A long-distance conversation took place earlier this week while it was mid-day in Hawaii and sundown was giving way to twilight 4,552 miles to the east in Athens, the Classic City.
Jack Bauerle, Georgia’s swimming coach, was inhaling the breath-taking view of the plethora of swimmers and sailboats just off Waikiki Beach, one of the world’s most popular playgrounds. In the distance, he was mesmerized by the panorama of the volcanic cones of Diamond Head, embedded picturesquely in the Pacific. Before he embarks for Tokyo and the COVID postponed Olympics, where he will help coach the U. S. swimmers, this seasoned and erudite Bulldog will find time to surf those azure waters. His motto could very well be, “Have surfboard, will travel.”
Being a coach is one thing. Dancing with the stars of premier competition, however, is reserved for the elite. That lofty realm is where Bauerle has resided most of his career. His success has enabled him to experience the four corners of the globe, to sup with the greats of his sport, while smelling the roses—dining at elite restaurants, visiting the classic historical venues from the Sistine Chapel in Rome to the Opera House in Sydney. If there is a wave, he wants to ride it; if there is a competition, he wants to join it; if a toast is in order, he wants to lead the cheers.
It is not only the destinations that have singularly thrilled him—it is the storied side trips which offer surfing opportunity in places which you can’t get to from here—which are places where he also might reel in a trophy fish—quail hunting in South Georgia and a dusty no-name town in Texas; the woods at home where turkey and deer abound on his Elberton farm. Then there is the glory that the Dawgs bring about “between-the-hedges,” where he is never the second guesser but forever the high-fiving aficionado.
While educational, illuminating and intellectually stimulating, travel, most of all, makes one appreciate home. Home is the environs of Athens where he rubs shoulders with professors and student-athletes; tennis aficionados and keen sports enthusiasts.
Athens has allowed for introductions to colorful characters such as the late Dan Magill with whom he drank beer, played tennis and dined at such venues as the late Harry’s Restaurant where he listened to Magill’s insights, nonsensical banter and heard him recite more than once the acceptance speech of the man who won the world’s cussing championship.
Growing up in Philadelphia, Bauerle remains an Eagles and Phillies advocate and loves to chide his unwashed brethren on how to pronounce Schuylkill—as in the river which runs thru his hometown. He can wax about the luminaries of Philly from Ben Franklin to Princess Grace to Tommy McDonald, wide receiver for the Eagles, and Robin Roberts, pitcher for the Phillies. More recently Pete Rose, Ron Jaworski and Charlie Manuel. I suppose my most warming gift of our friendship was bringing him from spring training a few years ago, a Phillies cap, personalized by Manuel.
Jack appreciates his original hometown which has segued from the Schuylkill to the Oconee where immovable roots are now entrenched. Home is irrevocably here. He is fascinated by geography and inspired by history. He has arranged for a photo-op at the Liberty Bell and has enjoyed dinner at the defunct Swamp Guinea, ten miles east of Athens. That took place on a recruiting visit which introduced him to the Bubba’s of the Southland. Going home the driver of his car got in a drag race with the driver of another car on Georgia Highway 72.
But let’s not forget the mainstay of his resume. He is first and foremost a swimming coach who has majored in champions and championships. Athletes from far and wide seek him out for his training expertise. Tokyo will be his sixth straight Olympics: Sydney, 2000; Greece, 04; China, 08; London,12 and Rio,16 were the previous venues. The Greece and London Olympics, he was not a coach but went there to help train his own swimmers—at their behest.
“It is an honor and a privilege to coach in Olympic competition,” he said wistfully. “To represent your country is the highest honor you could experience. I have always felt I was serving my country when I got to an Olympic venue. I place a high value on that. You get so emotional during the opening ceremony. You glory in seeing our flag out there. You think about all the people who helped get you there. I think of my wonderful parents, Grace and Harry who toted me everywhere for swim meets when I was a kid; I think of Coach Dooley and Liz Murphy who hired me and all the many athletes who have come through our program. I think of the great University of Georgia and what it has meant to this state and the impact it made on the world.”
He also thinks of his family who have to give him up for long periods of time: Leigh Ann and sons John, Magill and Duke; Gerry Chambers and Tom Tuggle, two English professors who provided direction at a critical juncture in his life.
His box score of accomplishments runneth over: record-setting performer in two events as a collegian; as a coach, twelve SEC titles, seven NCAA women’s titles; 14 times SEC women’s coach of the year honors; twice SEC men’s coach of the year; head coach of the U. S. Olympic team in 2008 (China) where Team USA won more medals than any team in the Olympics. He has seen Georgia swimmers bring home 31 medals and counting.
You can be a competitor with an insatiable appetite to excel, you can be a Renaissance man connected to a wide world, but you can also be a sentimental and grateful man. No competitor, no coach has had more fire in the belly to overachieve than Georgia’s Jack Bauerle—none more thankful.
All Dawgs should glory in his having come our way.