Former YMCA swimmers again take to pool to honor Hummer

A teenage Steve Ware (third from left) stands alongside four other Huntington YMCA swimmers who earned college scholarships under coach Glen Hummer. Pictured are (from left) Alan Dilley, who would attend Michigan State University; Gary Kinkead, University of Michigan; Ware, Indiana University; Van Rockefeller, Michigan State University; and Steve Folk, Western Michigan University.
A teenage Steve Ware (third from left) stands alongside four other Huntington YMCA swimmers who earned college scholarships under coach Glen Hummer. Pictured are (from left) Alan Dilley, who would attend Michigan State University; Gary Kinkead, University of Michigan; Ware, Indiana University; Van Rockefeller, Michigan State University; and Steve Folk, Western Michigan University. Photo provided.

Originally published April 26, 2018.

Steve Ware competed for the Huntington YMCA during the heyday of its swimming program in the 1960s.

Under the tutelage of coach Glen Hummer, Ware and his peers won national championships, both as a team and individually.

In May, over 50 years later, Ware will be swimming for the Huntington YMCA once more. But what prompted him, at 70, to do so?

The inciting incident was learning that United States Masters Swimming, an organization that conducts competitions for adult swimmers, would be holding its Spring Nationals in Indianapolis. Just a short drive from his residence in the Cincinnati area, Ware felt that it was an opportunity not to be missed.

It wasn’t long before one of Ware’s fellow Hummer pupils, Gary Dilley, learned about his plan to participate in the meet. Intrigued by it, the 73-year-old reached out to Ware. As the two former Huntington swimmers got to talking, a new plan began to take shape. It was decided that Ware and Dilley would form one half of a quartet, with the intent of participating in the meet’s 200-meter medley relay. To round out their foursome, Dilley extended an invitation to his brother, Alan, 66, while Ware reached out to a longtime friend, John Bever, 69.

Like Ware and Gary Dilley, Alan Dilley and Bever also swam for Hummer at the YMCA. And, fittingly, their memories of that common experience are set to be at the forefront of their minds in Indianapolis.

“We’re down there for friendship and renewing our Y experience together,” says Ware.

Since they all swam for Huntington, the four swimmers thought it only appropriate that when they jump in the water at the meet, it be as formal representatives of the Huntington YMCA. To that end, Ware and Gary Dilley discussed their plan with the Parkview Huntington Family YMCA, the successor facility to the downtown Huntington YMCA of their youths. The staff at the current YMCA was excited about their idea and did its part to bring them back into the Huntington YMCA fold.

“They took on that responsibility to make sure that our entries were in underneath Huntington and all that type of stuff, so they’ve been very helpful that way,” says Gary Dilley.

In preparation for the meet, Ware has had T-shirts printed up. The garments are emblazoned with the words “Swim For Glen.” It’s something of a mission statement for the group, sure to motivate them, just like Hummer himself did so many years ago.

Ware recalls Hummer being a master motivator. The coach, he says, had a keen understanding of the fact that an atmosphere of competition motivated his swimmers to perform at their peaks. And because of that, he made sure to foster such an atmosphere every day in practice.

“He just told us we’re going to go 400 yards, there’s five of us and we’re waiting for him to start. And he starts us by the clap of his hands,” shares Ware. “No swimmer in that group heard the clap, because we were all watching his hands. And the moment he moved his hands up, we took off.

“And why did we do that? Because we wanted to beat the guy beside us.”

This coaching approach prompted such consistently fast performances that Hummer didn’t even bother timing them; numbers couldn’t tell him anything his eyes didn’t already see.

“He didn’t have to use a stopwatch; he used us against each other,” says Ware. “And for me, luckily, the guys in that same group were really, really good.”

While practices may have been competitive, Ware says they never became heated, with swimmers always displaying the utmost respect for their peers.

“Never – ‘never’ is a big word – did we ever have a fight in practice. Ever,” says Ware.

When they weren’t practicing in the YMCA pool, Hummer had his swimmers out in other bodies of water in the Huntington area. Looking back, Bever says this was revolutionary.

“He started open-water swimming training, which I don’t think very many people were doing back then,” he says.

These training sessions occurred in places like Lake Clare, on the north side of Huntington, and in water-filled rock quarries in the area. Training in outdoor locations made everyone a better swimmer, says Ware.

“Having those quarries in the summertime is when we really dropped our times,” he notes.

