Tommy Hannan, Whitney Phelps Enter Swim Hall Of Fame
By Keith Mills
Long before Mount St. Joseph's Tommy Hannan won a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics, he was an outstanding baseball player for the Edmondson Recreation Council.
And long before Towson's Whitney Phelps won a national championship in the 200-meter butterfly in 1994, she had to be bribed just to jump into the swimming pool.
Hannan and Phelps grew up in different parts of Baltimore County and swam for different teams, but were together last Saturday at the Maryland Swimming Hall of Fame inductions.
Created in 1985 when legendary Calvert Hall coach Reds Hucht was inducted, the Maryland Swimming Hall celebrated its 2011 class with the 13th ceremony and luncheon at the Bryn Mawr Mount Washington Club, a short walk from the Meadowbrook Swim Club, home of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.
"Making time to mark time," said John Cadigan, executive director of Meadowbrook and chairman of the Hall of Fame Committee. "The time these two great athletes were here and the things they did were important and they need to remembered."
They were ... in a ceremony worthy of both swimmers, which turned into a celebration among family and friends.
Whitney's older sister, Hilary, and younger brother, Michael, introduced her. Hannan's long-time club coach, Scott Ward of the Eagle Swim Team, did the honors for the 31-year-old graduate of Mount St. Joe and former University of Texas All-American.
"One thing I always admired about Tommy was his perseverance," said Ward, also the varsity swim coach at McDonogh, "He always stuck it out. He loved to race and he was a great teammate."
Hannan grew up in Catonsville. He played basketball, baseball, football and soccer when he first jumped into the pool as a 7-year-old swimmer for Hunting Hills Swim Club. He began swimming year-round and eventually was ranked among the best 10-and-under swimmers in the country.
A quarterback in football and an outstanding catcher in baseball for the EDRECO (Edmondson Recreation Council) summer team, whose pitching staff included current New York Mets lefthander Mike O'Connor, Hannan finally began swimming full-time, joining the Eagle Swim Team coached by Ward and long-time assistant Sean Hutchison.
"I never really pictured myself as a great swimmer," Hannan said. "I always felt like I was just doing what I was supposed to do. I was just trying to be as good as some of the other swimmers in the area."
Those swimmers included a dynamite young girls' team from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, which was riding the wave of Anita Nall's three medals (a gold, silver and bronze) in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The girls from NBAC were making some major noise nationally.
They were led by Nall, future Olympic gold medalist Beth Botsford and 14-year-old Whitney Phelps, who exploded onto the international swim scene in 1994 when she won the 200-meter butterfly at the U.S. Nationals and represented the United States in the World Championships.
"We were a group of seven girls," Phelps said, "who went through the good times and the bad -- a lot more good than bad, a lot of hard workouts and hard sets. We were like sisters."
Phelps, Botsford and Nall were joined by future Olympian Whitney Metzler, Brittany White, Kelly McPherson and Melinda Rehm, comprising a seven-woman machine that won back-to-back national championships.
Metzler, who joined Botsford on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, and White, a former All-American at the University of Miami and now a guidance counselor at Lansdowne Middle School, were on hand for Phelps' Hall induction, and the now 30-year-old mother of two could not contain her excitement.
"I haven't seen Brittany and Whitney in years," Phelps said, "and it's great to have them come and be here for me. It's amazing. Everything has picked up right where we left off."
"My sister," said an emotional Hilary Phelps, fighting back tears as she stood next to her brother Michael in recalling Whitney's storied swim career, "she always had dedication and tenacity."
Hilary also remembered the early days, back in 1987, when Whitney first joined NBAC and was swimming for Tom Himes and Patricia Stephens, the wife of club founder and long-time coach Murray Stephens. Swimming, then, wasn't exactly on Phelps' to-do list.
"I remember the coaches had to bribe her with Snickers bars just to get her into the pool," Hilary said. "But she swam so fast. I remember we'd be at meets and she'd win a heat and say, 'That's it. I'm done.' And we'd say, 'No, you have to come back to the finals.' "
Now 32, Hilary and Michael were joined at the ceremony by their mom Debbie, Michael's long-time coach and now NBAC CEO Bob Bowman, and Phelps' two children -- 5-year-old Taylor and 7-year-old Connor.
When Hilary and Michael were introducing their sister and Cadigan later played a video in her honor, Taylor sat on her mom's lap almost mesmerized by pictures of a young Phelps, captured in the white-and-blue NBAC swim cap.
"We've been part of NBAC I guess for 20-25 years," said Michael, who won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics with his mom and sisters at poolside for every race. "It's the only thing I remember. Being able to grow up and watch these two swim was amazing. For me to be able to watch Whitney at the World Championship in 1994 ... I will never forget that."
