Dave Anderson Reflects on Two Decades of Success as Swim Coach and Teacher at Pali High
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
When he arrived at Palisades High in 1969, Dave Anderson was 25 years old and looked more like a student than a teacher.
He taught biology and, beginning in 1971, took over the school’s aquatics program. His youthful enthusiasm translated from the classroom to the pool deck and that ability to relate to his swimmers is what made him so successful. Over the next 22 years he turned the Dolphins’ program into a City powerhouse and built lasting memories and friendships in the process. Under his leadership Palisades won six varsity boys water polo championships, eight varsity boys swim championships and 11 varsity girls swim championships.
Perhaps the championship that means the most to Anderson is the 1974 boys swimming title the Dolphins shared with Chatsworth. It was Palisades’ first-ever swimming crown and a sign of the dynasty to come.
“When I first got [to Pali] I looked like one of the kids,” Anderson says. “That ‘74 team stands out because back then San Fernando Valley schools dominated swimming and we were trying to break through.”
Anderson, with the help of assistant John Apgar, also established a water polo juggernaut as the Dolphins won six straight City titles from 1973-78.
“John Apgar and myself were the coaches,” Anderson remembers. “I as the high school coach and John as the Palisades-Malibu YMCA coach. It was a lot of work but a rewarding experience. It was a good team with some future All-Americans like Les Wulk, Dennis and Eric Moore, Mark Hutson, Mike Newman, Franz Szymanski and Fred Kitchener. I believe Les Wulk, who went to USC, was vying for the Olympics in water polo at one point. It was fun but there were always challenges. Some pools we played in had a shallow end and we had to deal with hometown referees.”
Anderson was innovative and used a cerebral approach to motivate his team. He also looked for ways to make practice fun.
“Since I taught science predominantly and Spanish occasionally during the morning hours I tried a weight program in my classroom with some ‘pull down’ machines for swimmers to mimic the swim pulldown,” he recalls. “That lasted for a month when they started to unfasten from the walls. So we terminated our ‘on campus’ dry land weight training!”
Anderson coached at Palisades until 1993 and taught all levels of biology until 1994. In his final year at the school he was the magnet counselor. In the fall of 1995 he transferred to Cleveland High in Reseda, where he served as counselor, to be closer to his widowed mother and to his children who attended schools in Simi Valley. He retired in 2004 but two years later he came out of retirement to be a counselor at San Fernando Mission Continuation High School. He remarried in 1989 and he and his wife have 27 grandkids living all over the United States and Canada.
“From my first marriage I had four children,” Anderson explains. “One died young with spina bifida. Two of my three remaining children swam and the third was a cheerleader. My boy Derek played water polo for Royal High in Simi Valley and they had some excellent teams. In his final year he was a High School All American and the leading scorer in three counties (Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo). Royal lost to Righetti in the CIF finals. My wife Mary Lou had four boys in a previous marriage. Two are in the tech industry in Seattle, one manages vineyards in the Napa Valley area and one lives in Quebec.”
Anderson acknowledges that Palisades’ success was a team effort and credits his assistants, all of whom ran the local YMCA program, with helping him throughout his tenure.
“I was very fortunate to work with three excellent Palisades-Malibu YMCA coaches: John Apgar, Rick Goeden, and Shawn Donohue,” he says. “Shawn swam and played water polo for me. Current coach Maggie Nance, who is doing a tremendous job with the program, swam for us all three years and was part of two City championship teams. Some of our swimmers became L.A. County Lifeguards, which I was also.”
When Nance (then Maggie Gohdes) graduated in 1990, the Pali High girls swim squad was nearing the end of a dominant stretch in which it captured 13 City titles in 14 years while the boys were in the midst of a seven-year streak from 1986-92.
“I remember Maggie and her older brother Dave, who also became a county beach lifeguard,” Anderson says. “I also met their dad way back when. I enjoyed coming back to campus for the dedication of the new [Maggie Gilbert Aquatic Center] pool in October 2010. It’s very rewarding to see the legacy my fellow coaches and I helped to create.”
Nance, who has led the Pali High boys to seven straight City titles and the girls to 13 titles in the last 14 years, has fond memories of Anderson.
Looking back on his time as a teacher and coach at Palisades, Anderson admits he learned a lot through trial and error.
“Palisades was my first coaching job and although it was all new to me I had lots of enthusiasm,” he recalls. “It’s nice that the ‘74 team has finally been credited with the City title but in actuality I think we might’ve won it fair and square because there were some discrepancies in the scoring. Of course we won a bunch more since then but the first one is always special.”
Anderson attended Reseda High, then transferred to newly-opened Taft High in Woodland Hills, where he currently lives, and swam for Coach Norm Lerman.
“We got second place in league one year, but I wasn’t a first-line swimmer,” he says. “My dad was in construction and I had no serious training. I was second in league to a guy named Bob Bennett, who was a bronze medalist in the 100-meter backstroke at the 1960 Rome Olympics the prior year, setting a temporary world record in the prelims. I graduated in February 1962. Back then we had fall and spring graduations.”