As skilled as Hummer was at preparing his swimmers for the physical demands of meets, he was just as adept at preparing them mentally. At competitions, before the start of each race, he made sure his swimmers came over to him for a strategy session.

“We would sit beside him, kneel and he would give us race instructions,” says Ware. “We would then, with that mindset, get up on the block, not thinking about anything but what he told us to do. How genius was that?”

Hummer’s coaching policies produced some of the most formidable swimmers in the nation. During his long tenure leading the YMCA swimming program from 1933 to 1977, his teams won 10 national championships. They were also nine-time runners-up.

Even today, Gary Dilley marvels at the heights Hummer took the Huntington YMCA to.

“I would consider him a miracle worker,” he says. “I think he made more silk purses out of hogs’ ears than any other coach I have ever been around. And I’ve swam for George Haines; I’ve swam for ‘Doc’ Counsilman; I’ve swam for my coaches at Michigan State.
“And without a doubt, he was able to use the talent that was available in Huntington and produce.”

Ware and Gary Dilley were among the most accomplished swimmers that Hummer’s program ever turned out. After YMCA careers in which they won multiple national championships individually, Ware and Dilley were flooded with college scholarship offers. Ware picked Indiana University while Dilley selected Michigan State University.

At Indiana, Ware, a breaststroke specialist, set freshman records. And as a sophomore, he was the top breaststroke swimmer in the country. During his four years with the Hoosiers, the team won the national championship three times, from 1968 to 1970, plus the Big Ten Conference title every season.

While Ware had a successful career at IU, an injury precluded him from earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team and competing in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico.

Gary Dilley, however, did have the good fortune of swimming in the Olympics. Following his freshman year at Michigan State, in 1964, Dilley competed for the U.S. in the 200-meter backstroke in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo City, Tokyo. Clocking in at 2:10.5, Dilley won the silver medal.

“The person that eventually won my event, a guy by the name of Jed Graef, he and I traded records in the preliminaries and in the semifinals and then we raced in the finals,” says Dilley. “Probably the most interesting thing is that we (the U.S.) slammed that event – we went 1-2-3 in the backstroke.

“That was, I thought, quite phenomenal.”

Aside from Gary Dilley and Ware, Alan Dilley had a fine swimming career in his own right.

“I went on to do four years at Michigan State,” he says, “where I was All-American there for two years.”

As for Bever, he swam at the Huntington YMCA for five years before moving on to other interests. While his time with the program may have been short, it’s still a period in his life he looks back on fondly.

“I didn’t have the kind of career Steve and Gary did at all, but I had some success when I was young and I enjoyed swimming immensely and had a great time with the Huntington Y swim team for about the five years that I was there,” he says. “It was just a lot of fun.”

On May 12, at the IU Natatorium on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus, Ware, Bever and the Dilleys will write one more chapter in their swimming careers. In their relay event, Gary Dilley will swim the backstroke; Ware the breaststroke; Bever the butterfly; and Alan Dilley the freestyle.

While Bever is slightly nervous about swimming the butterfly – a stroke he’s not intimately familiar with – that anxiety is balanced out by his enthusiasm for getting to represent the Huntington YMCA at the meet.

“If it in some way is helpful to promoting the Huntington Y and that sort of thing, then that’d be great,” he says.

While the group endeavors to shine a spotlight on the Huntington YMCA, it will be returning the favor. This year, the natatorium at the Parkview Huntington Family YMCA, which is named after Hummer, will get revamped. As part of that process, banners and pictures from the Hummer swimming era will be hung up in the space, commemorating those swimmers’ numerous achievements.

Additionally, the land outside the natatorium will be transformed into a spacious patio for YMCA members to socialize on. Ben Davis, the YMCA’s CEO and executive director, estimates that project will be completed by early summer.

While Hummer, ultimately, is remembered for being a great swimming coach, Ware contends that the most important part of his legacy has nothing to do with swimming at all.

“Swimming was the means to what he ultimately wanted us to have – an opportunity to go to college,” says Ware. “He knew that in a small town, funds were tight. But (if) we would follow him, to the letter, and hang in there, he had the formula.”

In all, that formula yielded college scholarships for 89 people.

Ware, of course, was one of them. And he credits Hummer with making him successful not only in the pool, but also in life.

“Hummer’s idea for us worked for me,” he says. “And it worked for so many others. I owe so much to Glen Hummer.”