Longtime Wilmington Aquatic Coach and American Swimming Coach Association Hall of Famer Robert “Bob” Mattson died on June 29th. He was 92 years old.
The Philadelphia, PA native was born in 1931, and eventually moved to Worcester, MA where his swimming career began at the Worcester Boys and Girls Club. He would eventually go on to swim at North Carolina State University, where he would be the Wolfpack’s first national champion (200 breaststroke), and the first swimmer to be awarded All-American for four consecutive years. At one point, he also held the world record in the 400-individual medley. He would go on to work in textile chemistry after graduation but would return to coaching soon after.
After leaving his chemistry job, he would go on to found the Wilmington Aquatic Club in Wilmington, DE, starting with only 15 swimmers in 1954. By the time the program reached 12 years old in 1966, it had grown to over 150 swimmers. The following year, Mattson dedicated most of his life’s savings to the construction of the Wilmington Swim School.
Through his coaching Mattson was regarded as a coach that thought “outside the box,” leading to the success of many athletes such as Olympians Dave Johnson, Jenny Bartz, and national champions Seth Van Neerden, and Jennie Franks.
In addition to his athletes’ success, Mattson had a number of famous coaching proteges. Bruce Gemmell swam under Mattson early in his career, before going on to coach Katie Ledecky, the greatest female distance swimmer of all time, among many others (including his daughter, Erin, who is on this year’s US World Championship team).
Gemmell in a 2017 interview, noted that Mattson was “an innovator before being an innovator was cool,” and how he saw the world of swimming in colors outside of black and white.
Mattson also coached Sid Cassidy, one of the main proponents for Olympic open water swimming, and Edgard Johnson, the head coach and eventual athletic director of the University of Delaware.
Recently, Rachel Brockrath – an Ohio State commit – of the Wilmington Aquatic Club was named to SwimSwam’s Best of the Rest recruits for the class of 2024.