It was January of 1969 when the sport of swimming was forever changed – not only in Laramie, but for all of Wyoming.
A group of dedicated families banded together to create and incorporate the year-round Laramie Swim Club for boys and girls of all ages and levels. The organization was the first of its kind, and through the years became a catalyst of creating a unique and lasting culture.
The Beavers won their first state meet in April of that year, and it was the start of many more statewide championships.
The Laramie Swim Club will host a celebration for its 50th anniversary from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at the Laramie High School Natatorium. It’s in conjunction with the Beavers hosting the June Open swim meet, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s a time for people to gather and reminisce about the Laramie Swim Club, which has a really rich history and has been near and dear to a lot of people’s lives,” Tom Hudson said.
Hudson, in addition to being the head coach at Laramie High for 29 years, has been involved with the Laramie Swim Club for 33 years in nearly every capacity as a head coach, senior coach/advisor, board member and has served as its president for the past three years.
“The Laramie Swim Club was so dominate in the 1970s,” Hudson said. “I grew up in Sheridan and we were always chasing Laramie. My first memory was when I was 10 years old and coming to a winter state championship meet here in 1974 and there was 400 to 500 athletes at the old high school pool – before the auxiliary gym was built and there were kids crawling all over that high school.”
George Mathes was the head coach for the Beavers from the fall of 1969 to the summer of 1976.
“We had a lot of different age groups and about 70 kids,” said Mathes about the first year. “We had a beginner-learn-to-swim program at Half Acre at the university and we would teach them to swim the competitive stroke method. At that time there was a 6-and-under age group that competed in Wyoming and Colorado. So we had kids going right from swimming lessons to swim meets.
“It was very rewarding. The parents were tremendous and a fabulous group – not only in Laramie, but throughout the state of Wyoming.”
Mathes began his teaching career at Beitel Elementary in Laramie when he was the coach for the Laramie Swim Club. He then moved to Gillette to become an elementary principal and helped coach the swimming programs at Campbell County High before retiring about 15 years ago.
Also during his time in Laramie, Mathes started officiating swim meets and now enters his 49th year of being a meet official. He is currently the head swimming official for the Wyoming High School Activities Association.
“When a lot of swimming clubs were formed in the 1970s, they looked at Laramie as an example of what to do – the key families and parents who worked so hard and were so devoted,” Hudson said. “George Mathes was a huge part of getting it off the ground and toward the dominance of what it was in the 1970s and 1980s.
“When I started in Sheridan, swimming just took off throughout the state of Wyoming, and Laramie sort of led the charge with that. Swimmers from all the towns got to know each other because we would stay at each other’s houses (host teams) – there were no staying at hotels. Swimming just became a big statewide family, and in part because the Laramie Swim Club got the ball rolling.”
Mathes added: “There’s certainly a sense of pride, and I am still in contact with so many of the swimmers I’ve coached. Facebook has been a great help with reconnecting with them. I call them kids, but some of them are in their 50s and some of them have even retired.”
The list of parents, families, coaches, assistant coaches and athletes who were influential in the early years and beyond is long. Many assistant coaches and athletes who got their start in the Laramie Swim Club became successful high school head coaches throughout the state, and at colleges nationwide.
“The amount of assistant coaches who have come through and went on to become high school head coaches is just phenomenal,” Hudson said. “Laramie Swim Club and Laramie High have been fortunate through years with athletes who have swam for the University of Wyoming, then come help and be an assistant coach. So there’s been a constant influx of new knowledge and ideas. They would get started here and then go off and spread their wings wherever they go.”
The Laramie Swim Club has beginners as young as 3 years old, and members who continue swimming competitively through high school and college. Hudson said there also adult members who like to train competitively and stay involved in swimming.
The Beavers have had an average membership of about 150 athletes the last several years. Scott Cronk has been the head coach for the last eight years.
“It’s nice to have the Laramie Swim Club for those kids interested in swimming and training year round,” Hudson said. “It is also nice because it also allows kids, and especially younger kids, to play other sports. It’s something that is fluid and will always be there where they can do a lot of activities and come back to the swim club, which is what I’ve always encouraged – try lots of sports and the club will always be there for you. It’s really created a great feeder program for the high school.”
The Laramie Swim Club has been and continues to be instrumental in supplying former legendary Laramie High swimming coach Layne Kopischka, who coached LHS from 1969-1988, and now Hudson consistently strong individuals. Hudson and Kopischka have combined to win 21 state titles for the Plainsmen, and 13 for the Lady Plainsmen, in addition to finishing among the top three in the state in nearly every boys and girls season.
“For practices, we set up a situation where they worked hard, but we also played hard,” Mathes said. “We would have different activities and relays, water balloon fights and just a lot of fun, as well. That’s the part I remember, and after talking with some of the past swimmers, that’s the stuff they remember – how fun it was.”