Michigan State Women’s Swimming Celebrates 50 Years

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Michigan State celebrated the 50th anniversary of its women's swimming and diving program on Saturday. Photo Courtesy: Dan D'Addona

Fifty years ago, the Michigan State University swimming and diving began a women’s program.

It was before Title IX, but also was nearly a half century after the founding of the men’s program. On Saturday, the Spartans celebrated the 50th anniversary of the women’s program as alumni from all over the country returned, wanting to celebrate their program and place in the history of collegiate women’s swimming.

“I want to thank everyone who came today from near and far. I am hoping you all had (and are continuing to have) a good time. Made me very proud to see such support,” current Michigan State coach Matt Gianiodis said.

He wasn’t the only coach in attendance.

Jennifer Parks was a longtime coach at Michigan State, beginning in 1973 and ending in 1988 with a stint at Eastern Michigan in the middle. She led the Spartans to two Big Ten titles, followed by two runner-up titles. She was an Olympic trials qualifier before coaching and a Masters Swimming national champion afterward, never straying far from the sport.

She was a driving force in the celebration.

“I had a fabulous time enjoying the meet with the 60-plus former swimmers and divers,” Parks said. “We had a great time reminiscing about the fun we had in this great sport.”

While coaching, she had may All-Americans, including Jane (Manchester) Meyers, a national champion diver. She was an Olympic trials qualifier and has been one of the top high school diving coaches in Michigan for several decades, sending dozens of divers to NCAA Division I programs from West Ottawa High School.

She sat with Parks for much of the meet and enjoyed connecting with former teammates.

“It was great to see some of my old team members and I wish more of them could have come, but I know many live so far away. I have so many wonderful memories in that pool and every time I walk in there, they all come rushing back in. I made many lifelong friends, got a great education, learned a lot about myself and had much success on the boards there,” Meyers said. “I had a great coach in John Narcy and I really blossomed on the team. The women back then had to swim separately (and I mean a totally different, not as good, pool) from the men, but John took some of us better women divers in and let us workout with him and the guys team. I guess this past weekend made me realize just how much inequality there really was between the men’s and women’s programs. I was blessed to have things work out as they did for me.

“Diving has been a part of my life for almost 54 years, whether it be a participant or coach, and I have to say I don’t regret a minute of it.”

Meyers and Parks, who was a volunteer assistant coach at West Ottawa High School for a few years as well, helped shape a new generation of swimmers and divers.

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Jennifer Parks (left), Shelby Lacy and Jane Meyers at the MSU 50th anniversary. Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

Shelby Lacy was a two-time state champion in the 100-yard breaststroke at West Ottawa before swimming at Michigan State and breaking the school record in the event. She now works for ESPN.

She enjoyed spending time with her former teammates and also Meyers and Parks, who were huge influences on her during her career.

“Coming back to East Lansing is always bittersweet, it was just a little bit sweeter this time,” Lacy said. “You don’t realize how big a deal a 50th anniversary celebration is until you’re surrounded by the women who are the reason behind it all. So much history — I felt the energy in the natatorium, for sure. Even reminiscing on my own memories as a Spartan swimmer. It’s something I’ll always cherish.

“If JP (Parks) hadn’t brought Michigan State to the forefront, I probably wouldn’t have been there — nine years to the day that I committed to swim for MSU.”

More Big Ten coverage here.

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Lisa Cordero

    JP continues to make a mark in swimming in Holland Mi. She continues to swim for the master’s program, despite a rapid progression of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Her continued commitment to swimming is admirable! She helped me learn to swim at the age of 56, and it has given me a new outlook on my life! I hated water for 55 years, but with her encouragement, I now swim 4 days a week and I love it! Thank you JP for all the years you have given to swimming and swimmers!

    • avatar
      Jennifer Parks

      Thank you, Lisa, for your generous words. You have been an amazing example of how this great activity/sport has helped people, who have struggled with physical and other issues, develop confidence, strength, and even more tenacity. Brava to you!
      p.s. Thanks, Dan, for writing this nice article on our Celebration. You are a gift, every swimming town would love!

  2. avatar
    Daniel D'Addona

    Thanks JP! You are as well 🙂