Passages: Robert “Ray” Riordon, Founder of Towson University Swimming, 87

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Photo Courtesy: Kelly Lennon

Robert Raymond “Ray” Riordon, who founded the swimming program and Towson University and coached it for 30 years, died on April 23. He was 87 and living in Millsboro, Delaware.

Riordon arrived at what was then Towson State in 1964, coaching cross country for three seasons. When Burdick Pool (then called Memorial Pool) was opened in the spring of 1968, Riordon founded the Tigers’ swimming and diving program and served as the school’s first aquatics director.

Riordon would stay at Towson until retiring in 1998. The men’s team compiled a 246-176 record under his guidance, with seven conference titles and 23 winning seasons. He also led the women’s squad to a 55-58 record from 1988-98, including six consecutive winning campaigns.

“Dad arrived at Towson several years before construction on Burdick Pool was completed and was hired by (Donald) Doc Minnegan in anticipation of its opening,” Mike Riordon, Ray’s son, told Towson’s athletic website. “When it did finally open there was never any question about who would be named the aquatics director and the coach to start the swimming program because those were the reasons Doc hired him in the first place.”

The high point of Riordon’s tenure was a 29-meet winning streak with two undefeated seasons form 1980-83. Mike Gillespie, who swam for Riordon then served as his assistant coach, called it “ a magical time.”

“We were very fortunate Coach was able to recruit a lot of Calvert Hall and Loyola swimmers plus a group from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club,” Gillespie said. “Some of his recruits could have basically gone to any school they wanted because they had some of the best times in the country. Coach pulled it all together. We swam against Maryland and beat them. We defeated a talented Johns Hopkins team. We took on all comers.

“A reason for our success was something Coach did very well and that was he made everybody feel a part of the team. Whether you were a Ramon Ferrer who probably never lost a race in college relative to someone who would take a third place, he let us know that everyone contributed. He had us mentally prepared that each was a part of the team and that everyone’s points were just as important as anybody else’s points. It was great lesson he taught and espoused.”

Ray Riordon was born in Alexandria, Va., in 1933 and grew up in Washington, D.C. A baseball and swimming standout at Shepherd College, he would later become an inaugural member of the athletics hall of fame at what is now Shepherd University. He left the school with records in the 400-yard freestyle and 200 individual medley.

Riordon joined the Marine Corps, rising to the rank of captain. Swimmers dubbed him “Razor Ray” for his devotion to the crew cut after his service. He served until 1964, the year he began coaching swimming with one season at West Virginia University. He also received a master’s degree in education from Miami University of Ohio.

Riordon was elected to the Towson Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002. He was twice named the university’s coach of the year.