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Original Issue

Love-in at the Utah natatorium

That anathema of the coaching profession—long hair—reared its shaggy head recently at the University of Utah. The hair, which hung below the shoulders, was the glory of a member of the swimming team, a breaststroker, and somehow the sight of a young man wearing only long hair and a bathing suit was considered especially obscene. The football coach, of course, was aghast. The parents who came to meets were so busy tsk-tsking that they almost forgot to notice Utah's new $2 million natatorium. Everybody wondered when the swimming coach, Don Reddish, would blow his red top. So what did Reddish do?

"Nothing," says Reddish. "Any other year and I would have gone completely out of my mind. But whether we like it or not, times are changing. Here was a young man who was a B-plus student, who was perfect in every way. I couldn't see where long hair had changed him. He's a good individual, and I decided that if long hair means that much to him, that's the way it would be."

"My hair is part of me, something I can empathize with, something that means something to me," says the swimmer, Tim Roark. "Don can understand this. He's about the only older person I can talk to and relate with. I really dig him."

Everybody around Salt Lake seems to dig Reddish, who is 46 and has more hair in his eyebrows than on his freckled dome. Some of his adult friends recently threw a dinner in his honor and gave him a bronze plaque ("Don B. recognition of his contributions to intercollegiate swimming and the University of Utah") to hang in the new natatorium. Other friends got up $5,000 for Utah's swimming program. These tributes are nice enough ("That plaque sure would make a fine gravestone," says Reddish), but a few hours spent with Reddish give one the idea that he puts greater store in the words of Tim Roark.

Indeed, his rapport with his athletes is the only reason Reddish has coached swimming at Utah the last 17 years. His job is assistant athletic director, and swimming doesn't bring him an extra cent. "It's a hobby with me," he says. "I enjoy working with kids. In fact, I seem to get along better with kids than I do with anyone else." And it's a hobby that has paid off. Each December Reddish takes his team to Honolulu for three weeks of training, then brings them back to Salt Lake to wallop everybody in the Rocky Mountain region. The Redskins are 137-37 in dual meets under Reddish and have won every Western Athletic Conference swimming title since the league was formed seven years ago.

"Don't get me wrong," says Reddish. "I do this for the fun of it—but nothing replaces winning. You don't have to work out one day to lose."

A milestone in Reddish's career will come at the end of the month, when Utah hosts the NCAA swimming and diving championships. Although Salt Lake is 4,200 feet above sea level—high enough to revive 1968 Olympic anxieties—the NCAA picked Utah partly out of recognition of Reddish's success but mostly because the new natatorium is considered one of the finest in the nation. The natatorium is Reddish's pet project, and he is mainly responsible for everything from the layout of the three pools to the windows which form an entire wall, affording a view of the new 15,000-seat basketball dome and, beyond, the purple peaks of the Wasatch Range. The only things in the pool complex that Reddish doesn't take credit for are the individual marble showers.

"Don't ask me how we got them," he says. "You should have seen the president when he found them. Oh, man!"

If the marble showers are the most extravagant feature, the most advanced is the computerized scoreboard. A joint effort of Data-Time and American Sign & Indicator, the contraption records each swimmer's time down to 1/10,000 of a second, then flashes the result on the scoreboard. This means that everyone knows right away who won a close race, instead of having to wait for 37 officials to decide. Moreover, with human error eliminated, the race always goes to the swiftest—as Reddish discovered earlier this winter in a meet against Colorado State. The teams had battled evenly down to the last event, the 4 x 100 freestyle relay, in which the officials unanimously picked Utah as the winner. The computer picked Colorado State.

Serves Reddish right. He designed the scoreboard and advised in the construction of the computer, which also records splits and holds them for 15 seconds, catches false starts and, they say, runs old Johnny Weissmuller flicks.

Reddish swam at Amherst and, after serving in the Army in the Philippines, at Utah. He was a capable enough free-styler, but the best athlete in the family was brother Jack, who made two Olympic skiing team's and won 24 national titles. Now Jack is associated with Steve McQueen in Solar Productions, which brought you Bullitt and The Reivers.

As a graduate student at Utah, Don Reddish filled in as swimming coach for two years (1948-49) and won the Skyline Conference championship in 1949. After being called back into the Army—he was twice wounded in Korea—he returned to Utah and was named superintendent of maintenance and buildings.

In 1955 the Utah swimming coach, an assistant football coach, got bored and gave swimming up. The pay wasn't much—at the time an extra $200 a year—but neither was the program: no scholarships, no swimsuits, not even a decent pool, unless you counted the yucky old bathtub in the phys ed building.

None of this fazed Reddish. When he became assistant athletic director in 1961 the annual swimming budget was $500. To get more money Reddish coached young swimmers in exchange for contributions by their parents for swimming scholarships. He gave out the scholarships carefully—half a grant here, a quarter one there—and the one thing he didn't do, unless it was absolutely necessary, was to let prospects see the pool.

"I never lied to anyone," says Reddish, "but let's just say I took great pains to avoid the old pool. You couldn't believe it—60 feet long by 23 feet wide!"

The better Utah did in swimming, the more dough Reddish was able to raise. Now there are 22 swimmers on at least partial scholarship, and this year the team will travel more than 10,000 miles, at a cost of well over $10,000. The prestige trip, of course, is to Honolulu, which the swimmers help pay for by cleaning up the football stadium.

But Reddish almost didn't live to see the natatorium or the NCAAs. On a recent recruiting trip in New Mexico his Thunderbird was hit head-on by a truck. Reddish wasn't expected to live through the night, and at one point he stopped breathing for a minute and a half. A team of 12 doctors—all personal friends, managed to put him back together.

Up to now Reddish's swimming goals have been relatively modest, but with the natatorium to attract prospects, he may begin chasing both the nation's best swimmers and the NCAA championship. Even so, as surely as he will continue coaching for free, the core of Utah's program will be the relationship between Reddish and his boys. Consider Tim Roark. He got his hair cut, yet. "It was just getting to the length I wanted it," explains Tim, "but some of the guys thought if I got it cut, it would make the team more cohesive. I think that's crazy, but I did it because it would help Don. I guess I wanted to help him more than I wanted my hair."

And that, friends, is love.