THE SUBURBAN AQUATIC LEAGUE – 40 YEARS OLD!
A HISTORY OF SAL
Written by Mark McElwee
In 1968-69, several age group teams in the Philadelphia suburbs were searching for an alternative winter league, one that emphasized dual meet competition over the championship format of the Amateur Athletic Union (now USA) meets. The Philadelphia Swimming Directors Society was the only league close to that, but dual meets were few and far between. Steve Sauer, the new aquatic director at Methacton High School, found Ed Cost, a Springfield Aquatic Club parent, and with like-minded folks from Lower Moreland, Centennial, and Upper Dublin, the seeds of the SAL, the SUBURBAN AQUATIC LEAGUE, were planted.
In that first season, each of the teams swam the other, and, in the spring, Methacton hosted a championship. Everyone had a great time, and the word spread. In the following season, the League expanded to ten teams. A constitution was written, championships were formalized, and the SUBURBAN AQUATIC LEABUE was officially formed.
Over the next thirty-plus years, the League grew until it reached its present twenty-two teams divided into four divisions. Along the way some teams joined and left the group. At one time, twenty-one teams occupied three divisions and the boundaries of SAL stretched from Media, Delaware County, all the way to Yardley, Bucks County.
The League’s swimmers and divers also increased from about 300+ in that first year to over 5000 today. The formats of the dual meets have been adjusted to meet the needs of the athletes and so were the championships. At present, SAL offers divisional championships for its male and female athletes in swimming and diving and, for the top-flight qualifiers, the Mike Kennedy Memorial Championships usually held at LaSalle University.
EVERY SINGLE SWIMMER AND DIVER IN SAL HAS A CHAMPIONSHIP SLOT AT THE END OF THE SEASON! Opportunity for lots of competition was one of the reasons the league was founded and several Suburban Aquatic League member teams sponsor League-sanctioned meets during the season that provide even more opportunities for SAL athletes to hone their aquatic skills.
Over the years, SAL has been the breeding ground for thousands of athletes, some of whom have moved on to be world class. Maddie Crippen competed in the 2000 Olympics. Other world class athletes include Rob Montgomery, Dan Whalen, Dave Wharton, David Berkoff (who invented a revolutionary backstroke pushoff), Pete Boden, Dan Szilier, Jeff Wolf, Erica Hansen, Robbie Cragg, and many others. The League has also produced a long list of coaches who continue to pass on their experiences to more young athletes. Hundreds of high school All-Americans started as SAL 8 and unders! Naturally, colleges and universities from across the country have SAL swimmers and divers on their squads. Many current SAL coaches and aquatic parents were the young athletes of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.
SAL encourages more than good swimming and diving. The annual SENIOR AWARD honors and rewards a senior girl and boy from each of the four divisions with a plaque and a generous check for their post-graduate studies. In its 30th season, the League started a Hall of Fame to honor those who keep and have kept the League going. SAL has added additional Halls of Fame to recognize our coaches and our athletes. SAL rewards good sportsmanship with the Terry Peterson Sportsmanship award. SAL ensures good officiating by conducting several officials clinics and has sponsored coaching clinics as well.
In the technological age, SAL jumped on the computer bandwagon and established www. suburbanaquatic.org, the official website of the League (If you’re reading this, you’ve found it!). The League also does most of its record-keeping and reports via the world-wide web.
SAL members who have traveled around the country have discovered that others interested in aquatic sports are always impressed and amazed with the SUBURBAN AQUATIC LEAGUE, and, based on this feedback, SAL lays claim to being the BEST LEAGUE of its kind in the United States.