Monday, May 4, 2020

The Dolphin-Seal Club: Aquatic Adventures on Campus



Even before there was a pool on campus, swimming was an important part of the college’s curriculum. Early lessons were given at the downtown Greensboro YWCA facilities, but when the Rosenthal Gymnasium was completed in 1925, classes were held in the new 25 ft. by 75 ft. swimming pool, which included a shallow end and separate lanes for lap swimming. The addition of the pool, strongly endorsed by Mary Channing Coleman, enabled the school to offer a more convenient on-campus option for students who were interested in the sport. 

Dolphin-Seal Club Members, 1946
In 1926, the Dolphin Club was formed, boasting six charter members. The purpose of the group was to help students improve their stroke techniques and become expert swimmers and divers. To be a Dolphin, a student was required to pass a rigorous admittance examination which tested “speed and perfection” in swimming. The successful candidates had to excel in “two strokes for form, three standard dives, a speed record of two lengths of the pool in 45 seconds with the crawl, and [swimming] 12 lengths of the pool.” Dolphins met once per week for practice and to work on earning special badges for swimming accomplishments. Members also performed yearly “water festivals,” during which students staged choreographed routines and stunts. 

Diving Exhibitions by Dolphin-Seal Club Members, ca. 1948

In 1930, the Club decided to allow students who were less technically proficient than the “Dolphins” to join. This group of students were called the “Seals” and subsequently, the “Dolphin-Seal Club” was formed. Continuing the tradition of providing elaborate campus entertainments, the Club held yearly events featuring synchronized aquatic performances, as well as technical swimming and diving demonstrations. These elaborately choreographed events included festive and sometimes very elaborate decorations, props, and lighting. Live music was integral to the performances and often became an important part of the annual themes. 

Club Members Participate in "A Tale of the Toys" (1963)

Yearly festivities had creative themes, such as the 1940 pageant “20,000 Leagues under the Sea,” during which student swimmers, representing “all marine deities and animals,” payed tribute to Neptune, the god of the sea. “Rhythm Americana,” produced in 1953, guided the audience through water-based versions of tangos, duets, ballads, and waltzes. The mid-1950s saw aquatic productions that were less fantastical and more modern, such the “Underwater Times.” This 1955 pageant program featured “headlines” such as “Escaped Murderer Captured” and “Democrats vs. Republicans,” and performances divided into Editorials, Travel, Sports, and Theater. The 1960s embraced more whimsical themes, including “The Tale of the Toys” (1963) and “Spring is a New Beginning” (1967). Sadly, by the early 1970s, the Dolphin-Seal Club was no longer included as a student group in the university’s handbook. Although UNCG still has a swim team, the Dolphin-Seal is now considered one of the university’s lost clubs.


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