Swimming at Brown began with the construction of the Colgate Hoyt Pool in 1903. The first meet in the new pool was held with Yale on February 4, 1903. The main event was a water polo game which Yale won, 3-0. The first aquatic tournament was held on March 7, 1904, when 150 spectators observed interclass relay races, diving, and a water polo game between the freshmen and the sophomores. Trainer Charlie Huggins organized intercollegiate swimming at Brown in 1905-1906, and was its unofficial coach until his death in 1924. In the first meet of the intercollegiate season held at Brown on January 22, 1907, Harvard won the swimming events, while Brown won the water polo contest, 6-0. That year Brown also swam against Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia, and finished the season with two wins and three losses. In 1907-08 Brown, Williams, and Amherst formed a swimming league. In 1911 Brown defeated Amherst and Williams in dual meets, and lost to both in the triangular meet. The next year the schedule was expanded to include Cornell (whom Brown defeated) and Columbia (who defeated Brown), and Brown won the triangular meet, breaking five records in the process. In its most successful season to date, Brown won three out of four dual meets in 1913, and defeated Amherst and Williams in the triangular league. Brown’s success waned during the next few seasons. A very promising team in 1914-15 fell apart when five of its swimmers were disqualified after mid-year examinations. The next year’s 0-4 record was even worse. In 1919 the team under Coach Myron Finch, defeated Harvard, Harvard Dental School, and the Springfield Y.M.C.A., and lost to M.I.T. Brown won all seven dual meets in 1919-20, and, with two freshman barred by eligibility rules, took fifth place in the New England intercollegiate meet. The next year’s team won eight of nine dual meets (losing only to Yale), and placed fifth in the New England intercollegiate meet.
The New England Intercollegiate Swimming Association was formed in the fall of 1921 by Amherst, Brown, Dartmouth, M.I.T., and Wesleyan. Brown, led by Davy Jones ’24, won the N.E.I.S.A. meets the next two years, taking seventeen out of nineteen possible firsts in 1922. Jones was three-time national champion in the 100-yard dash, an event he won every time in his college career, and a three-time All-American. Other All-American swimmers were Mark Coles ’26 in 1924, Raymond Hall ’31 in 1931, and Franklin M. White ’33 in 1931, 1932, and 1933. William A. Lewis ’34 won five New England championships, tied the national record in the 50-yard freestyle in his sophomore year and finished third nationally in the 100 in his junior year. Matt Soltysiak ’40, whom sports writer Joe Nutter ’24, writing in 1940, called “the greatest swimmer in Brown history,” competed in every event and was never defeated in New England competition.
E. Leo Barry took over as coach in 1924. His eighteen-year overall record was 76-67-1, and his teams won eleven New England championships, nine of them consecutive between 1932 and 1940. On special occasions, such as Brown’s wins over Harvard in 1939 and Army in 1941, Barry himself dived into the pool at the end of the meet.
Joe Watmough coached for 28 years, from 1943 to 1971. His teams won New England championships in 1950, 1951, 1958, and 1961. His best swimmer was Carl Paulson ’46, who was All-American in both 1943 and 1944 and won the national NCAA 200-yard butterfly championship in 1944. There was less success in Watmough’s final years of coaching. The outdated Colgate Hoyt pool was not an attraction and Watmough, by his own admission, was not fond of recruiting. Edward Reed was named coach in 1971. One of Coach Reed’s first swimmers was Rich Burrows ’76, who broke every freshman record and in his freshman year set a New England championship record of 17:22 in the 1650 freestyle. When Brown’s 1974-75 team won the New England championships at the Brown pool, Burrows took three individual events for three new records, the 200 and 400 individual medleys and the 200 butterfly. David Sias has been the diving coach since 1973. The team was third in Eastern Seaboard Swimming and Diving Championships in 1983 and 1984. Steve Ennis ’86 tied for most points scored in the Eastern Seaboard Meet in 1984. Reed’s twenty-one year coaching record is 100-124 overall and 48-102 in the Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League.
Water Polo, which had been one of the events at early meets, became a varsity sport in 1974, a season in which Brown finished 12-8 and was second in the New Englands and fourth in the Easterns. The next year the team won eleven of its thirteen matches in the regular season and finished third in the East. In 1977 Brown was the first university east of the Rocky Mountains to host the NCAA Water Polo Championships at the end of a season in which Brown finished 20-4, won the New Englands, and lost to Stanford in the first round of the tournament. In 1979 the team finished seventh nationally, after losing to Stanford and Loyola and defeating the Air Force Academy in the Nationals. That year Brown won its own invitational tournament, in the team’s first ever defeat of Loyola, with a 10-9 score in overtime. Brown won its first Eastern championship in 1981, defeating Loyola of Chicago with a last minute penalty shot, which was hotly contested by the opposing team’s coach, and won the Easterns again in 1983, 1984, and 1985. The 1984 team ended the season with a 32-7-1 record, and overcame Navy in double overtime to win the Eastern title. This team, with fourteen players from California, lost to USC and UCLA in the NCAA tournament. The 1985 team finished sixth in the NCAA tournament for the third straight year. After winning its sixteenth consecutive New England championship in 1990, Brown lost to Navy in the Eastern finals, and was defeated by the University of California (Berkeley) in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Funding for water polo as a varsity sport was withdrawn in 1991 as part of the University’s budget reduction. The team went on to win its fifth consecutive Ivy League title in 1991, won the New England title in a tournament held at the Smith Swimming Center, and placed third in the Easterns.
Women students began swimming at the Plantations Club. A swimming test, which had been required of the male students since 1913, was first mentioned as a physical education requirement for women students in 1931-32. Students who did not pass the test were required to take two semesters of swimming instruction. Mrs. Roger Higgins was the coach of women’s swimming from 1927 to 1929. May Atherton coached from in 1930 to 1932, and Ruth E. M’Coy from 1932 to 1936. The 1933 women’s swim team, led by Albina Osipowich ’33, who swam in the 1928 Olympics, in an undefeated season won meets with Wheaton, Jackson, and Radcliffe, and in a quadrangular meet took seven first places in eleven events. Another star swimmer for Pembroke was 1932 Olympic medalist Helen Johns ’36.
In the 1960s Sarah Phillips started coaching women swimmers. Florence Filippo coached in 1971 and 1972, and Lynda Calkins from 1974 to 1978. Noel Keefer ’78, an outstanding diver for Brown, was also Brown’s first woman All-American athlete. In Dave Roach’s eight years as coach from 1978 to 1986, the team won three consecutive Ivy League championships in 1983, 1984, and 1985. Elaine Palmer ’84 won national championships in the 200 and 100 backstroke events in 1982. The team won its first Eastern championship in 1985, overtaking Penn State, the defending champion, to whom the Brown women had come in second in 1984 at the Smith Swimming Center. Kendall Delgado ’88 was named outstanding swimmer of the meet, having won both the 400 individual medley and the 200 backstroke and placed third in the 500 freestyle and fourth in the 1650 freestyle. In 1986 the team won its second consecutive Eastern championship at Penn State, and Carolyn Ryder ’89 and Karen Dieffenthaller ’89 qualified for the Nationals. Jennifer Boyd ’90 set three Eastern Women’s Swimming League records in 1990, in the 100 yards butterfly, the fifty yards freestyle, and the 100 yards freestyle. Dave Roach, who began coaching the women’s team in 1978, had a 74-6-1 record for the next seven years; Mark Johnston’s record since 1986 is 43-16 overall and 24-11 in the Ivy League.