Don Green knows a lot can change in 52 years.
Back in 1960, when Green became the Cullman Swim Team’s very first coach, there were merely discussions about the city installing an indoor swimming pool. Fast forward to early Tuesday evening, a little over five decades later, when Green made an appearance at the Catfish’s annual alumni reunion. It’s only fitting the throwback event was held at the Cullman Wellness and Aquatic Center, the very facility Green long dreamed of and helped make a reality during his two terms as the city’s mayor from 2000-2008.
“It didn’t take us but about 60 years to get one,” Green said with a chuckle. “We wanted it a long time before we got it, but we just never did. When I got in the mayor’s office, the council wanted this and so did I. Between that, getting involved with the hospital and a great parks and rec department that was interested in it, there were just a lot of people who pulled it all together.”
As the 2012 swim team prepared for Tuesday’s home meet against Sheffield and Jasper, Green discussed his early days with the Catfish. He began as a water safety instructor who didn’t know much about competitive swimming. That changed in a heartbeat, as Green brought in a Florida State coach to host a clinic in order to give him a better idea of how to “teach all the competitive strokes the way the big schools were doing it.”
These days, it’s not uncommon for kids to swim all year round, but back when Green was coach, he said it was only a summertime program. That didn’t stop his teams from holding their own during his five-year stint with the Catfish.
“My favorite memories were of all the kids,” he said. “Our kids were very successful. We competed very well with all the schools around. Some of them had indoor and year-round programs, but our kids did well.”
From the athletes to the coaches to the officials to the timers to the lifeguards, it takes a village to run a swim team. The glue that often binds all that together are the parents, who Green said he appreciated throughout his coaching tenure.
“We had some great parents who supported the swim team,” he said. “Anything we needed done that was financially feasible, the parents made sure we had it. We still have a strong parents’ group today.”
Carson Glasscock, who organizes the annual alumni reunion, is one of those current parents Green spoke highly of. To this day, Glasscock remembers trying out for the swim team in the late ’60s, when the only requirement to become a Catfish was proving you could swim 25 yards across the municipal pool. When it came time for Glasscock’s turn, he said he stood there wearing “something that looked like boxer shorts, not knowing if I was going to make it or not.”
“You were either going to make it on the team or drown,” he joked.
The surname Glasscock is all too familiar when it comes to the Cullman Swim Team. All of Carson’s siblings have passed through the program, and his son, Bennett, is one of the Catfish’s current standouts.
“He loves it, and he’s really enjoyed it,” Carson said of his son, a 16-year-old student at St. Bernard. “We talk a lot about it. He’s really interested in the sport so it’s been a big family thing for us. He’s a lot faster than I ever was.”
Carson said one of the biggest reasons the Glasscocks have been drawn to swimming over the years is because of the uniqueness of the sport.
“It’s really family-oriented,” he said. “It’s just a big part of people’s live. Especially in Cullman, it’s one of those sports that’s always been big and popular. People love it here.”
When Green, the CST’s first coach, attends the occasional meet nowadays, he gets to sit back and enjoy himself while Alison Norris, the Catfish’s current coach, leads the team. Norris said the sport has changed quite a bit since Green’s time with the program, specifically pointing to a shift to year-round competition, as well as the relatively recent addition of a top-notch facility with outdoor and indoor pools.
“I do think it (the Aquatic Center) keeps the kids here because they have a great facility to come swim at,” she said. “Indoor helps especially because we have a big group of 11-12 year olds coming up that have a year-round program. Some of them will probably choose swimming as their sport. They won’t decide to leave and do something else.”
With the past — Green — and the present — Norris — both on hand for the annual alumni reunion, it’s hard to imagine the future of the Cullman Swim Team will be anything but bright.
‰ Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.