Behind living legend, swimmers dive in for Marcussen Invite

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Dick Marcussen stares across the clear water of the pool at Holmes Jr. High with his sky blue eyes. Right above the water, red banners hang, screaming of the legendary coach’s success in high school swimming. But Marcussen isn’t looking up at the banners, rather down into the chlorine infused water as his face lights up while gloating of his swimmers’ improvements. He isn’t focused on his 347 dual meet wins or his better than 90 percent career winning percentage. He is focused on how to relieve the day-to-day stress of his student athletes as they swim back and forth across their battlefield.

Before he goes on uninterrupted for over 11 minutes, a 12 second pause ensues as he ponders the question, “What do your swimmers mean to you?”

The aroma of coffee escapes from his breath as he begins to answer with the passion, love and dedication he has had for his swimmers at Cedar Falls for the last 45 years. His humility shows through as he calls his very own Marcussen Invitational, the “Tiger Invite” and when he stops briefly to ask a freshman swimmer how her head was feeling after she got hit by a soccer ball during PE.

“He’s been a real good role model. He’s good at pushing you to your limits and picking you up when you’re down, but when you get too high, knocking you back into your place,” senior Martee Grainger said. “He’s just a good guy. He’s funny, has a good sense of humor and a good head on his shoulders, which is obvious through his accomplishments.”

Grainger said Marcussen is known for his little pep talks he gives right before a race.  “It’s usually something that’s obvious, like remember to kick your feet,” Grainger said in her best Marcussen impersonation. Coaches aren’t supposed to be behind the blocks, but seemingly every time Marcussen finds his way around that rule. “Marcussen does what he wants, Marcussen owns Iowa high school swimming,” Grainger said smiling.

The Marcussen Invitational takes place this Saturday. The Waukesha South Blackshirts from Wisconsin, the only team to beat the Tigers in the regular season since 2007, will be making their ninth straight appearance at the event.

Now Marcussen reveals his biggest smile of the day. Not because the Blackshirts have beaten Marcussen at his own invitational eight straight years, but because Blaine Carlson, the coach of Waukesha South, was Marcussen’s former swimmer. “His longevity in the sport of high school swimming is astounding. To continue to be the driving force and the face of high school swimming in Iowa is a testament to his commitment to the kids in Cedar Falls,” Carlson said of his former coach. “You don’t coach as long as he has if you aren’t passionate about developing good athletes and more importantly teaching life values to young people to help in their development into great adults.”

Carlson was a team captain and holds four school records at the University of Wisconsin where he was a four-year varsity member. In 1990 he was ranked a top 25 swimmer in the United States. As a coach, he has had similar success. His swimmers have ranked in the top 16 in the United States, had top 100 times of all time, qualify for Olympic trials and hold seven national records, including one they set just last year.

“I don’t think we’ve ever lost a [Marcussen] Invite until we invited them to come. They’ve got quite the swim club and high school program up there. Being number one in the nation is pretty good,” Marcussen said.

Being that Waukesha South is the only team to beat Cedar Falls in an invite (a meet with more than two teams) the Tigers remain undefeated in dual meets (one on one) in Grainger’s and the rest of the class of 2015’s entire career.

“There’s a lot of pressure to be good, but we have such a deep team of awesome athletes, so having such a good team behind you takes a lot of pressure off,” Grainger said.

That pressure almost became too much for the Tigers as they were down 66 points at the Linn-Mar Invite after Linn-Mar’s divers finished first, second and third, and Cedar Falls finished sixth and eighth.

“Everybody was cheering for each other. Everybody did their jobs out there, and nobody let up,” Marcussen said. “When it’s coming down to the last 25 or the last 50 and that person is swimming next to you, you’ve got to learn how to change speeds, pick it up and reach down inside you and beat that person.”

The Tigers started off their comeback with a big win in the medley relay, but things still weren’t going their way when the B medley team was disqualified and did not receive points. The depth of the Tigers fueled the comeback over Linn-Mar, preserving the Tigers undefeated careers.

Now 45 years after Marcussen, 78, started the CFHS swim program, he will go into the Iowa High School Athletic Association’s hall of fame at the state meet on Nov. 8.

On the right wall of the Holmes Junior High pool, nine state championships, seven state runner ups and 24 MVC championships are all recognized with banners. The wall perpendicular to the banners is where the white board resides, the home of many drawings from Marcussen, who was a former CFHS art teacher. But right above the wall is the clock that is used to measure the time. It ticks off the seconds of swim times, but it also might be ticking away the career of a coaching legend.

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