Sandy Wilson, the founding father of Ashland University’s swimming program and the swimming coach from 1967 to 1978, was honored on campus May 14 with a luncheon and dedication of the “Sandy Wilson Swimming Locker Room” located inside the Recreation Center.
Ashland University’s Office of Development raised approximately $30,000 to endow the locker room in Wilson’s name. Jim Dvorak, a member of one of Wilson’s first swim teams, served as chair for the Wilson Endowment Project.
Ashland University President Fred Finks welcomed Wilson back to campus and noted how he was a great coach who instilled great character in all those he coached. “It is an honor to have you back on campus today,” he said.
Wilson said swimming has been a huge part of his life. He said he went to college at Springfield and was fortunate to be around people who looked at swimming as a science.
“There is a lot of strategy that goes into swimming meets and how you win and lose them,” he said. “We spent a lot of time swimming a meet on paper. We could figure out the results pretty good. We could tell you what the score of the meet was going to be, it was like a checkers game.”
Wilson said his experiences taught him that a good coach needed to earn the respect of his or her team.
“The players have to respect you, and if you get the right combination you will be successful, that’s all you can ask for,” he said. “I wish that all the young people can have the opportunities I had, to have such a good experience that you can’t wait to get up to go to work. There’s never been a day in my life I didn’t want to get up and go to work.”
Wilson said he had a wonderful experience at Ashland.
“Ashland has come a long way. We were very fortunate, we had a wonderful experience and we got along, and we were all interested in each other’s successes and failures,” he said. “It was a wonderful job and a wonderful experience. I learned a lot…we've got very nice people around us and you can't ask for anything better than that.”
Dvorak, who graduated in 1972, said that being the founding father of the Ashland College swimming program was an exciting time for Wilson, but it was also a risky time.
“Starting a program from scratch, from nothing - he had to sell himself and sell the university and he did that so well,” Dvorak said. “From a swimmers standpoint, it was a terrific experience having the communication with Sandy before we were here and while we were here. We always felt connected, it was a special time.”
Dvorak said Wilson was a great recruiter, great coach and “he taught us a lot and exposed us to many great life experiences and lessons.”
Current swimming coach Paul Graham talked about the fact that there have only been six coaches since the program started in 1967.
“Coach Wilson and I have a special bond that goes back to my days as a YMCA swimmer where Coach Wilson was a starter in Fort Lauderdale at the nationals,” Graham said. “He worked with a couple of my mentors, and through them I had the opportunity to see the environment of swimming and the passion they had. It helped me figure out what I wanted to do…it was a powerful impact on me.”
Graham said Wilson left quote a legacy at Ashland.
“In the 12 years he was here, he had five teams in the top 10, over 50 All-Americans, numerous national champions,” he said. “He laid the ground work for future coaches. This university is a better place because of Coach.”
Chris Ford, a close friend of Wilson and former head wrestling coach at Ashland University, said it was an honor to talk about his good friend.
“One of the advantages we had in the 60s is that it was one wonderfully close family. We supported each other and grew on each other,” Ford said. “We were all winners because of our environment and the support we had from this college.”
Ford said that Wilson was a very big part of this environment at Ashland. “Our greatest experiences coaching were here at Ashland. Sandy passed up the coaching job at Ohio State University to stay at Ashland because his ties were so deep here. That’s the caliber of coach he was,” he said. “It is a family and a family of friends and respect. It is a rare honor to be able to speak about my dear friend, best buddy, on an occasion like this.”
Athletic Director Bill Goldring also spoke about how everyone is so happy to have Wilson back on the campus. “No one deserves this more than you do because of the groundwork you have laid here,” Goldring said. “You were a great mentor when I started here and I appreciate all the things you done to help Ashland College and Ashland University.”
Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.