renewal funds and the school needed help in designing a 50m x 25 yd. pool with a ten-meter diving tower.  Doc told Busby that, personally, he was committed at the time, but he would send his partner, Joe Hunsaker, who would meet with him and his associates at the University.  I did and an outstanding and unique super-pool was created two years later, which hosted the NCAA National Championships and the US National Swimming Championships, most of the years from the mid-70’s through the mid-80’s.

Our next project was a 50m dotted I at the University of South Carolina.  One or two projects followed each year, and sometimes as many as five per year with high schools and a Y now and then with my contribution being primarily design programming and usually working directly for the owner.  TheIndianaUniversity– Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) was a big, big project in the ‘79 –‘81 timeframe with completion on time for the US Olympic Sports Festival.  There were a number of firsts.  The most educational was working with the project manager, Gajindar Singh, an Indian sikh who studied at New Dehli University and MIT and was now in the elite architectural office of Edward Larabee Barnes, whose reputation was international, who had once been the head of the Yale Architecture Department.

When I came on board as design consultant, the project architect, Browning, Day, Mullens and Dierdorf, had finished schematics and had built a model which was similar to the University of Texas.  After studying it, I pointed out thatTexashad a problem site which dictated a natatorium floor plan that has several disadvantages.  When I showed “why” to the group attending, it was decided to revisit the design.

A week later I received a phone call from Gajinder who said Ed Barnes wanted to visit a natatorium which had the features I had described to the group in Indianapolis.  I reflected on the request and told him there was really no such complex in theU.S.but the venue for the 1976 Olympics inMontrealwould be an excellent example.  With Scot accompanying me, we met Gajindar and Ed Barnes at the Montreal Airport and drove to the Olympic site where I had arranged a guided tour behind the scenes.  After the tour we explored the facility ourselves and I was able to explain why many features were the way they were.  Everyone felt good about the visit.  Ed caught a return flight toNew Yorkthat evening while the remaining three of us had a nice dinner in theOldTownand spent the night and went our separate ways the next day.

The Barnes office developed a classic interior space for the IUPUI venue with a natural soaring ceiling and top lighting, which not only illuminated the space, but it created a cathedral-like drama.  After which many said looked more like a cathedral than a natatorium.

 

Doc Counsilman – One Of Ernie’s Boys

Jim attended the St. Louis public Blewett High School, which disappeared 60years ago. He was a poor student and reportedly graduated 103 out of 109 in his class. He excelled in track and was elected captain for his leadership..….there was no pool. Finding employment after graduation, during the depression, was not easy and his first job was washing dishes in Pope’s downtown cafeteria.

Jim had additional responsibilities. His father had abandoned his wife and two sons in the 1920’s. To survive, Jim’s mom operated a boarding house just east of what is now the Barnes Jewish Hospital Complex on Kingshighway.

One day, while still in high school, young Counsilman walked east on the railroad tracks and ventured into the downtown YMCA on Locust Street. During subsequent visits, he wandered into the pool for a swim and eventually was noticed by of Ernie Vornbrock who was teaching swimming classes. Ernie thought he saw something in Jim’s crude stroke that had merit. Within several years, Jim was swimming breaststroke times that were of national caliber.

After several years out of high school, consisting of swimming and climbing poles for the telephone company, Jim began to listen when Ernie told him he should go to college, even though he was not a prime candidate because of his high school record. Ernie contacted Mike Peppe who was an acquaintance and the varsity coach at Ohio State. There were no scholarships for swimming so Coach Peppe had a space made for him in a store room with a cot, table and chair. A job was arranged operating an elevator at night, when no one used the elevator, permitted him to be paid while he studied. When WII broke out, Counsilman was a sophomore and like many young men, he enlisted and attended officer candidate school and than went on to train as a bomber pilot. Later, while flying over Rumania, his plane was hit and he was forced to crash land in unfriendly territory. The entire crew refused to bail out because one crew member’s chute was damaged. Everyone survived and for this Jim was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery. At 21 years, he was the “old man”, the commanding officer and the oldest crew member.

Back at Ohio State University, Jim continued his studies in physical education, was captain of the swim team and the non compensated assistant swimming coach. The following year, the Ohio State Swimming Team won the National Collegiate Championships and the National AAU Championships. During that same year Jim Counsilman became the National AAU breaststroke champion.

After marrying his wife Marge, he earned a Masters Degree at Illinois and then his Ph.D. at Iowa, following which, he was given the affectionate handle “Doc” for the next forty years. He recruited swimmers and converted many of them into national champions, Olympians, Olympic champions and world record holders.

He spent the last 33 years of his career at Indiana University where he coached his Hoosier team to 22 straight big 10 championships and five consecutive NCAA championships. At the time of his retirement he had coached more Olympic medal winners than any other coach in the world. His revolutionary book The Science of Swimming, printed in over 30 languages, became the reference for coaches and swimmers in many nations…….. During those three decades he revolutionized the art of coaching which was even applied to other sports. He also was the US head coach for men at the Tokyo and Montreal Olympics. Doc coached many Indiana swimmers to the Olympics….the one with the greatest name recognition is Mark Spitz.

During his career, Counsilman received many awards including an induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, academic awards for his scientific research, membership to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, patents for training equipment and, most significantly, the recognition by his peers as the greatest contributor to the profession of coaching swimmers. He also took time out when he was fifty eight to become the oldest person to swim the English Channel,  after he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease…..a true profile in courage. He had quite a life for a kid who graduated at the bottom of his high school class. More than once, Doc reflected about what his life would have been if he had not met Ernie, who became his father figure and his beacon in his early years.