"It's funny," Cadigan said. "You see the Phelps headlines in that video we showed and you see the pronoun 'her.' Before Michael, there was this superstar and it was Whitney and she really did rocket to the top of the sport."
Phelps never made the Olympic team like her younger brother, but she did continue her swim career at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where she set conference records and was named UNLV's Rookie of the Year in 1999. That was one year after she graduated from Towson High School in 1998.
That same year, Hannan graduated from Mount St. Joe, where he shared the athletic spotlight with classmates Mark Teixeira, Mike Floyd and O'Connor, who began his major league baseball career with the Washington Nationals and ended the season this week pitching for the New York Mets.
Floyd is the younger brother of Gavin Floyd, the veteran righthander of the Chicago White Sox. Like his brother, Mike Floyd was drafted by the Phillies in 2001 and spent four years playing minor league baseball for the Phils and Houston Astros.
"When Tommy went into the St. Joe Hall of Fame," Tom Hannan Sr. said, "he introduced Tex (Teixiera) and Tex introduced him. Tex once told me he always admired Tommy because Tommy's sport required so much training and discipline."
Tom Hannan, his wife Georgia, Tommy's brother Stephen, his wife Shanna and Ward attended the induction ceremony, as did Mount St. Joe principal Barry Fitzpatrick.
"We were always surrounded by good people there," Hannan said. "Those kids came from good families and the St. Joe staff was great, starting with Barry Fitzpatrick. With great leadership, you get good results."
As a senior at Mount St. Joe, and swimming for Ward with the Eagles, Hannan was named the Speedo High School Swimmer of the Year. He then went to Texas, where he swam for legendary coach Eddie Reese, and quickly proved he belonged.
In Austin, he was a two-time Longhorns captain and member of three NCAA championship teams. He won a gold medal at the 1999 World University Games in the 200 IM and was named an All-American 17 times in different events. He eventually earned a spot on the 2000 Olympic team in Sydney, Australia, where one of his teammates was then Michael Phelps, then 15 years old.
"It was a fantastic experience," Hannan said. "I was fortunate that seven guys from my team at Texas were on that Olympic team, and my coach (Reese). Michael was on that team. I was very fortunate to be around great coaches, great athletes, and great people. They did the work. I just listened to what they had to say."
He did more than that. He won a gold medal in Sydney in the 4x100 medley relay.
"My brother was living in Sydney at that time," Tom Hannan Sr. said, "so we had a whole group of people who went over there. It galvanized the whole St. Joe community. They made T-shirts that we wore the whole time we were over there."
Hannan graduated from Texas in 2003 with a finance degree. He and Shanna live now in Seattle, where he is an assistant coach with the prestigious KING Aquatic Swim Club. The head coach is Hutchison, the former assistant to Ward with the Eagles.
"Tommy had a tremendous compassion for his teammates," Ward said, "which is why he was so well-liked. And his integrity was something tremendous. Whenever he said he was going to do something, I knew I could trust him to do it."
"I don't know where I'd be today without Scott or Sean," Hannan said. "Words can't even describe how influential they've been to me. The things they used to say to me over and over again now ring true as I work with younger kids. As Sean tells me: 'We're not making great swimmers. We're making great people, and in making great people, you make great athletes.'
"Scott Ward is one of the best all-around coaches in the coaches. If I could be half the coach and half the man he is, I feel I'd be successful."
Phelps married Bob Flickinger in 2005. She and her two children live in Montgomery County, while Michael will forever be grateful Whitney and Hilary paved the way at NBAC.
"I saw the ups and downs of Whitney's career," said Michael. 'But the biggest thing I saw was she never gave up. She was always there."
"It was amazing for me just to be honored by Maryland Swimming," Whitney Phelps said, "but to be able to share it with my kids and to listen to my brother and sister talk about me and my dedication, it's very humbling. I wouldn't have had it any other way.
MARYLAND SWIMMING HALL OF FAME
Arthur 'Reds' Hucht
Wendy Weinberg Weil
Bonnie Glasgow Rhodes
Kim Shettle Keller
Ellen Feldman Roberts
Anna McCleary Marriott
Elizabeth McCleary Primrose Smith
Polly Winde Surhoff
The Evening Sun Meet
Raymond Webb Thompson
John J. Higgins
Jill Johnson Chasson
KCO Swim Team
John Thomas Himes Jr.
Anita Nall Richesson
Whitney Phelps Flickinger
Note: No honorees in 1989, '91, '92, 2003, '04, '06, '07, '09 and '10.
Posted Sept. 28, 2011