Passages: John Spannuth, Key Figure in Masters Swimming, Age 89

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Photo Courtesy: Cathleen Pruden

Passages: John Spannuth, Key Figure in Masters Swimming, Age 89

John Spannuth, a long-time swimming administrator and a key figure in the creation of U.S. Masters Swimming, died on Dec. 19. He was 89 years old.

Spannuth’s connection to Masters Swimming goes back to the very beginning, hosting the organization’s first swim meet in 1970. His connection to the sport, though, goes back several decades further, as Spannuth swam since a near drowning at age 6. His many accolades in the sport include the International Swimming Hall of Fame’s President’s Award, bestowed in 2016.

He organized and directed the first annual World Swimming Coaches Clinic in 1968, during his two-year tenure as the president of the American Swimming Coaches Association. He also served as the secretary of the World Swimming Coaches Association from 1968-70, was the National Aquatics Administrator of the Amateur Athletic Union from 1969-73 and a two-year term as the executive director of International Special Olympics.

Spannuth began coaching fellow kids at a swim club in his native Pennsylvania at age 12. In college, he began working at the Reading YMCA and was named aquatics director in 1956 at age 22. He was soon elected president of the Berks County Swimming Association and was eventually recruited to coach at West Chester University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1976 and was later inducted to its Athletics Hall of Fame.

By that point, Spannuth was long established in the world of swimming. From 1961-68, he coached the Phillips 66ers Swimming Club (now Phillips 66 Splash Club) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In 1968, he was lured away to coach a swim club in Amarillo, Texas. As the Amarillo Aquatic Club pool he helped build there, he and Ransom J. Arthur organized what would be the first U.S. Masters Swimming meet in 1970 with 46 participants. Spannuth, a lifelong swimmer, worked with Arthur, then a doctor in the Navy based out of San Diego, on the proposal to encourage swimming later into life.

Spannuth’s role with the AAU brought masters swimming (then known as adult age-group swimming) under the governing body’s purview, though that lobbying effort took until 1973. Five decades on, U.S. Masters Swimming reached its largest membership, at 65,000 members, in 2017. As U.S. Masters Swimming put it in their obituary: “If June Krauser was the mother of U.S. Masters Swimming and Ransom J. Arthur was the father of the organization, then the architect making lots of savvy moves behind the scenes was John Spannuth.”

In 1988, Spannuth became the president and CEO of the United States Water Fitness Association, living and working in Florida. He helped launch national swimming programs in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. He continued to organize major national and international aquatics summits into the early 2000s.

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