By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
The Boys Swimming & Diving Tournament is one of the oldest statewide high school tournaments. The 2006 OHSAA swim tournament program states that the first swimming and diving tournament was held in 1928. However, according to the All-Sports Record Book, put out by the OHSAA in 1957 to celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary, there was a State Swimming & Diving Meet in 1927. Only seven schools participated in that meet, which consisted of just two events, and no team champion was named. East Cleveland Shaw won the 160-yard relay, while a Mr. Heil from Columbus South won the “fancy diving” event.
In 1928 the first true state interscholastic swimming and diving meet was held. It is not known how many schools participated, but 11 managed to score points. The meet was won by Lakewood High School, with Cincinnati Withrow the runner-up. The meet was expanded to six events that year, going to nine by 1949 and eventually the even dozen events that we enjoy today. Still, however, there remains but one diving event, now known as “one-meter diving.”
Boys swimming is one of the few sports in Ohio in which all schools are thrown together in one statewide class or division. Beginning with that first boys state meet in 1928, thru the 1969 tournament, the swimming and diving championships were dominated by schools primarily from the northeastern part of the state, and almost totally by schools within a stone’s throw of Lake Erie. The earliest “powers” of the sport were Lakewood High, which won the first two meets on 1928 and 1929, and finished second by a single point to Cincinnati Withrow in 1930, and Cleveland Heights High School, which swam to victory in 1932-33-34.
In 1931 Canton McKinley, under the direction of its legendary coach Ted Branin, finished second in the tournament, but the Bulldogs and coach Branin were just warming up. It would take McKinley until 1937 before it won its first state swim title, but after that the names of Canton McKinley and Ted Branin would became synonymous with Ohio high school swim championships. Over the next 15 years the Bulldogs won six more state titles, and finished as the runner-up an additional five times. From 1953-1955 the Bulldogs finished sixth, third and fifth, respectively.
Then came what can only be described as the “Golden Era” of Canton McKinley swimming. From 1956 thru 1961 the Bulldogs of coach Branin completely dominated the world of Ohio high school swimming, winning the state tournament each year. In 1960 the team scored a then record 60 points, easily defeating runner-up Lakewood and its 28 points. Coach Branin and his Bulldogs made their final trip to the podium in 1966, when they collected a runner-up trophy.
The Bulldogs, with their 13 state championships, had set the standard. Fremont Ross High School, with seven state championships from 1936 to 1953, had been McKinley’s closest rival. Soon, however, a team would come along that would shatter those marks and put Ohio high school swimming onto the national map.
Before 1970, Cincinnati St. Xavier High School had only finished as high as second place in the state swimming and diving tournament but one time, and that was way back in 1945. All of that would come to a sudden and decisive halt beginning with the 1970 state tournament. From 1970 thru 1981 the Bombers won 12 consecutive state swimming championships, the eighth longest such streak in the nation. They achieved this remarkable success under three different coaches. Dennis White directed the team from 1970-74, followed by Mike Arat, 1975-76, Jim Loomis, 1977-79, and then back again with Dennis White in 1980 and ’81. The Bombers string of championships was briefly interrupted in 1982 and ’83 by Akron’s Firestone High School, but St. Xavier finished second both times, missing the 1983 title by just six points.
After regaining the state championship in 1984, the Bombers went on a five year hiatus in which Upper Arlington took three consecutive titles and Hawken School of Gates Mills two in a row. These championships were especially sweet for the Golden Bears from Columbus, who had previously finished second to St. Xavier no less than seven times.
If anyone thought that the St. Xavier run of success had come to an end after 1984, they were sadly mistaken. From 1990 thru the 2006 tournament, the Bombers under coach Jim Brower have won 15 of the last 17 state titles. Only Toledo St. Francis High School has been able to dethrone the Bombers over that span, taking the championship in 1996 and 1998. St. Xavier finished a close second to the Knights each time.
St. Xavier’s current total of 28 state championships is the second most for any school in the country. The way they are going, it would seem that the only way to defeat the Bombers would be to drain the pool.
High school swimming, like track, is a team sport in which individuals compete both by themselves, as well as with others in relay events. Not too surprisingly, over the years there have been many swimmers whose performance has stood out in the form of multiple championships, be it in the individual events, the team relays or a combination of the two. Topping this distinguished list in Ohio are three boys from St. Xavier High School. Dod Wales, who competed for the Bombers from 1992-1995, earned 12 state championships during his high school career, five individual and seven on relay teams. From 1999-2001 Jayme Cramer earned 10 championship medals for St. Xavier, five individual and five on relay teams. In 2001 Cramer set the state record in both the 100-yard butterfly and the 100-yard breaststroke, both in identical times of 47.65 seconds. Cramer’s times currently rank him fourth in the nation in both events.
