Swimming and Diving
The 1930s began with only two sports - tennis and basketball - available for Western’s women at the intercollegiate level. This changed as the decade went on, with the addition of a number of women’s sports.
One such sport was swimming, which appeared in the late 1930s.
Since they did not have access to the necessary facilities, the women’s swim team traveled to Alma College, near St. Thomas, for practices. The swim team met with success in the 1936-37 season, winning second place in an intercollegiate competition held at McGill University.
While the troubles concerning the lack of facilities continued into the 1940s, the team no longer made their way to Alma College for practices, instead going to the home of one of the richest families in London, the Spencers. Barbara Spencer, a Western swimmer, invited the team to use her family's indoor, heated and Olympic-sized pool.
The facilities were so impressive that even the men’s swim team asked to use the pool, and were eventually granted permission to do so. When Thames Hall opened in the fall of 1950, the swimming pool it housed was named in honour of the Spencer family, who had helped pay for its creation.
By the mid 1940s, swimming was among the sports that were part of the Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Union (WIAU). Kay Miles (Easun), Maureen Bray, Helen Korri (Kunkel) and Jean Ramsey coached the Western swim teams throughout the 1950s. In the mid-1950s, the swim team won the intercollegiate championships for a total of three consecutive years.
In the late 1960s, Ulla Reet Palmer coached women’s swimming and diving. Western’s swim teams took part in the Inter-Western Al-Wat-West league events, playing against Alma College and Waterloo College during the 1960s. Western won the WIAU championship in swimming and diving in both the 1960-61 and 1964-65 seasons.
In 1971, the team came in second overall at the WIAU meet, but took first place in the relay medley. Swimmer Pat Kitchen set new records in the fifty yard and 100 yard breaststroke. Four members of the swim team, Cheryl Bray, Pat Kitchen, Louise Kennedy and Sue McCaskill, competed in the first Canadian Women’s Interuniversity Athletic Union (CWIAU) meet. The swim team, coached by Bob Eynon, qualified for nationals every season from 1973-77. In 1974, the team came in fifth place at the Canadian Women’s Interuniversity Athletic Association championships and swimmer Pat Kitchen won first place in the 100 yard breaststroke.
Coached by Keith Stuart, the diving team placed in both the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (CIAU) and the Women’s Intercollegiate Two Conference Association championships. They not only competed in the provincial league, but also with American universities such as the University of Michigan and Notre Dame. In 1976, the diving team sent nine divers to the CWIAU final, the largest number of divers ever to qualify for the event.
Swimmer Heidi Thompson won an array of awards from 1982-86: five gold, six silver and seven bronze Ontario Women’s Interuniversity Athletic Association (OWIAA) medals as well as three gold, one silver and six bronze CIAU medals. She was a part of the All-Canadian Team for each of those years, and won the FWP Jones trophy and a Purple Blanket in 1986. The Western swim team hosted the 1985-86 championships and won the event on home ground - or rather, in home waters. In the following season, Anne Posno won gold in the 800m freestyle and silver in the 400m individual medley event at the championships. The Western team came in second overall.
In the 1980s, many women’s teams had only part-time coaches. The Western swimming team, coached by Janice Rutherford, Bob Eynon and Glen Belfry, was one of the exceptions. In 1983, Josie Josten became the new diving coach for both the men’s and women’s teams, replacing Keith Stewart. She coached the team until 1991. That year, the OWIAA dropped diving from competition due to a lack of participating universities.