Baylor Swim Club
Baylor Swim Club was created in 1977 by Baylor teacher and coach Jim Stover as a senior team of mostly Baylor School athletes so that they could compete in club meets as well as high school meets. Three years later, the legendary Martha Bass joined him as assistant coach, and together they expanded the program to include all age groups. During Coach Stover’s six year tenure, Baylor swimmers set the standard for success by garnering 49 individual Prep All American awards and 15 Division I college scholarships. In both 1979 and 1980, Baylor school was ranked 2nd in the country by Swimming World Magazine. Notable achievements from that era included several individual and relay Junior National Championships and records, two national prep records, and one national age group record. Geoff Gaberino was world-ranked during that era and went on to win Olympic Gold in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games as part of the United States’ 800 meter freestyle relay team.
Greater Chattanooga Aquatic Club
In 1982 Jim Stover retired from coaching, and Baylor Swim Club transitioned to a parent-owned swim club, Greater Chattanooga Aquatic Club (GCAC). During the 1980’s GCAC primarily focused on developing young age group swimmers. Swimming at the senior level during these years largely took place with the prep school programs in the Chattanooga area, particularly during the short course season. Coaches during this period included Paul Mielke (1982-84) and Steve Panzram (1984-86). In 1986 Martha Bass, who had developed a whole generation of young swimmers in Chattanooga as assistant coach for The Chattanooga YMCA, Baylor Swim Club, and GCAC, stepped in as head coach and served in that capacity until the fall of 1989.
Southeastern and National Recognition
In 1989 GCAC and Baylor School decided to develop a complete program with the proven combination of club and high school meets for senior swimmers and a full club age group program for younger kids. The school and club pooled resources to hire Joe Goeken as the fifth head coach. At the helm for seven successful years, Coach Goeken led a renaissance in Chattanooga swimming that produced numerous Southeastern champions, Prep All-Americans, and Division I scholarship recipients. The Baylor teams dominated the Tennessee High School Championships during those years. In 1993, which was arguably Baylor’s deepest team to date, both the girls and boys teams set state records in all six relay events. In 1996 John Roy took over as head coach and continued GCAC’s success. Will Brandt competed in the 2000 United States Olympic Trials and earned a spot on the US National Junior Team for the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Sydney, Australia, in 2001.
The Return to Baylor Swim Club
By the beginning of the 21st century, Baylor’s Calvin Smith Natatorium was aging and needed to be replaced. In 2002 Rick Bishop took over as head coach and oversaw the construction of the new Baylor School Aquatics Center, which opened in October of 2004. With the school’s demonstrated commitment to the sport of swimming and to the club’s mission, school officials and the GCAC board agreed to return the club to its roots under the school’s auspices and to bring back the Baylor Swim Club name. That summer both Stephanie Napier and Ryan Bishop swam for Baylor at the 2004 Olympic Trials in Long Beach, California. Over the next two years, Stephanie earned the distinction of being the only female swimmer in history to win back to back national high school titles in the 50 yard Freestyle.
Dan Flack Hired as Head Coach
In August of 2006 Dan Flack became the eighth head coach, and almost immediately, Baylor Swimming began to soar to new heights. In the summer of 2007, Baylor Swim Club had its best showing ever at the Southeastern Long Course Championships placing fourth overall and winning the small team division championship. Then in 2008 Baylor returned to the national spotlight when the boys’ high school team was named Independent School National Champion both in the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association’s National Dual Meet ranking and in Swimming World’s National High School Championship. In the summer of 2008, Baylor sent a trio of swimmers to the US Olympic Trials including Alison Lusk, Reese Shirey, and Stephanie Napier. Napier thrilled Baylor fans by advancing to the semi-finals in the 50 meter freestyle.
The 2008-2009 season was a banner year for Baylor Swimming. Baylor Swim Club finished second in the team standings at USA Swimming’s Junior National Championship in Austin, Texas, and Martin Grodzki was the male high point winner of the meet. During the high school season, the boys repeated as Swimming World’s Independent School Champs, but this time they were named NISCA’s overall National Dual Meet Champion. The girls won NISCA’s independent school dual meet championship and then received the most prestigious honor in high school swimming by being named Swimming World’s overall National Champion. Along the way the team of Arden Pitman, Alison Lusk, Anna Rae Gwarjanski, and Sloane Pitman set the National Record in the 200 Medley Relay. Arden Pitman was selected to team USA’s National Junior Team and competed in the Mel Zajac International Swim Meet in Vancouver, British Columbia. Baylor Swim Club gained the distinction that year of being the highest scoring Silver Medal club in USA Swimming’s Club Excellence program. Of all the swim clubs in America that scored higher, the smallest was from a population center twice the size of Chattanooga.
Despite graduating a large and talented class of seniors the year before, Baylor Swimming demonstrated its staying power in 2010 by finishing 2nd in both the NISCA and the Swimming World independent school rankings. Spencer Rowe was selected for USA Swimming’s National Junior Team, and he competed in the 2010 Mare Nostrum meet in Barcelona, Spain.
In 2011 Baylor’s boys team again finished second in both of the independent school national rankings while the girls returned to the top of high school swimming by being named Swimming World’s overall National Champion for the second time in three years. Earlier in the season, the team of Kristen Vredeveld, Ashley Yearwood, Emma Michaels, and Arden Pitman broke the National High School Record in the 200 Freestyle Relay. At the NCSA Junior Nationals in Orlando, Florida, Vredeveld swept the sprint freestyle events with victories in the 50, 100, and 200 Freestyles. Her time of 22.17 in the 50 broke the national age group record for 15-16 year olds. That summer Kristen gained a spot on USA Swimming’s National Junior Team and won gold leading off team USA’s 400 meter Freestyle Relay at the FINA World Junior Championships in Lima, Peru. Baylor was well represented at the World Championships in Lima. In addition to Vredeveld, four more Baylor students competed for their countries. They included Bermuda’s Ashley Yearwood, Trinidad’s Kimberlee John-Williams, the Bahamas’ Bria Deveaux, and the Bahamas’ Evante Gibson. To top it off, Coach Dan Flack was part of team USA’s coaching staff at the meet.
For two years prior to 2012, Baylor swimmers wore t-shirts with the slogan “London Calling” in recognition of the 2012 London Olympics and to challenge the swimmers to dream big. Five qualified for the 2012 United States Olympic Trials: Christian Carbone, Sloane Pitman, Spencer Rowe, Reese Shirey, Troy Tillman, Kristen Vredeveld, and Nathan Vredeveld. This represented the largest group of qualifiers from the Chattanooga area at the time.