Hansen’s Top Teams, No. 72: A collection of stars made Tucson High’s 1979 swim team a singular sensation | Subscriber

The surest sign that Tucson High would become a superpower in high school swimming in 1979 was that the Badgers won the 1978 state championship, winning six individual events, all in state or city record times. .

The Badgers who won those six events – Bari Weick, Eric Finical and Bill Longton – were just juniors.

It wasn’t much of a surprise a year later when coach Jim Wandrey’s Badgers climbed to No. 2 in Swimming World magazine’s national rankings, behind only a team from Mission Viejo, Calif., which was essentially a collection stars training for national and international competition.

It’s hard to imagine a Tucson team, in any sport, at any time, having a line as dominant as Weick, Finical and Longton of the Badgers were in 1979.

They were so productive that THS defeated Phoenix Brophy Prep in the state finals; Brophy would go on to win 39 consecutive state championships through 2019.

The classic 1979 state championship meet was held at Phoenix Country Day School. After two days of competition, it all comes down to the final event, the 4×100 relay. Brophy led by five points.

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“The pressure was on everyone,” Wandrey told The Star. “Everyone contributed to our victory.”

Tucson won 253-243; at the time, 253 points was a state record for a team. No Tucson team has since won the state’s Big School Boys’ Swimming Championship.

The Badgers’ rise to swimming prominence is no accident. Wandrey was an All-WAC swimmer in Arizona in the late 1960s and took over a declining THS swimming program that had won state titles in 1959 and 1961 but had since been unable to challenge the new suburban Phoenix high schools like Mesa Westwood, Camelback, and Washington.

In fact, Palo Verde had become the then-Tucson swimming school, winning back-to-back state championships in 1963-65.

But Wandrey changed all that when Longton, Finical and Weick, all of whom lived in what would now be the Catalina Foothills School District, enrolled in THS and, through Wandrey’s connections, worked regularly with swimmers from elite level at AU. campus pools.

Some considered Finical the No. 2 swimming rookie in the nation. He accepted a scholarship to Texas and became an All-American when the Longhorns won the 1983 NCAA championship.

Weick accepted a scholarship from Stanford and also became an American long distance and top swimmer long after his college career. Longton opted to stay home and swim for Arizona, where he became team captain as UA began its rise to national prominence in the 1980s.

The Badgers had significant depth and talent in those 1977, 1978 and 1979 state title teams.

Jerry Hernandez, son of 1961 Arizona all-conference running back “Jackrabbit” Joe Hernandez, set a city record on backstroke. Kyle Dickson, Steve Cresswell and Leon Pickens scored significant points in the national final.

Pete Eckerstrom, who now serves as a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals in Tucson, was also a vital member of Wandry’s championship teams.

Bari Weick in 1980.

File photo of the Tucson Citizen

“At that time,” Eckerstrom says now, “the Arizona swim teams all competed in the AAAA class; no small schools had teams. So when you won a state title, individually or in team, it wasn’t in a particular division, it was the real state title.”

The Badger All-Americans – Finical, Weick and Longton – have become as distinguished for college as they are for swimming.

Finical graduated from Texas and then Duke Medical School. He is now a doctor of radiology in North Carolina.

Longton is a physician at Stanford Medical Center, specializing in anesthesia and pain management.

Weick is a mechanical engineer.

After the Badgers won the 1979 title, Wandrey was asked about the possibility of a four-rounder. “It’s next year,” he told the Star. “I’m still dunking this one.”

Wandrey was no specialist. He helped THS football coach Bill Dawson coach the Badgers in the late 1970s and became the athletic director of Tucson High. He died of cancer in 2005.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or [email protected] On Twitter: @ghansen711

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