John Putnam and Paulus Lawson were there when the MU Natatorium opened in 1964. On Saturday, they were there at its last event.
Putnam and Lawson were part of the first Missouri team to swim in the pool in 1964. So they swam the last race on Saturday as the Missouri swimming and diving program said goodbye to the place it has called home for the past 40 years.
“The Last Lap at the Nat” brought together many Tiger alumni.
It featured 50-year-old men defeating swimmers half their age, and got many reacquainted with old friends and former teammates.
“This is important to me because I get to see people I haven’t seen in 20 years,” said Julie Merrill, who was an All-American at Missouri in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “But they still are my friends and we will always have that special bond because we worked so hard together.”
The event also helped the swimming program connect with its alumni. Tim Boyle, a Missouri swimmer in the ‘70s who helped set up the event, said that alumni support is extremely important in a non-revenue sport.
“The budget is limited so we need the support of the alumni,” he said. “Everyone here was changed by his/her swimming experience at Missouri, and we need to make sure that the swimmers of today have the resources so that they can have that same experience.”
The program has made progress recently staying in touch with its alumni.
A couple of years ago, men’s and women’s coach Brian Hoffer created Tigers Pride, a booster’s club.
Boyle created a Web site that lists the rosters of all the Missouri swimming teams with e-mail addresses for each swimmer.
The site helped produce Saturday’s event, one that Hoffer said is important for the program.
“It is a reconnection to the past and an opportunity to bridge different generations,” he said. “We need the support as we make the transition to hopefully get to the next level.”
To get to the next level, the program needed to get a new state-of-the-art facility, which it will have in June at the Student Recreation Center.
Still under construction, the new Olympic-size pool and diving area will give the team a better training facility. It will have eight lanes instead of the six at the Natatorium, allowing more swimmers to practice at one time.
It will also include a platform diving board and diving dry land equipment, such as trampolines, mats and belts to help improve the divers’ technique.
All the improvements should help bring in better recruits, so the team can compete with powerhouses like Texas and Texas A&M.
“Many people came here in my first years of coaching because of the facility we had,” said Joe Goldfarb, who coached the Missouri swimming and diving team from 1965-1989. “So the same will probably happen now.”
The new facility was made possible by Recreation Services and the students at MU. The students voted on a referendum in 2001 that would increase the MU student fees to help build a new recreational center and pool.
The majority of students, 65 percent, voted for the highest student fee increase to build a new recreational center.
No one was more pleased about that outcome than Hoffer.
“None of this would have ever happened without the students, and I am so pleased that they voted for this and have helped our program progress.”