Who is Ralph R. Wright?
Louisville swimming's first head coach was Ralph Wright, who formed and coached the first Cardinal aquatic team in the 1948-49 school year. He was inducted into the University of Louisville Athletic Hall of Fame in November of 2003.
"Ralph Wright was a jewel, one of the nicest men I ever met. He worked us like a slave driver, but he was the consummate motivator and character builder. When you spent timne with him, not only did you improve as a swimmer, but you were a better person," said Bernard Dahlem, U of L swimmer from 1948-50.
Wright made a signifcant contribution as a swimmer, a coach and a pioneer in his sport. His pre-World War II accomplishments included at the age of 15 being only one of 14 swimmers to swim the perilous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco's Bay at the dedication of the bridge in 1937.
He was an All-American prep swimmer and broke the men's American record in the 100-breast in 1939, holding National Junior College Records and being ranked No. 3 in the counry while at his alma mater, the College of the Pacific.
After serving in the Marine Corps during WWII, Ralph returned to swimming under Coach Sakamoto at Hawaii University Aquatic Club. There he broke Olympic and World 200-breast records in 1946 and was a National Champion as a member of the 800-Free Relay team. In 1947, he was sent by the AAU to represent the United States in a series of Australian swimming championships where he introduced the butterfly stroke to Australia.
In 1948, he began a successful career at the Louisville YMCA which he led to a Southern YMCA Championship and set three national records.
After coaching stints at Lakeside Club and Miami's Ransom School, Ralph founded Louisville's Plantation Swim Club in 1957. Plantation grew to become one of the biggest and best teams in the eastern U.S., winning major championships such as the highly competitive Midwest Regional Championships and having 13 first place National Age Group Rankings and 55 Top Ten rankings.
He died at the age of 45 in 1966, just before one of his swimmers went on to win an Olympic medal. Susie Shields won the bronze in the 100-fly in 1968.
He was one of the founders the American Swim Coaches Association and served on its board for years. He built the first indoor/outdoor competitive pool in the Eastern United States.