However, of all of the great high school swimmers who have competed in Ohio, perhaps none has been as successful as Joe Hudepohl of St. Xavier. Joe captured 10 championships for the Bombers from 1990-1992, five individual and five on relay teams. But even more impressive, Joe Hudepohl holds more individual state and national high school records than any other male swimmer in the country. In 1991 he set the state and national record of 1:34.96 in the 200-yard freestyle. In 1992 he duplicated that effort when he set state and national records in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 43.43 seconds. All four of those records still stand. Also in 1992, Joe set the state record in the 50-yard freestyle at 20.01 seconds. At the time this was also a national record, but it has since been beaten. However, this time is still good enough for fourth fastest in the country.
In 1992, Joe Hudepohl went on to win a gold medal at the Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, on the U.S.A.’s 400-meter freestyle relay team, and a bronze medal as part of the 800-meter team. In the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta he won a second gold medal as a member of the 800-meter relay team.
When it comes to setting national records, Joe Hudepohl has to share the limelight with a couple of Ohio relay teams. In 1999, the 400-yard freestyle relay team from Toledo St. Francis High School, consisting of Brink Ciferri, James Leahy, David Fraas and Tony Kurth, set the state record and tied the national mark in this event with a time of 3:01.80. The boys share this record with the team from Bolles High School of Jacksonville, Florida, which beat the Ohioans to the national record book by a mere 38 days. St. Francis High School also owns the third fastest time in the nation (1:23.21) in the 200-yard freestyle relay.
On February 25, 2000, the 200-yard medley relay team from St. Xavier, manned by Jayme Cramer, Brett Burns, Scott Ransenberg and Max Leassner, broke the previous national record for this event by .03 seconds with a time of 1:31.22 – a time that still stands as the national record.
One other achievement also needs to be mentioned. At the 2005 state swim tournament, Chris Ash of Firestone High School in Akron became the first boy in Ohio history to win four individual state championships in the same event when he won the 100-yard breaststroke with a record time of 54.7 seconds, tying for the fifth best time in the nation. The National High School Sports Record Book does not keep track of such things for swimming, but you have to believe that Mr. Ash is in pretty rare company with that outstanding accomplishment.
The state tournament for girls swimming and diving began in 1977. All schools competed together in one class/division until 2000, at which time they were divided into two Divisions, I and II. Although there are 296 schools that compete in girls interscholastic swimming in Ohio, the sport, at least at the state tournament level, has been dominated by just a handful of schools. Of the 37 state championships that have been won since 1977, only 11 different schools have walked off with first place team trophies. If you add in the teams that have finished as runners-up, only another five schools are added to this exclusive list.
As in the case of boys swimming, the early champions have given way to even more dominating teams. Worthington’s Thomas Worthington High School won four of the first five girls state swimming championships. In 1981, when Worthington captured its fourth title, the runner-up was Hawken School of Gates Mills, coached by Jerry Holtrey. As far as the Hawks were concerned, this was just the tip of the iceberg and the start of something really big.
It would take Hawken School three more years to earn its first state girls swimming title, but then the championships just kept coming. 1984,1985,1986,1987,1988 – the first place trophy had the name “Hawken School” engraved upon it each season. In 1989 Thomas Worthington won its fifth state championship, edging out the Hawks by 31½ points. But in 1990 the name of Hawken School was once again engraved upon the championship trophy.
Starting in 1991, and continuing for a few years thereafter, several schools from Cincinnati stepped up to claim state championships, and one has gone on to establish itself as a true power in the world of Ohio high school girls swimming. First it was Ursuline Academy (1991), and then Sycamore High School (1992) that claimed swimming championships. St. Ursula Academy took home the championship trophies in each of the next three years, 1993-94-95. In those years of the early 90’s one of these schools was usually also in the runner-up spot.
In 1996, coach Jerry Holtrey and his Hawken Hawks arrived back on the scene – and they have yet to leave. From 1996 thru 1999 it was usually Hawken and Cincinnati’s Ursuline Academy battling head to head for the championship. Hawken took the title in ’96, with Cincinnati Anderson High School sneaking in to grab second place honors. In ’97 the Hawks were again the champs, with Ursuline Academy the runner-up. In 1998 the two schools switched finishing positions, and in 1999 they switched back, with Hawken taking its third title of the last four years, while Ursuline again finished second.
In the year 2000, girls swimming was divided into two divisions. One would think that this would have opened up the championship to a few more schools, but all it did, for the first few years anyway, was open up the runner-up spot to some new contenders.
