by Irvin Muchnick
Next month Dick Shoulberg will be the official “camp observer” on the staff of the USA Swimming National Junior Team Camp in Colorado Springs.
I’m not sure what a camp observer does — though as Yogi Berra’s fellow native St. Louisan, I do recall the Yogism, “You can observe a lot by watching.”
According to sources in the sport, USA Swimming is keeping the 74-year-old Shoulberg well occupied these days with busywork jobs conferring honor and perks. In the last year-and-change of his storied coaching career, it simply wouldn’t do to give him time on his hands to consider popping off about things like rampant misconduct and cover-up, both within his own Germantown Academy program and throughout swimming.
Last fall Germantown put Shoulberg on administrative leave following reports, in the Philadelphia Inquirer and elsewhere, of a police investigation of a swimmer-on-swimmer assault there. It’s a case of extreme hazing, or worse. This was followed by suggestions that the gentle dictator of Port Washington, Pennsylvania, youth swimming was losing control of his program and his principles.
But the bad press passed and soon Germantown restored Shoulberg to a position called “coach emeritus,” through 2014-15. At that point, he will voluntarily retire. Head of school Jim Connor explained the leave as being for health reasons, and continued to do so long after Shoulberg was loudly and redundantly quoted as saying that there was nothing wrong with him and that the leave was in no way his idea.
Before the hazing-plus episode, there was the secret dismissal and shunting over to the Parkland club, in nearby Allentown, of assistant coach Marie Labosky — about whom we reported (in the face of Labosky’s empty legal threat) at https://concussioninc.net/?p=8793, https://concussioninc.net/?p=8800, and https://concussioninc.net/?p=8808.
And long before last fall’s Shoulberg last-lap employment soap opera, and even many years prior to the Labosky maneuverings of 2009-10, we had the saga of rapist Germantown assistant Joe Weber. In 1994 Shoulberg’s club ditched Weber, then in his late 20’s, upon his arrest for having oral sex with a 14-year-old swimmer. Weber spent five years in prison. In 2012 Weber was coaching for the YMCA and USA Swimming clubs in Somerset, New Jersey, when a more complete background check of him surfaced. The Y fired him. But why had Shoulberg and Germantown done nothing to publicize the sex-crime conviction of an employee who, absent such publicity, was much likelier to find a job that would allow him to prey on the kids of another community?
According to SwimSwam.com, USA Swimming denied that Weber “was ever a USA Swimming registered coach. Their only record of him is that he was a non-coach/non-athlete member of the organization from September of 2009 through December of 2010 …”
Despite never being a registered coach, Weber got banned by USA Swimming … in February 2013. This was 18 years after getting busted at Germantown; six months after the Somerset Y canned him.
USA Swimming has not explained why Mitch Ivey, likewise not a “USA Swimming registered coach” in 2013, was banned some 20 years after the University of Florida disappeared him, following evidence of his career-long sexual predation, which was first broadcast on ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
Never banned at all, but believed to be “flagged,” are Hall of Fame coaches Murray Stephens, Jack Nelson, and Paul Bergen, who at one point were — and at this point either still are or are no longer — “USA Swimming registered coaches.”
To our knowledge, the sainted Dick Shoulberg has never said the first word about any of this. He did, however, famously write, in an internal USA Swimming communication advocating a “zero-tolerance policy,” that he “would hate to see our organization ever in the predicament of the current Roman Catholic Church — protecting child molesters!”
Three months ago, in a supportive SwimSwam guest column, Katrina Radke wrote, “Obviously there was a lot more controversy around [Shoulberg’s reinstatement at Germantown] than is said in the official letter. Yet, when people rally to support a man who has a huge heart and great intentions, truth and a more proper outcome prevails, as it did in this case. We should all be encouraged to follow his example to speak up for what we believe in.”
Precisely what, pray tell, does Shoulberg believe in, and precisely when and where has he spoken up meaningfully about it?
Yes, Shoulberg would “hate” to see USA Swimming become like the Catholic Church. But apparently he, like so many others, can swallow his hatred and live with it, so long as his own nest remains feathered.