Mark Shaffer stands at the north end of Catalina Pool and, with a red dry erase marker, writes down practice laps on a white board for what must be the millionth time.

Meanwhile, his swimmers - all 16 of them - file in to begin their routines.

Shaffer, who is entering his 30th year as Catalina's swim coach, remembers a time when these midweek practices were crowded.

Now, with enrollment and interest in swimming at Catalina dropping, he feels lucky just to field a team.

But for Shaffer, who has always measured success by improvement, perhaps it's just as well.

He can recall his best swimmers. There was Francie O'Leary from the mid- 80s, who swam for Shaffer before earning a bronze medal at the 1987 Pan Pacific Championships. Summer Hammons was a Trojan in the late 90s, before going on to swim for the University of La Verne in California.

But what Shaffer seems to enjoy even more is the success his former swimmers encounter professionally.

He names a doctor, a writer and "even a few that have ridiculously become teachers."

Shaffer, who graduated from the UA, is a U.S. history teacher at Catalina.

Teresa Nowak, who is now a loan executive for Commerce Bank in Tucson, says Shaffer cares so much about his swimmers because his lessons extend out of the pool.

"His slogan was, 'You gotta wanna.' He emblazoned that into our minds," Nowak said. "It had to come from within. If you wanted it, you had to work really hard to get to your personal best."

Nowak, who swam for Shaffer all four years until graduating in 1987, understands why her beloved coach has stayed at Catalina so long. Both are native Tucsonans and have grown comfortable with their surroundings.

"He's a loyal guy," Nowak said. "He's a loyal U of A fan; I see him at all the games. He just feels at home."

Shaffer's roots are grounded deeply in Tucson. His mother grew up in the Sam Hughes neighborhood, a few blocks from the football stadium. He grew up a few blocks from Himmel Park, just off Tucson Boulevard, and graduated from Tucson High School in 1970. He now lives back in the same house.

Himmel is where Shaffer got his start in swimming. He never swam competitively but began racing against his friends there in the late 60s. He also took up golf and was an assistant pro for a time at Randolph Golf Complex in the 70s.

But once he began coaching swimming at Catalina in 1981, there was no looking back.

"You develop relationships with kids," Shaffer said. "When kids sit there and bust their butt for you, you have to respect them.

"You appreciate the fact that they are doing it for you, but also to improve themselves."

Most of his swimmers don't swim full time, and many had little or no experience before joining the team. But Shaffer said that's exactly what makes his job so rewarding.

"Swimming is such a hard sport to achieve in," Shaffer said. "They have got to be goal-oriented. But when they go as far as they do, and maybe make state, it's like 'wow.'"

2010 watch list


Sara Borendame , So., IR

Sloane Burns, Sr., SG

Courtney Dangremond, Sr., Sab

Izzy Diamond, Jr., CF

Claire Houlton, Jr., CF

Maggie McCord, Jr., CDO

Kaitlyn McLeod, Sr., Rin

LeighAnne Oliver, Sr., Sab

Melanie Paulsen, Sr., Sah

Caitlin Wright, Sr., Sab


Matthew Berg, Sr., IR

Daniel Bleyl, Jr., PR

Alex Leighton, Jr., Sal

Tyler Mattingly, Jr., Sal

Ian McLeod, Sr., Sab

Dion Nielsen, Sr., IR

Reed Patterson, Jr., Rin

Cole Puchi, Sr., CF

Sean Strickland, Jr., CDO

Brandon Young, Jr., Doug

Athletes chosen by Star staff in consultation with area coaches.