With the designation of the two divisions, Hawken School found itself in Division II, while Ursuline Academy was placed in Division I. For the first three years of this new alignment, these two schools won their respective divisional state championship, while the other schools fought over the runner-up slot. In 2002 the Golden Bears of Upper Arlington High School finished second to Ursuline Academy in Division I – and Ursuline’s days at the very top were numbered. In 2003 Upper Arlington edged out the Lions of Ursuline Academy for the Division I championship by a mere 5½ points, 259.5-254 Every year since then the Golden Bears have won the Division I girls swim title, while the Lions of Ursuline Academy have had to settle for three more second place finishes.
Meanwhile, over in Division II the Hawks just keep rolling along. In 2006 they won their seventh consecutive Division II championship (eighth consecutive title overall), the only school to win a Division II championship thus far. The girls from Cincinnati’s Indian Hill High School have finished second to the Hawks each of the last five seasons (and Chardon’s Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin High School and Napoleon High School before them), but the Hawks have been so dominating that their smallest margin of victory has been a whopping 171 points.
Altogether, the Hawks of Hawken School have won an incredible 16 girls state swimming championships. Their next closest rivals are Thomas Worthington High School and Cincinnati’s Ursuline Academy with five each.
A lion’s share of the credit for Hawken’s incredible success has to go to their head coach, Jerry Holtrey. The dean of Ohio high school swimming coaches, the internationally renowned Holtrey enters his 39th year as the Hawks head coach in 2007. After graduating from Indiana University in 1962, Holtrey taught and coached at eight schools before getting hired on at Hawken in 1969 (the previous year he took over his other coaching gig with the Lake Erie Silver Dolphins swim team). He has been at Hawken ever since, teaching physical education and coaching both the boys and the girls swim teams.
Success in the form of a state championship was not an overnight thing for Jerry and his lady Hawks, but once they grabbed that championship ring they have not let go.
Many would probably consider the 1988-89 seasons as the highlight of his career, when Holtrey’s boys team won their only state titles, while the girls also won a state championship in 1988 and finished a close second in ’89. However, Jerry Holtrey probably does not look at it that way. Like most great coaches, trying to get him to name his favorite championship team would be like asking him to name his favorite child – it cannot be done. Instead, Holtrey, who has coached one world champion, two Olympic gold medallists and some 200 All-Americans, enjoys the current success and looks forward to the challenge of the next season.
As he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer a few years ago, “Every year is a brand new team. You lose a few kids and some new ones come in. You try to develop each in terms of their swimming abilities. That’s what makes it interesting. Every year is a challenge.”
And the challenge for Ohio’s other girls swim teams is to some how find a way to beat Jerry’s girls.
It would take a small book to recognize all of the outstanding young ladies who have competed in the Ohio high school swimming championships, but a few should be recognized. Alyssa Kiel, who swam for Hawken School from 2002-2005, is Ohio’s “champion of champions” with 14 state titles, evenly divided between individual and team events. She also holds the nation’s ninth fastest time in the 500-yard freestyle at 4:42.15. Close behind her is another Hawk, and Alyssa’s former teammate, Sarah Dorenkott, who won 12 titles from 2003-2006 (5 individual and 7 team).
The state’s top winner of individual gold medals is Whitney Meyers of Cincinnati Ursuline Academy. From 2000 to 2003, Ms. Meyers won eight individual events, as well as contributing on three state championship relay teams, for a grand total of 11 championships. Whitney Meyers is in the national high school record book three times. She owns the nation’s seventh best time of 1:47.19 in the 200-yard freestyle, and has the fifth (53.89 sec.) and tenth (54.08 sec.) best times in the 100-yard butterfly.
Ohio’s best placing nationally in relay events belongs to the girls from Upper Arlington High School, who in 2002 swam the nation’s fifth fastest time of 1:44.74 in the 200-yard medley relay.
Very often the girls get overshadowed by the boys when competing in similar events or sports, but there is at least one swim category in which Ohio’s young ladies far exceed the boys. Only one boy, Chris Ash of Firestone High School, has won a state championship in the same event four times. However, there are no less than six girls who have accomplished this extraordinary feat. They are: Katherine Creighton (500-yard freestyle, Cin. Wyoming High School and Hawken School, 1985-1988), Tina Silbersack (100-yard butterfly, Cin. McNicholas High School and Cin. St. Ursula Academy, 1989-1992), Whitney Meyers (200-yard freestyle, Cin. Ursuline Academy, 2000-2003), Lauren Preyss (100-yard freestyle, Chagrin Falls High School, 2000-2003), Emily Hunter (one-meter diving, Cin. Indian Hill High School, 2000-2003), and Alyssa Kiel (500-yard freestyle, Hawken, 2002-2005).