GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY: SBSC has served all levels of swimmers for 50 years

Whether it’s providing water safety instruction, exercise options, recreation or high-level competition, the Santa Barbara Swim Club has served this community well for a half century.

Santa Barbara Swim Club - Team of the Month

The Team of the Month Series is sponsored by Sansum Clinic of Santa Barbara

The Team of the Month Series spotlights great
examples of teamwork in the local sports community

The club is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a party at its home facility of Los Banos del Mar pool on Saturday, July 12.

Presidio Sports is pleased to recognize the swim club as the Team of the Month.

“Swimming is not only a life-long sport, it’s a life-saving sport. And, it develops athletes with a lot of character,” said Mary Jo Swalley, the executive director for Southern California Swimming and a Santa Barbara resident whose son swam for the club and later became president.

Mark Warkentin is one of those athletes the club helped develop into an elite swimmer. He learned how to swim there and later started competing and setting several club age-group records that still stand. After a standout career at San Marcos, he received a scholarship to USC where he was a four-time All-American. He turned to open-water swimming and won two national championships at 25 kilometers and made the U.S. Olympic team in 2008 as an open-water swimmer.

Warkentin is now giving back to the sport. He is in his second year as head coach of the SBSC.

“I was a pretty intense … I was into it,” he said of his youth days in the club. “Swimming was not only something I did physically, but it became my social life. All of my closet friends were in the Santa Barbara Swim Club. That’s how I kind of identified myself with the daily routine of life.

He added: “I ended up getting a college scholarship to USC and I got to travel around the world. A lot of that was through the training and experience I had as a Santa Barbara Swim Club athlete.”

He said club coaches like Joe O’Brien and Larry Libowitz were instrumental in helping him take his swimming to another level.

Libowitz worked with him during his teen years. “He was really the one that catapulted my career to achieve great things,” Warkentin said.

Swalley said the club has been fortunate to have top-flight coaches through the years. She cited Jack Simon and Mike Chasson as two of the bigger names in the club’s history. Simon is in the
American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Chasson coached at Harvard, Stanford and Arizona State and coached Olympic swimmers from 1984 through 2008.

“The important thing for any club is the stability of coaching, and that has been a big attribute of the Santa Barbara Swim Club,” Swalley noted. “Our coaches have been here an average of eight years, and that’s huge.

“In my experience working in Southern California Swimming over the past 30 years, the thing that sets clubs apart is stability, and stability in coaching is a key to that.”

Another key part to the club’s success is its volunteers.

“Any time you’re a meet manager or meet director, your biggest thing is involving your volunteers,” Swalley said. “And we’ve always been fortunate to have parents step forward and help. Getting parents out there and volunteering, that’s the mark of a club that succeeds. We were always very fortunate to have parents volunteer, including Lois and Walter Capps. In the old days, before we had all this wonderful computerization, the results table alone took eight people working at it to keep a meet going, to get all the results hand done. There were many a mornings and afternoons where Lois was a fixture at those tables.”

In the pool, the club has produced several swimmers who have earned local, state, regional national and international recognition. There are Olympians like Warkentin, Anne Tweedy, Richard Schroeder and Paul Hartloff; Adrienne Binder won a NCAA title at Auburn; Danny Beal earned All-American honors at Stanford; Alexis Binder was an All-American at USC and competed for the U.S. at the Pan Am Games; Brian Alderman was prep All-American.

John Clark, a multi-winner of the Semana Nautica 5-mile biathlon, is a past swim club member.

But there’s a lot more to the SBSC than developing elite-level swimmers.

Warkentin says one of the joys of his job is the variety it offers. He has between 300-400 youth members of all levels. There’s also a masters program for adults.

“We get the whole wide range. We get little kids that are learning how to swim; we got older kids who are trying to get scholarships to major colleges, and everything in between. We got kids who are doing it because they want to be on their high school varsity swim team. To them, that’s something … ‘I swam high school varsity.’ Other people are: ‘We want our kid to be physically fit and active, and water safe and healthy.’”

The swim club has been doing it all for 50 years.