CHUCK RIGGS: SWIM COACHING HALL OF FAME HONOR LONG OVERDUE?

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

It’s a growing club, one that began assembling in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. beginning in 2002.

There’s Bob Bowman, the Arizona State University coach who helped guide Michael Phelps to a myriad of Olympic gold medals, who joined that exclusive list in 2010.

Add George Haines, who notched 26 women’s national AAU championships, plus another nine men’s titles at Northern California-based Santa Clara Swim Club before becoming head swimming coach at UCLA before heading off to Stanford.

Throw in Ron Ballatore, the five-time U.S. Olympic team coach who took over at UCLA upon Haines’ departure — 10 gold medalists amid a myriad of achievements that included 26 NCAA individual champions.

All three men, among a few dozen more, are part of the American Soccer Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.

Redlands’ Chuck Riggs’ inclusion into ASCA’s Hall of Fame this year might be considered long overdue.

Chuck-Riggs
Chuck Riggs of Redlands will be inducted into the American Swimming Coaches Association on Sept. 6 (photo by ASCA).

Coming to Redlands as its club coach in the early 1980s, Riggs has a lifetime of swim-coaching achievements that keep adding up even at age 71.

Riggs, a diver during his competitive days in the midwest, is currently operating on the deck at Beaumont High School. That team, plus heading up the PASS Dolphins, is his latest test after spending a few years coaching at the University of Hawaii.

Beaumont was a nice landing spot — willing athletes and a nice facility.

“I’ll do it,” he said, “until I’m not having fun anymore.”

In his early coaching days, he took 11 Riverside Aquatics Association swimmers to the 1972 Olympic Trials.

Let’s see — 1972. Wasn’t that the year Robin Backhaus claimed a bronze medal at the Munich Olympics, better known as the Mark Spitz Swimming Invitational?

Riggs admits to a small role in Backhaus’ training.

Riggs met the Hall of Fame criteria long ago. Some criteria off that list:

  • Placing two teams in the Top 10 at the USA Swimming Nationals, or NCAA Division I (top 10), II or III (top 2).
  • Personal coach for two, or more years, of two individual USA summer national champions.
  • Personal coach for two years, or more, of two individual USA Olympic or World Championship (long course) medalists.
  • Personal coach for two, or more, years of two world record holders.

Around these parts, Riggs has made more than a contribution to swimming.

ASCA’s Hall of Fame missed selecting him for years.

“All it took,” he said, “was someone to nominate me.”

RIGGS, RST HAD QUITE A RUN

Riggs could be excused for wincing every so often over another top-flight swimmer — Shannon Cullen.

A likely Olympian, Cullen was a contemporary — an outright competitor — of multiple Olympic medalist Amanda Beard. On the road to an Olympic career out of Riggs’ Redlands Swim Team program, Cullen took off on a full-ride scholarship to swimming-rich USC.

That sport might’ve been awaiting a major showdown between the two medley specialists, Beard and Cullen. It couldn’t have been set up any better.

Beard went on to international acclaim. Cullen chose a different path.

“She got a boyfriend,” said Riggs, “who she later married.”

Some two decades later, Riggs was asked to reminisce about the fabulous Cullen.

“She’s still married to the same guy,” he said, “and they have three beautiful kids.”

Riggs’ RST club produced well — in the water and out.

Vicky West went to Northwestern.

Steve Messner went to Cal-Berkeley.

Alicia Wheelock? Arizona State.

Evan Castro showed up at Utah.

Temple Cowden splashed in at Fresno State.

Yale got Erin Carlstrom and Cole Heggi.

Auburn landed Heather Kemp and Karl Krug.

Speaking of Auburn, Ben Worby went to arch-rival Alabama.

Then there’s Krug.

Krug, along with another Redlands sprinter, Joey Hale, became the first prep tandem in history to record sub 20-second clockings in the 50-yard freestyle at a high school championship meet.

In 2008, Krug, Hale, Tyler Harp and Mike Perry combined for a 1:21.94 clocking in the boys 17-18 division at the U.S. National Championships.

Dozens of swimmers through the years reached U.S. Senior and Junior Nationals, plus the Olympic Trials.

SETTING UP CHAMPIONSHIP WORKOUTS

Then there’s Cynthia Woodhead, who’s known to the swimming world as “Sippy.” At one point, Woodhead held no less than 16 world records.

Woodhead would have been an Olympian in two Summer Games if not for the U.S. boycott of 1980 when she was just 16. By 1984, the Los Angeles Games, she was still in racing mode.

Sippy Woodhead
Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead in a familiar pose — winning a race. The onetime 16-event world record holder initially trained under Chuck Riggs, whose coaching career was just getting underway during his days as Riverside Aquatics Association coach (photo by Sippy Woodhead).

Woodhead won Olympic silver in the 200-meter freestyle.

There were seven world records, plus 18 American records.

Multiple medals at the 1978 World Championships, three gold and a silver.

Five gold medals at the 1979 Pan American Games.

In the 1983 Pan Am Games, Woodhead picked up a gold and silver medal.

There was a total of 18 U.S. national championships, ranging from the freestyle, medleys, butterfly and multiple relays.

Not all of Woodhead’s marks were associated with Riggs. She swam in Mission Viejo — Hall of Fame coach Mark Schubert — for a couple years before landing at USC.

Riggs, however, set up her initial path.

At age 11, Riggs had Woodhead in his senior group in 1975.

The plan was simple, yet complex. It was always early-morning workouts balanced by late-day sessions.

Riggs was stoking the fires of a 12-year-old Woodhead who set a U.S. record in the 1650-yard freestyle. Woodhead was a world record holder at age 14.

Workouts included 20,000 yards daily.

There were 11 workouts each week.

Throw in weight training.

At Christmas one year, she did 30,000 yards that week — 5 ½ miles in the water!

While the athletes log the workload, it’s the coach that sets the tone, schedules, outlines the pathway and formulates a motivational approach. Non-swimmers probably have no idea what it takes to become a swim champion.

Riggs, throughout his lengthy career, took notes all along the way.

Thirty-seven years in the classroom — Riverside Rubidoux High, mostly — as an English, history and philosophy teacher, Riggs coached two Pasadena City College divers to All-American status.

On Woodhead, said Riggs: “She never argued about the workouts. I sat down with her parents one time and we hashed out a plan when she was very young. She stuck to it.”

Riggs’ Hall of Fame induction, set for Sept. 6 at the World Clinic, scheduled for Anaheim. It’s an hour’s drive from Riggs’ Redlands home.

 

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