Fitzgerald inducted into PA Aquatics Hall of Fame

By on April 6, 2016
Ted Fitzgerald, center, poses with his family at Bucknell University in Lewisburg on Sunday. Fitzgerald, a longtime swimming official, was inducted into the Pennsylvania Swimming Hall of Fame.

Ted Fitzgerald, center, poses with his family at Bucknell University in Lewisburg on Sunday. Fitzgerald, a longtime swimming official, was inducted into the Pennsylvania Swimming Hall of Fame.

Ted Fitzgerald will never forget the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

His old pal Carl Robie — a close friend growing up when the two competed together at the Aronimink Swim Club in suburban Philadelphia — was representing the USA and Fitzgerald couldn’t wait to watch on TV.

Robie didn’t disappoint, as he took home gold in the 200 butterfly.

“I was just out of college then, I had just started teaching, my wife (Bonnie) and I were just married, it was in August and I stayed up until 3 in the morning,” said Fitzgerald, a long-time language arts teacher at Warwick Middle School from 1988 until retiring in 2002. “Carl was in lane eight, nobody expected him to win it, and not only did he win it, but he broke his own world record.”

On Saturday night, March 19, Fitzgerald and Robie were honored together when both were inducted into the Pennsylvania Aquatics Hall of Fame, along with David Wharton, a silver medalist at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, and legendary Wyoming Valley West coach Frank Tribendis, prior to the Double-A State Championships at Bucknell University. Robie was inducted posthumously.

“Carl was an Olympian, a gold medalist, and to be in that kind of company, for me, was just beyond belief,” Fitzgerald said. “I beat Carl once when I was 8 years old, but then I was in his wake the rest of my career … You’ll notice how much longer (the other inductees’) resumes are than mine (in the program), that’s why I was so surprised to be inducted. Gosh, these guys are Olympians and great coaches and my contribution has been mainly through officiating.”

Fitzgerald shouldn’t be so modest.

His lifetime commitment to swimming has included 47 years — and going strong — as a highly-respected official. Shortly after he started his teaching career in 1967 at Reynolds Junior High, Fitzgerald was approached by McCaskey soccer, swim and tennis coach Dick Bechtel, asking him about joining the fraternity.

The rest is history.

“Dick talked me into getting in officiating and it’s been ever since,” said Fitzgerald, who noted that he has been a track and field official equally as long. “At that point, it was the Officials Club of Lancaster. It was not a PIAA-affiliated chapter. We didn’t get grand-fathered in until much later on.”

Over the years, he has worked his way up to the head position of starter/referee. Previously, the 70-year-old Fitzgerald had paid his dues as a timer, stroke judge, and starter. His resume includes numerous assignment at Lancaster-Lebanon League, District Three, and PIAA State Championships. He received the Pennsylvania High School Swimming Coaches’ Association Outstanding Official Award in 1999. That same year, Fitzgerald was also named the National Federation Interscholastic Officials Association Boys Swimming and Diving Official of the Year.

“I’ve done a little of everything,” he said. “I love the competition. I love watching the kids improve their times. I especially enjoy being around young people. I’ve been around young people my whole career.”

It hasn’t just been during the winter that Fitzgerald’s been poolside, as he also officiates for summer time age group swimming. For a short time, Fitzgerald also officiated at collegiate meets.

“I got out of that,” he said. “I decided I wanted to specialize in high school during the winter.”

His passion for swimming also led him into coaching the McCaskey swim team for four years in the early ‘70’s. Fitzgerald, a Springfield High School graduate, also competed at Millersville University, serving as the Marauders’ captain in his senior year (1966-67). Besides setting school records in the 200 Individual Medley and 200 backstroke, he also shattered the PSAC record in the 200 back as a junior, then broke his own mark as a senior, both while winning gold.

“My buddies convinced me to go out for the swim team in college,” Fitzgerald said.

Robie, no doubt, would have concurred. Before Fitzgerald went onto Springfield High School and Robie to Monsignor Bonner High School, the two of them were teammates at Aronimink Swim Club in Drexel Hill during the summer.

“Wonderful guy,” Fitzgerald said of Robie. “Actually, a close friend too. One thing I remember is we used to sleep over together and one time at my house, he actually ate 18 pancakes. I never saw anybody eat pancakes like that.”

Springfield didn’t have a swim team so Fitzgerald competed for the Suburban Swim Club, and then later for the Vesper Boat Club. He also swam for the Sons of Penn under Hall of Famer and Olympian Jack Medica at Hutchinson Pool, right next to the Palestra, where the University of Penn plays basketball.

“As an 8 year old, I swam all four strokes,” Fitzgerald said. “I was actually my club’s champion that year and then it all went downhill from there.”

Fitzgerald has come a long way since then. Today, he can call himself a Hall of Famer. Fitzgerald was joined at the induction by his wife, Bonnie, daughter, Jennifer Walsh, son Michael — via FaceTime in California — and grandchildren, Dylan and Kate, at which time he joined the likes of none other than founding father Benjamin Franklin.

“My daughter said she had troubles picturing him in a Speedo,” Fitzgerald laughed.

Others in the Hall include Wilson coach Roy Snyder, who nominated Fitzgerald for the honor, and former Lock Haven swimmer and York Suburban coach Dick Guyer, against whom Fitzgerald battled many times in the pool.

“That’s the kind of company I’m in,” Fitzgerald said. “It was beyond belief.”

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2 Comments

  1. carrie young

    April 6, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Congratulations Mr. Fitz! 8th grade English at Reynolds Junior High was the best thanks to Mr. Fitz’s enthusiasm. And seeing him at my children’s swim meets through the years was great because he always remembered his students. And I can still remember studying Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky in his class many years ago.

    • Ted Fitzgerald

      April 7, 2016 at 1:15 pm

      Aye, Carrie, “‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe”
      How sweet of you to remember.

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