The University of Georgia (UGA) swim program was founded in 1926 by Athens YMCA athletic director C. W. Jones. Over the next six decades the program expanded to include diving and added a women’s team in 1974. In the 1990s the team became a consistent top finisher in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and a competitive power in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships. As of 2005, the men’s team has finished in the top fifteen in the country every year since 1996; the women’s team began placing in the top five in 1996 and has won first or second at the NCAA championships every season since 1999.
In 1995 UGA opened the multimillion-dollar Ramsey Student Center for Physical Activities. Inside, the 2,000-seat Gabrielsen Natatorium contains state-of-the-art swimming facilities. The 844,000-gallon 50-meter competition pool has movable bulkheads allowing four different configurations of the pool layout. The diving pool has nine diving boards, of various heights and types, overlooking a 16.5-foot-deep pool of 525,000 gallons and is equipped with an air sparger system that cushions a diver’s entry into the water.
Men’s Swim Team
In 1926 Jones agreed to coach the fledgling men’s team, which practiced at the Athens YMCA because UGA lacked a pool. Jones remained the head coach until his retirement in 1942, when UGA physical education teacher B. W. “Bump” Gabrielsen was appointed head coach. In 1943 UGA built Stegeman Hall, which housed the team’s practice facility for more than fifty years. Although Gabrielsen had no scholarships to offer, he was successful in recruiting strong swimmers, including Reid Patterson, a Kentuckian who had never swum competitively before joining the UGA team. Patterson became UGA’s first NCAA swimming champion in 1953, when he won the 100-yard freestyle at the NCAA championship meet. Patterson broke the American record in the event and was a member of the 1956 U.S. Olympic team.
In the late 1940s the team began amassing a series of successes. UGA placed third at the 1948 SEC championship meet before winning the conference championship in 1951, 1952, and 1955. Team members Charles Cooper, Charles Guyer, Patterson, Hal Stolz, and Bill Volk repeatedly scored at the NCAA championships, although the team as a whole did not place.
When Gabrielsen retired in 1966, his assistant Richard Wammock took over as head coach for the 1966-67 season. Alan Gentry coached the team from 1967-70, followed by Pete Scholle from 1971-82. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s the men’s team consistently finished in the middle of the SEC but had a strong dual meet record under Scholle.
Women’s Swim Team
In 1974 several UGA women approached Martha Washington about forming a women’s team. Washington coached the team until 1977, when Joe McEvoy became head coach for the next two seasons. In 1979 Jack Bauerle, who had been a four-year letterman on UGA’s men’s team, became the women’s coach, and in 1983 he began coaching the men’s team as well. Under Bauerle’s leadership the men’s team improved from forty-first at the 1988 NCAA championships to third in 1997. In 2002 all eleven UGA men scored at the NCAA championships, a first for UGA.
The women’s team finished twenty-second at the NCAA championships in 1983, the first year that they competed in the meet, and in 1986 they broke into the top ten for the first time, finishing ninth. The team won three consecutive NCAA titles beginning in 1999 and placed second in 2002 and 2003, breaking four American records at the 2002 NCAA championships. At the 2003 NCAA meet, senior Maritza Correia broke the American record in the 100-yard freestyle and won her eleventh NCAA championship, the most of any female UGA swimmer. The UGA women’s team won a fourth NCAA championship in 2005.
UGA student Sheila Taormina won a gold medal as a member of the 800-meter freestyle relay team in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. In the Sydney Olympics of 2000, UGA athletes won three medals for swimming. Courtney Shealy, three-time NCAA champion, won gold medals in the freestyle and 4×100 medley relays, and Kristy Kowal won a silver medal in the 200-meter breaststroke.
As of 2005, UGA diving coach Dan Laak, who arrived at UGA in 1987, has coached eight all-Americans, including Jud Campbell, who placed second in the one-meter platform at the 2001 NCAA championships. Campbell also became UGA’s first SEC diving champion since 1967, winning the one-meter platform for three years in a row (1998-2000).