Scott Graber remembers the early days, when the Beaufort Masters swim team was called the Parris Island Masters, with few enough members to travel in a minivan.
When the team showed up to meets, people asked where Parris Island was, whether it was actually in South Carolina. Perceptions changed when Parris Island Masters stopped losing.
The group has not lost a meet the past 19 years. And team members shovel all credit to Dick Fetters, who retired this month as Beaufort Masters coach after starting the team more than 20 years ago.
Fetters decided to step aside after celebrating his 90th birthday earlier this month.
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"I am really profoundly sad, because this guy, he really brought something to this little town," said Graber, an attorney and Port Royal resident who was among the team's first members in the late 1980s.
Fetters chose to retire to Beaufort after coaching swimming more than two decades at Michigan State University. He started as a consultant to the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot Parris Island's swim training but said his advice was not well received. But a small group of Marines who knew of Fetters' background asked him to help them train for the swim portion of their triathlon, and the initial Masters group was formed.
The team practiced at Parris Island until 2005, when it moved to Beaufort Indoor Pool and changed names. Fetters talks glowingly of the previous facility, a longer pool than the one in Beaufort with more lanes. But having the numbers trimmed to about 40, the team continued to dominate.
Participation level drives the long-running success. Fetters allows new team members to join on the condition they compete in three meets a year. And so, by the power of its numbers at meets, Beaufort Masters comes away each time with enough points to win.
Graber said smaller pockets from other states formed larger statewide masters teams to try to compete with Fetters' squad but were unsuccessful.
"I didn't want to spend my time with people who came to practice two or three times a month just to have a little fun," Fetters said.
Fetters is still writing workouts for the team while it decides its next step. Team members enjoyed Fetters' services at no cost other than the pool fees.
Now faced with its first coaching search after 20 years, the swimmers are debating whether to pay up.
"We're very carefully and tentatively starting that process of trying to find a coach who will keep us competitive, keep us in the hunt," Graber said. "We just don't want to give up this thing we've got."
At 90, Fetters is settling into life after coaching, a career that started as a physical education teacher out of Notre Dame. He coached high school swimming in Indiana and Florida before moving to Michigan. There, Spartans coach Mac McAfree asked Fetters to be his assistant.
Fetters told him he was no one's assistant, that he wanted to run the team. And he did. McAfree stepped back into an administrative role and left Fetters to run practice.
"He used to walk out on that balcony (over the pool) at night and he'd say, 'How's everything going, coach?' And I'd say, 'Just fine, Mac,'" Fetters remembers. "That's all we heard of him. But he was happy. And I was happy, too."
Michigan State athletics director Biggie Munn officially offered Fetters the job when McAfree died a few years later.
The challenges were different after Fetters moved to Beaufort, he said. At Michigan State, he was able to recruit talented high school swimmers. Many Masters swimmers are former competitive swimmers. Many are not.
Throughout the years, Beaufort Masters has included some of the area's prominent citizens, housewives and students.
"We had this mix," Graber said. "And Dick put this thing together, put this creature together, and we'd go off and we'd win."