After 60 years, All-City Swim and Dive has grown, but still about camaraderie

MADISON, Wis. — The All-City Dive Meet started Monday at Goodman Pool in Madison, and the All-City Swim Meet starts Thursday at Ridgewood Pool. It’s a weeklong party that celebrates its 60th anniversary this week.

There is nothing that captures the spirit of summertime in Madison like All-City Swim and Dive Meet week.

Tom Wencel swam in All-City as a kid, coached, he’s been a parent, and now a grandparent to a swimmer. He’s watched it grow from its infancy, and even remembers early races on Lake Monona at B.B. Clarke Beach.

“The lakes were a little cleaner then, you could kinda see the bottom, but the Ridgewood people stopped the race because there was a dead perch floating in her lane,” Wencel said.

Soon the only fish in the water were the kids themselves.

Five original pools — Hill Farm, Ridgewood, Maple Bluff, West Side and Shorewood — started the All-City League in 1962.

Stan Richter ran the Hill Farm pool for almost 40 years.

“The size of the meet is just… I don’t think we ever thought it was gonna get this big,” Richter said. “It was basically done in one day and the pools weren’t closed. Now the pools are basically closed all week long in preparation for this humungous, big event.”

By the late 60s, those meets in the lake came to an end and eight more pools have joined the league, most recently Goodman Pool in 2011.

“It just started to balloon, and thankfully they have what they call the Bible, and that passes from each team that hosts to the next team with all the good things to do, all the things to avoid, it’s gotten to be about that thick,” Wencel said.

Putting it all together takes months, and with all the folks cheering on their swimmers. More than 5,000 people are expected this week at Ridgewood pool.

“It’s gotten so big,” Wencel said. “I noticed on the website that Ridgewood is selling parking passes there for 40 bucks!”

Richter says times have definitely changed.

“Everything was very low key, it was just go through it, get it over with and 4 o’clock, we all went home,” Richter said. “And now at 4 o’clock, well, we got the relays to go through!”

Yet 60 years later, at its core, it’s still about hanging out at the pool, competing, and being among friends.

“You can feel the enthusiasm, the tent city, I know that Ridgewood is gonna try to get all those tents in there to give the kids a feeling of the camaraderie that’s there,” Richter said.