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Athletics & Recreation

George Haines


In 1992, George Haines received word of the death of Glen Hummer, his first swim coach at the Huntington YMCA. Haines, who just a few years later would be named the top swimming coach of the 20th century, fondly remembered his mentor, the man who first taught him swim methods. 

“He was a great, great man,” said Haines. “His techniques were ahead of the time. I felt his loss, as if an arm had been cut off.”

Hummer was a lifelong presence in Haines’ career. After leaving Huntington, Haines founded the legendary Santa Clara Swim Club in California, producing 53 Olympians who amassed 44 gold, 14 silver and 10 bronze medals. He was head Olympics coach three times and assistant for three other Games.

Born in Huntington in 1924, Haines joined Hummer’s YMCA squad and learned the long distance, open-water methods that helped propel Hummer teams to the first two of their 10 national championships in 1940 and 1946. Haines would earn a national junior title in the half-mile swim, and excelled in the 1,500 meters.

Haines also had other duties with the Huntington Y swim team, including acting as navigator for the notoriously bad-driving Hummer, and keeping the coach awake while driving overnight to out-of-town meets.

As a youth swimmer, Haines took part in the annual three-mile White River Swim on the Fourth of July in Indianapolis. The quality of the race depended on how much rain recently fell on the city. One year, after a heavy summer soaker, Haines placed second in the race, covering the three miles in just 36 minutes in the roiling river. There was a drought the next year that left the river barely a trickle. Haines won the race, but this time took 90 minutes, with Haines spending much of his swim having to crawl across shallow mud bars.

During World War II, Haines was with the Coast Guard, where he taught swimming survival skills to Marines. When the war ended, Haines looked to continue swimming. He enrolled at Kalamazoo College because the school had plans to build a new pool and hire Hummer as their coach. Neither of those promises came about, so Haines headed west to San Jose State, where he became a top swimmer in the sprint events. 

He graduated in 1950, and took a job at Santa Clara High School as swimming and football coach, and also founded the Santa Clara Swim Club. In his first year, the school had not yet completed building its pool, so Haines, harkening back to his Huntington YMCA days of open-water swimming at Lake Clare, trained his initial team in a nearby reservoir that was overrun by frogs.

But Haines’ techniques paid off. In 23 seasons, Santa Clara High School won 215 consecutive dual meets and 11 unofficial national championships. Between 1968 through 1970, Santa Clara swimmers held national high school records in every stroke at every distance. His club team won 43 national titles and broke more than 200 world records. Among his students were many of the top swimmers of all time including Mark Spitz, Don Schollander and Donna de Varona. Even with world-class talent and a club that had as many as 300 members at any one time, Haines remembered how Hummer taught, and took the time to give individual attention to each swimmer under his tutelage.

A 1968 article in Sports Illustrated said, “If the other 49 states and the rest of California should decide to pass up the Olympics, Haines could put together a team from his Santa Clara Swim Club that would hold off the rest of the world.”

Haines left Santa Clara in 1973. He coached at UCLA for five years, then later led the Stanford women’s swim team to an NCAA championship in 1983. He retired from coaching in 1988. 

The International Swimming Hall of Fame inducted Haines in 1977, then named him Coach of the Century in 2001. Fifteen of his swimmers are in the Hall with him.

Haines and his wife, June, raised five children, all of whom excelled as athletes. Eldest daughter Kerry swam on three of her father’s national championship teams. Janice was a top tennis player at UCLA, and daughter Jody was a college gymnast and followed her father into the coaching ranks. Paula Haines was an all-city tennis player in high school, and son Kyle wrestled and ran track.

Haines suffered a stroke in 2001, and died in 2006. Today, a statue of Haines stands over the Santa Clara pool where he coached, now called the George F. Haines International Swim Center.

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