TUSCALOOSA, Ala., Feb. 10. JOHN Foster, the father of the University of Alabama Swimming and Diving program, died Saturday, Feb. 1 after a long illness at the age of 84.
Foster was the Crimson Tide's first coach, getting the program underway for the 1959-60 season. He led the Tide 14 seasons, during which time Alabama amassed a 124-40 dual meet record. His teams finished no lower than third in the Southeastern Conference after the Tide's second season, including four runner-up finishes. His swimmers won 21 individual SEC titles.
"I never had the opportunity to speak to him," current Alabama head coach Don Wagner said. "But every year he sent me the results of the Florida High School meet. His interest in the program he started never waned."
On a national level, Foster coached the Tide to its first NCAA placing in 1973, when the team finished 28th. Five Alabama swimmers earned All-American honors under Foster.
"I've spoken to a number of the swimmers that competed for him in the '60s and 70s," Wagner said. "They all talk about what a great man he was. The talked about a man that was very funny, with a dry sense of humor and of course what a great coach he was. They really liked swimming for the guy."
Foster wasn't just a coach at Alabama, also serving as aquatics director, supervisor of intramural and recreational swimming and assistant professor in the department of physical education.
"He did so much with so little," Ralph Wright, the Tide's first triple SEC Champion, said of his former mentor. "His memory will always be cherished."
Foster left coaching after the 1973 season to devote more time to teaching and the aquatics program and above all, to spend more time with his family. Before leaving coaching, he brought Don Gambril from Harvard to be his successor.
"He had a very fine record," Gambril said. "He brought a lot of great teams through here and did a great job with very few resources. He not only was a swimming coach, but the aquatics director and teacher in the PE department. I meet people all the time who tell me that he taught them to swim."
Foster came to Alabama after coaching age group swimming in the Atlanta area and working in the Georgia Tech P.E. department.
There will be a memorial service Wednesday, February 19, at 11:00 a.m. ET at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Venice, Fla. The family asks that those wishing to honor Foster send a donation to the "John Foster Memorial Scholarship Fund", started by several of his former athletes. Contributions can be sent to: P.O. Box 870343, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0343.