Passages: NISCA Pioneer David H. Robertson Dies at 93

Photo Courtesy: Andy Ross
One of the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) pioneers, David Robertson, has died. Robertson was 93 years old.NISCA posted this obituary on its site:

Obituary for David H. Robertson 12/5/1925-11/18/2019

The swimming world lost a great teacher, innovator, and gentleman, when David Haswell Robertson passed away three weeks short of his 94th birthday in Northbrook, IL.

Born December 5, 1925, in Evanston, IL, he was raised in Wilmette, IL. He later lived in Winnetka, Kenilworth, and Naperville, IL; Orlando and Winter Park, FL; Springfield, and Northbrook, IL. He spent many summers at his beloved Congregational Summer Assembly in Frankfort, MI, which his grandfather helped establish in 1905. He attended New Trier High School, the first high school in America to build a swimming pool. He was a state champion and All-American backstroker and rose to the position of Head Guard. Assigned to write his Junior Theme on “Occupations,” he forecast that his dream job would be as swim coach at New Trier.

Immediately upon graduation in June 1944, he entered the Navy V-12 program to become an aviator. He attended Missouri Valley College and the University of Michigan in the V-12. The war ended before he earned his wings, but he loved (commercial) flying and travel ever after.

Upon discharge from the Navy, he entered Northwestern University, where he earned his bachelor and Master’s (in Kinesiology) degrees. His dream came true on March 15, 1946 when he was hired as assistant swim coach and PE teacher under his mentor, Coach Edgar B. Jackson. Dave became head coach and Director of Aquatics in 1948, a position he held until 1976. He then coached at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, IL, from 1976-1986, when he retired. In the late 1940s, he developed a second dream job, Minnico Canoe Trips, guiding NT students on canoe trips through the Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario. He built on the camping skills he learned as an Eagle Scout in Wilmette’s Troop 2, and used the trips for some off-season body-building for his swimmers. 45 days in the woods each summer was the perfect antidote to the non-stop life on the North Shore.

David Robertson was one of the first swim coaches to develop interval training, now universal, borrowed from Roger Bannister, who ran the first sub-4-minute mile. He also pioneered “tapering,” or rest prior to a major competition. His teams reaped the benefits of his training techniques, skill at teaching stroke techniques, and motivation. Dave embraced Edgar B. Jackson’s motto of “What I am to be, I am now becoming,” as well as his willingness to surround himself with great assistant coaches and nurture them. At least a dozen of his swimmers and Guards made aquatics their career.

Dave built the New Trier Swimming Organization into a national and state powerhouse, including 27 trophy finishes at the Illinois state meet (14 firsts, 12 seconds, and 1 third), swimmers earning 158 individual and 47 relay High School All-America selections, and his teams setting 65 national high school records. The 1961 team, the top high school team ever, placed third at the National AAU Championships, behind Yale and USC, and sent three members to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, two of whom earned gold medals.

The New Trier Guard, a service organization for students interested in swimming and leadership, was started in 1936 and continued to grow under Dave’s guidance. Heconsidered the development of the Guard’s learn-to-swim “station method” as his major contribution to the community and the world of aquatics. It became the model for the American Swimming Coaches Association’s “Swim America” and Kiwanis International’s “Every Child a Swimmer” programs. It was said that “he taught New Trier Township” to swim.

David Robertson was active in professional and service organizations most of his life. He held leadership roles and received many awards (including being inducted into 5 halls of fame) from the Boy Scouts, Red Cross, NCAA, Rotary International, the National Federation of State High Schools Swimming and Diving, US Swimming, American Swimming Coaches Association, Illinois High School Association, National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association, Special Olympics, and the International Swimming Hall of Fame. His greatest thrills included being an assistant coach at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, President of the ISHOF, and manager of many US Swimming teams in international competition.

He is survived by his son David Robertson, Jr. (Jeanine Wall); daughters Diane Robertson Tracy (Glen) and Jody Lynn Grube (Carl); grandchildren Brian Tracy and Marty, Molly, and Abigail Rosenbaum; cousins Sanford Robertson, Thomas Tucker, Albert B. Tucker, Anne Haswell Marinello; and his first wife, Barbara Hinners Robertson. He was predeceased by his parents (Paul K. and Rachel Haswell Robertson), brother (Paul D. “Pete” Robertson), second wife (Doris Drew Robertson) and third wife (Rozanne “Posy” Overaker Robertson). Cremation was accorded by the National Cremation Society.

The family will host a Celebration of Life at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, January 24, 2020 at the Kenilworth Union Church, 211 Kenilworth Ave, Kenilworth, IL. Interment will take place on July 25, 2020 in Frankfort, MI following a 10:30 a.m. service at the Congregational Summer Assembly, 2128 Pilgrim Highway, Frankfort, MI. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to honor his legacy to the non-profit Benzie Aquatic Center, PO Box 2204, Frankfort, MI 49635.

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Dana Abbott
2 years ago

“Mr. NISCA.” Rest in Peace, Dave. Thank you.