Joe Dillon’s early History: Start High School

April 8, 2024

Men swimming in competition

Being a shy introvert, starting my freshman year at a high school with over 2,000 students overwhelmed me. Every hour, the bell would ring, and the halls would be jammed with students rushing to get to their next class.

With PE class, you rushed to get into the designated exercise uniform for that day’s activity, exercised for about 45 minutes, hurried through your shower with a bunch of strangers, and rushed, still dripping with sweat, to get to your next class.

After school, I sat in my room looking through my new books trying to figure out what to do next.  What do I study first?  And how?  Latin?  General Science?  English?  Social Studies?

Dinner while we all watched TV.  Back to my room with the TV still so loud I could make out every word.  I aimlessly flipped through my books again.  Finally, I was too tired to stay awake, I fell asleep despite the loud TV which persisted until 1 am when Johnny Carson went off.

Swimming pool with lanesA few weeks into the Fall Semester, we did swimming for a couple of weeks in our PE class.  At the end, the PE teacher timed everyone in the 50-yard freestyle.  I was the fastest in the class.  The PE teacher suggested I try out for the swimming team.

A few days later I met with the swim coach who timed me in the 50 free again and said “Yes, I could start practicing with the team.  But he suggested that I lose weight so I could qualify for the “B” team so I could be more competitive.  I was 5 feet, 10 inches tall and a chubby 165 pounds.  I had to get down to 156 or less at the official weigh-in to qualify for “B’s”.

It turned out to be incredibly hard for me to eat less.  My dad always served the food and demanded that I clean my plate “no if’s, and’s, or but’s.”  I blindly struggled for the 5 or 6 weeks before the official weigh-in and managed to make it by one pound.

The fall semester passed in a blur.  Despite being unprepared for most of my classes, I still managed to get B’s and C’s.

The biggest change in the Spring Semester was I got 6th period PE.  This meant that PE was my last class of the day so teams could start training an hour earlier.  It also meant that after practice, there was no rush to get to your next class.  You could luxuriate in the hot shower and talk with your teammates.  It was also intimidating to see the junior and senior varsity athletes in the shower with their much more mature bodies and their cocky attitudes.  I gawked at Dick Hernandez, All American half back on the football team and the number one sprinter on the track team.  He was also an honor student and ended up getting a scholarship to Stanford University.  Compared to us freshman, he had a man’s body.  He moved in a world I could not even fathom.

Another big change in spring semester was the swim team began to compete in dual meets with other high schools.  Once a week we would either host an opposing team or board the yellow school bus and drive to the other school.

To my genuine surprise, as a B, I was actually competitive in the 50 yard and 100-yard freestyle.  It was fun to win.  I also became aware of the vast difference between B’s and varsity.

Our best swimmerBy far our best swimmer, a junior, was Ted Stickles.  Ted worked significantly harder in practice than any other swimmer.  He also won all his races no matter what stroke he competed in in that particular dual meet.  I watched Ted intently in both practice and meets trying to pierce the mystery.  What drove him to work so hard and to swim so fast?  Again, another world.

At the season’s end, all the teams competed in the League Championships.  I was both shocked and thrilled to win a silver medal in both the 50 free and the 100 free.  The guy who barely beat me in both races, Tutt Wynn, was a senior from Millbrae high school who was still small enough to make B’s.  I had no resentment.  He was a good guy, beat me fair and square, and was fun to race against.

The season was over for all of us except Ted.  He went to the state meet, set a couple of records and won 2 gold medals.  It was like hearing news about events in a foreign country.  I could not even picture what went on there.

Season over, we no longer practiced swimming.  We played soccer or did regular PE class sports for the rest of the semester.

Mountains and lakeAs soon as school was out for the year, I immediately resumed my job teaching swimming at Clyde Devine’s swim school.  It was fun seeing the guys and being accepted as part of the group.  I still rode my bike to and from work, but I no longer had to get to the pool early and clean it up.  I was also making a dollar an hour now.  I punched in before my first lessons and taught all day until 5:30pm or 6pm.  I also took some late lessons to make a little extra money.  As before, I taught swimming 6 days a week and life guarded on Sundays.  The only time I took off was the one week camping in the Sierra-Nevada mountains with my dad.  I was in dramatically better shape hiking in and out this time.  I had no problem keeping up with my dad – in fact, it was easy.

The summer flew by.  My hair was sun-bleached almost white, and I actually had a tan by the end of the summer – nothing like the deep mahogany brown of most of the other instructors - but not bad for Irish-English skin.

Thank you for listening.

As always, I wish you and your family the very best of health.