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UofU, Courtesy University of Utah Athletics
Former Ute swimming coach Don Reddish, right, poses with Dennis Tesch and Anders Bladh during a tribute to the former coach Saturday morning at the U. Reddish began coaching at Utah in 1949 and led the Utes to 17 Western Athletic Conference championships during his tenure.

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah swimming coach Don Reddish drew quite a crowd at the Ute Natatorium Saturday morning. Approximately 200 of his former swimmers returned to honor Reddish, who turns 94 next week.

“It’s unbelievable the number of people that have come back to Utah,” Reddish said. “It’s brought back many memories for me.”

Reddish, who began coaching at Utah in 1949, led the Utes to 17 Western Athletic Conference championships in his tenure. He retired in 1991.

Nowadays, Reddish joked that he’s just “trying to survive now.”

The coach, who was also a Utah athletics department administrator, took center stage at the annual alumni swim meet. A video tribute was played and well-wishers stopped by to shake his hand and speak with him.

“You can see by the turnout this weekend, the legacy he left and the impact on the lives of so many student-athletes over 50 years,” said Utah swim coach Joe Dykstra. “It’s really incredible. He set the foundation of all the traditions on which our program is based. It’s a wonderful tribute to see five decades worth of alumni coming back.”

Dykstra added that it’s a special weekend for Utah swimming. He praised Tami Johnnson, director of operations for the program, for her hard work over the past six months in bringing together the different eras.

Among the returnees was Jim Wilson, who was an All-American under Reddish and later coached with him. Wilson eventually became head coach of the Utes before moving on to Dartmouth, where he recently retired after 23 years.

“It’s great to come back and see Don,” Wilson said. “Physically he’s not what he was, but mentally he remembers times and people. He’s so sharp. He remembers stories that I’ve even forgotten. So it’s really good to see him.”

One story Wilson didn’t forget came in his days as a student-athlete at Utah in the 1970s.

“I remember getting in trouble. We were out of the country somewhere. One of the swimmers and I got in trouble and we came in to see Don,” Wilson said. “We were gone most of the day, actually locked up, then we come in and the first thing Don says to us is ‘Have you eaten?’ He got us food and then he read us the riot act. We got in a lot of trouble.”

Wilson added that Reddish always looked out for the athletes and that 99 percent of everything he did was absolutely perfect.

“Everybody will tell you, it’s the same, he’s your second father. In some cases your first father,” Wilson said. “He always makes the right call.”

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Twitter: @DirkFacer