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Steve
October 31st, 2008, 09:02 AM
Wally Dobler still making a competitive splash; He's being named to Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame

Posted by Mark Spezia | The Flint Journal October 29, 2008 01:05AM

FLINT, Michigan -- It's a moment forever etched in Wally Dobler's memory -- the day his competitive juices first flowed.

"Of all things, it was a race on stilts at Ballenger Park (in Flint) against about 100 other kids," he recalled. "I was about 13 years old (in 1947) and we raced up a hill and back down. I won the race and the prize was a baseball given to me by Charles S. Mott."

More than 60 years later, the boy who won that stilts competition remains inside Dobler. He moved on to an accomplished high school and college swimming career and remains one of Michigan's top masters swimmers as he nears his 75th birthday.

Dobler is among the latest class of Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame inductees. The induction banquet is Dec. 6 at Genesys Conference and Banquet Center.

While he also does several triathlons and road races every year, swimming remains Dobler's first love. The Flint Central graduate is an 18-time All-American Masters swimmer, who has held two world and 13 national age group records in addition to many state marks.

Dobler swims for and coaches at a swim club in Lansing where he has lived for the past 40 years.

"As the saying goes, it's a good, clean sport," Dobler said, chuckling. "It's healthy and I really coaching it as well. I got my start at Flint YMCA camps when I was about eight years old and it came pretty easy to me so I stuck with it."

Dobler also likes etching his name in record books which is why he's excited about turning 75 in January and moving into the 75-79 age group.

"I am proud of the records because they going after them keeps me motivated and competitive," he said. "I might have more Michigan masters records than any other male swimmer in the state. Moving into a new age group is always exciting for me."

The swimming excitement began for Dobler during his senior year at Central where he placed sixth in the state in the individual medley at a time when the event included only three strokes. The butterfly had not yet been formally introduced into competition.

Dobler enlisted in the Army following high school and continued competitive swimming. The butterfly was being contested by that time and Dobler discovered he had a knack for the new stroke, especially at distances of 50 and 100 yards.

Dobler's Army swimming earned him a scholarship to Michigan State University.
Before he arrived in East Lansing, however, Dobler qualified for the 1956 Olympic Trials in the 200 butterfly. The event was held in Detroit, Dobler finished fourth in his heat and did not advance to the final.

"Unfortunately, they did not have a100 butterfly in those days or I might have had a good chance to make the Olympic team," Dobler said. "I was not used to the long course (50-yard) pool either. I was used to competing in a much smaller pool."

The highlight of Dobler's college career was helping the Spartans their only Big Ten championship in 1957. He earned points for MSU in the 200 butterfly and 300 medley at the Big Ten Championship Meet at Minnesota.

"It was just an incredible team effort that got us past Michigan and Ohio State for first place," Dobler said. "We had several older athletes on the team. There were five married swimmers (including Dobler) and Army veterans. We just come together at the right time and it might be the only Big Ten championship Michigan State wins."

After serving as team co-captain the following season, Dobler coached for a year at Florida State University before moving back to Flint and coaching his alma mater from 1959-64. He coached David Bale to a state diving title in 1960.

After living briefly in South Bend, Ind., Dobler moved to Lansing in 1967 and began swimming in masters competitions in 1973.

"It was fun to get back into competition and swimming against guys I competed with in college again," he said.

The year 1994 was probably the most memorable of Dobler's masters career. He set world age 60-64 records in the 50 and 100 butterfly and swam the world's top times in six short course and two long course events.

This year, he posted times in the top ten in three age 70-74 events.

Depending on the time of year, Dobler swims as much as 9,000 yards and runs 10 miles a week. He also fits in bicycling workouts.

Dobler has been married to wife Ionne for nearly 54 years and has two children and five grandchildren. Granddaughter Katie Dobler is an All-State swimmer at Pittsford (N.Y.) High School.