Anderson went on to play water polo and swim at San Fernando Valley State College (now Cal State Northridge), which was then a Division II school. He got his degree in biology with minors in Spanish and chemistry.
“I was good enough to make county beach guards and became a junior lifeguard instructor in addition to other lifeguard duties,” he says. “I loved trying to figure out how to get better. I went to a pre-development 1972 Olympic water polo program with the idea I wanted to see how good I was.”
According to Apgar, whose knowledge of water polo is vast, one of Anderson’s strongest traits was his ability to fit people of all personalities—some even on the edgier side—into a team.
“During water polo season we worked together, but during high school swim season in the spring the swimmers who were Palisades Y swimmers would work out with me before school and train with Coach Anderson and the other high school swimmers in the afternoon,” Apgar recounts. “One of the best Dave Anderson stories I remember is from water polo. Our first few games of the year had been a struggle and Dave remarked that he’d played hole set himself and the two youngsters we were trying to develop were ‘just not hole set players.’ As a result a change was made right then and there and Richard Van Duzer was switched out of the goal to take over the position. The first game after that we won 12-6 and Richard scored 10 goals. In addition, one of the two players who couldn’t play the hole set position, Robert Fredericks, switched to the goal, did well and went on to be the starting goalie for Occidental College. That was a good call.”
Apgar started an AAU team at the Palisades-Malibu YMCA and that became the feeder program for Anderson in the early 1970s. He even coached the high school team for the 1977-78 season while Anderson was on sabbatical (he earned a master’s degree in biology specializing in exercise physiology) and became the head coach at SoCal Aquatics in Tustin and in 1982 Apgar was hired by Tandem Swim Club, which later evolved into Team Santa Monica. One of his former swimmers was Brian Timmerman, who he keeps in touch with along with Brian’s wife Kathy, who served as his club president at Santa Monica. Their daughters Leah and Quincy (who just graduated) also swam for Pali High. He eventually moved to Boise, Idaho and is currently in Wenatchee, Washington, where he is the head age-group coach for Velocity Swimming.
As for Anderson, 1986 stands out as it was the first time that both the girls and boys won titles together. Anderson was in his 15th year at the helm and was helped by Goeden. The girls were led by Michelle Saxer, who lost only once in three years. The boys, meanwhile, ended the eight-year run of El Camino Real led by senior Kevin Shepherd, who also played volleyball for Coach Howard Enstedt’s perennial City champions.
“This is the pinnacle,” Anderson said following the Dolphins’ City sweep. Another fond memory is his last City title with Palisades in May 1993, when the girls squad won its 11th crown in 12 years under he and Donohue.
“It’s a good time to go out—I have no regrets,” Anderson said at the time. “It’s time to get someone new in and I have no regrets.”
In addition to the eight boys titles Palisades won under Anderson, the Dolphins finished second eight other times. After splitting the ‘74 City title with Chatsworth, it took 12 years for the Dolphins to claim their first outright section crown in 1986. By then, Goeden was Anderson’s assistant and the girls squad, which was runner-up to Chatsworth three years in a row (1974-76), started its run of supremacy in the early 1980s.
Besides the many swimming and water polo All-Americans he coached at Pali High, Anderson also remembers instructing Joyce Brouwer during his time as a junior lifeguard instructor. Joyce and her four siblings learned to swim at the Venice High pool and/or Santa Monica YMCA and all of them became lifeguards, including her brother Ricky, who married fellow LA County Ocean Lifeguard Nathalie Locas. Among their four children are Pali High swim team members Kian (now at UC Santa Barbara) and Sydney, who just graduated after helping the Dolphins win four City swim titles and their first City girls water polo title.
Dennis Moore, a senior on the ‘74 championship team who was an All-American at Santa Monica College and Chico State, remembers the intense practices.
“I appreciate coaches Dave Anderson and John Apgar as they were instrumental in the man I am today,” says Moore, who went on to be a public school teacher for 37 years and was the varsity swimming coach at Poway High in San Diego County from 1985-93, leading the Titans to five CIF titles while earning State Coach of the Year honors in 1992. “Both were young men when they were coaching in the 70’s. Being a former teacher and coach myself gives me insight into what they went through in the early days. I’d imagine, like me, there was a lot of learning taking place. I remember Coach Anderson being very energetic, positive and hard-working. Practices were challenging and competitive. We were prepared for and dominated most swim meets and water polo games. Coach Anderson’s longevity and success as a swimming and water polo coach speaks volumes about his abilities and commitment.”
Pali High’s swim program in the 1970s produced many standout athletes like Tauna Vandeweghe, who swam for the girls team and trained with George Haines while he coached at UCLA. She made the 1976 U.S. Olympic team in the 100 backstroke and her daughter Coco is a pro tennis player. Szymanski, a member of the boys ‘74 championship team, competed in the Olympic Trials in 1976 and scored in the USA Nationals in Philadelphia, placing 15th in the 200 backstroke. Will Douglass who graduated from Pali High in 1977, swam for the University of Nebraska, where he won the Big 8 title in the 200 backstroke in 1979. Ted Schlegel, a 1978 Pali High alum, played water polo at Brown University and went on to become the Denver Broncos team doctor.
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