As a kid moved about in a military family, Gerry Norris didn’t have stability in mind when he arrived in Tallahassee from Miami in 1968 to swim in college for Florida State.
He found the capital city provided good recreational opportunities and was keen on quality of life and providing good schools. Mostly he was happy to have a launching point to reach the coast or mountains in Georgia.
But Norris, 65, never envisioned four years would turn into 47, or that the swimming community around Tallahassee would have been changed by just his presence. Yet that’s exactly how everyone else views the long-time recreation administrator and Area Tallahassee Aquatic Center (ATAC) coach.
“He was the one that probably laid the groundwork for the sport of swimming in Tallahassee, since he was athletic director for 30-something years and a swimmer himself,” ATAC director Terry Maul said. “He had swimming in his heart and knew the value of the experience you could get in competitive swimming.”
From 1969-74, Norris was the coach of Tallahassee Swim Team (TST). He became the aquatics supervisor for the city in 1974, operating there for a decade. In 1984, he became the City of Tallahassee Athletic Superintendent, where he stayed for the next 22 years, while helping turn TST into what is now known as ATAC.
When high school swimming disappeared for a period of time in the late 1960s, Norris was there to resurrect it in the 1970s, picking up high school coaching duties at Leon High and Godby High for the first year of a joint swim team.
Even when he retired from work for the city in 2006, he stayed heavily involved in ATAC as a coach and the Director of Program Development.
But now Norris is coming out of semi-retirement to coach Chiles High’s boys and girls swim program. Amanda Meyer, coach for the last two years and All-Big Bend Coach of the Year twice for the girls and once for the boys over the same time period, has decided to focus exclusively on teaching.
“I know all the swimmers in town and I know all the coaches, and it has been a while since I’ve done it, but I have good support from the parents,” Norris said. “It should be easy enough because basically I work with them all year anyway.”
Norris, whose daughter Karla is the head coach at Lincoln, gets the task of continuing a budding legacy for the Timberwolves, who have won five consecutive girls FHSAA state titles.
“It’s pretty phenomenal what the girls have done,” Norris said. “We had a group of very good kids come through, and sometimes it can be cyclical. They’re all swimming at major schools right now. The boys at Chiles are coming on now and who knows, in a couple years they might be state champions. Repeating for a sixth time for the girls is tough, and we lost a lot of seniors.”
ATAC finishes strong at Long-Course Invitational
Coming off last weekend’s three-day long-course invitational at Trousdell Aquatic Center, ATAC has qualified nine swimmers for the U.S. Swimming Futures Championship at Purdue University in August, while two boys have qualified for Junior Nationals in Atlanta in December.
“It was really our final preparation for our championship meets,” Maul said. “We’ve got the Florida Age Group Championships coming up in two weeks and then the Florida Senior Championships in three weeks.”
Making both trips to Indiana and Georgia will be Chiles rising senior Brandon Chason, the 2013 All-Big Bend Swimmer of the Year, and John Yambor-Maul, a rising sophomore at Chiles.
“Brandon is a solid distance swimmer and he leads by example because he does some of the hardest training in the pool,” Maul said. “He earns everything he gets because he’s just an extremely hard worker. He’s very positive and very focused. He’s been very good for the team and is reaping the benefits of the practice regimen he has to commit to for those longer events.”
Yambor-Maul, whose sister Alyssa is a swimmer at the University of Florida and was the 2012 All-Big Bend Swimmer of the Year at Chiles, has been coming into prominence in his own right.
“He got sparked by high school swimming and the competition in high school just got him more committed to training, and it’s starting to show in results over the last year,” Maul said. “He has a lot of potential for the future.”
Growing up in a family that’s revolved around swimming, with a sister that has swam at an elite level in college – making NCAA nationals and qualifying twice for the Olympic Trials – could have sent the younger brother down a different path. But now John Yambor-Maul is beginning to create his own mark, and the first person he called when he qualified for Futures was his sister.
“I’m sure he felt some pressure over whether he wanted to make a decision to take that challenge on to be compared to her, but I really never put any pressure on him that he had to swim,” his father said. “I always made it clear it was his choice – he had to do some kind of exercise – but it didn’t have to be swimming. He just has some natural talent and finally caught on with the whole process. He started focusing on his own goals.”
U.S. Swimming Futures Championship qualifiers from ATAC
Brandon Chason, Sr., Chiles – 800 freestyle
John Yambor-Maul, So., Chiles – 400 freestyle
Christopher Holmes, Chiles grad – 400 freestyle
Mauricio Calderon, Chiles grad – 200 butterfly
Rafi Chambasian, So., Maclay – 200 breaststroke
Stephanie Holmes, So., Chiles – 1500 freestyle
Claire Kercheval-Roig, Sr., Leon – 100 backstroke
Olivia Kercheval-Roig, So., Leon – 100 butterfly
Lauren Peavy, Chiles grad; FSU freshman – 200 breaststroke