MONONA — The Madison All-City Swim Meet looks a lot different than it did when Tom Knoche gathered youths from six local clubs for the first competition, back in 1962.
Today, the swimmers get starting blocks instead of having to hold on to the ankles of event timers at the edge of the pool. The event organizers no longer have to haul bleachers from all the other clubs for seating.
Today, spectators don’t even have to be there to watch. The 57th annual event is live-streamed on the meet’s website and smartphone app, with overhead and underwater cameras in place.
What hasn’t changed is the underlying values that Knoche instilled in the competition. He passed away last fall, but his name will live on, engraved upon the newly named “Tom Knoche All-City Championship Trophy.”
“He really liked giving everybody the ability to compete,” Tom’s son Greg Knoche said. “I think the flavor of the meet has always been the same. Everybody gets to participate. Everybody gets their two swims.”
Tom didn’t want the All-City Meet limited to only the top-tier swimmers. He saw the event as a way for youths of all ages and abilities to come together, compete toward a common goal — and, most importantly, have fun.
First and foremost, it was about teaching life lessons and developing kids as good people.
“He saw how the competition on the athletic field is similar to schoolwork and your career,” Knoche said. “If you come every day, you work hard and you do the best you can when you get the chance to race or compete, you’re going to do well in life.”
Members of the founding family have participated in all but 12 of the 57 meets, and the three-day competition has become a staple of the swimming community.
More than 2,000 swimmers are competing this year at the Monona Community Pool, hosted by the Monona Swim and Dive Club, with many second- and third-generation participants taking the dive.
“You have all the camaraderie of your local pool and the cheering, and I think that’s what led to the growth of the sport in the city,” Knoche said. “It’s always been the thing to do in the summer.”
High school swimmers told Tom that when coaches from across the country recruiting Madison kids, they know all about this event.
The All-City Swim Meet grew to be bigger than anything its founder could have imagined.
“It’s had quite an impact,” Knoche said.
“You had a former world-record holder swim in this meet and a Pan American Games champion swim in the meet. It’s surprising for a northern, middle-sized city to have the kind of success that we’ve had.”
In Friday’s events, the Middleton Gators Swim Club won both of the girls 8-and-younger relays, and Ridgewood was first in the two boys relays.
Samuel Wolf of Middleton in the age 9-10 group was the only record-breaker of the day, setting pool marks during qualifying for the 50-meter breastroke (37.79 seconds) and 100-meter individual medley (1:13.75).
Ridgewood’s Annika Slager led the preliminaries for 8-and-under girls in 25-meter breastroke and 100-meter individual medley, and Jane Garlock from Middleton finished first in the group in 25-meter freestyle and 25-meter backstroke.
For the boys 8-and-under, Max Garbacz of Seminole was the leader in qualifying for 25-meter butterfly and 100-meter individual medley.
Also for Ridgewood, Max Carter brought in first-place finishes in the 50-meter butterfly and 50-meter freestyle preliminaries for boys age 9-10.
The finals for all age groups, from 8-and-younger through 15-to-18, begin at 8 a.m. today.