Champion builder: Former Splash Club coach great dies

Former Phillips 66 Splash Club head swimming coach John Spannuth
Former Phillips 66 Splash Club head swimming coach John Spannuth

Anyway one looks at it, John Spannuth — who passed away earlier this week — had a huge role to step into in 1961 in Bartlesville.

During its first 11 seasons, the Phillips 66 Splash Club had had a revolving door of head coaching changes — five in all, including club founder Ken Treadway.

Spannuth took charge in 1961 of the Splash Club, which was growing in stature, greatness and national prominence.

He owned the position for seven seasons before moving on in 1968 to the next stop in his career journey and life.

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Spannuth also served as the aquatics director of the YMCA in Reading, Pa.’ the national aquatics administrator for the Amateur Athletic Union; international director of Special Olympics; head swim coach for two U.S. national teams; president of American Swimming Coaches Association, and other titles, according to Chad Englehart, Bartlesville Splash Club Executive Director and Bartlesville High’s head swim coach.

A statement in an email sent by Englehart stated that” “John was a kind and giving man that always made a positive impact in the lives he touched.”

Englehart met Spannuth in Bartlesville when the latter came back to town as part of the club’s 66th anniversary celebration in 2016. Other than that, “He and I would talk occasionally on the phone,” Englehart said. “He was always very interested in the Splash Club and how it was going. He had a pretty good tenure as head coach. He did a lot of really great thing.”

Spannuth settled in Florida for the final part of his life, Englehart added.


Spannuth’s impact on the swimming community in Bartlesville extended to the high school teams.

During Spannuth’s tenure, College High won the state championship every year.

The 1962 Col-Hi swim team was inducted a year ago in the Bartlesville Athletic Hall of Fame and Spannuth’s name came up in interviews as an important presence for the success of the team and program.

“Most our our swimmers came up through the Phillips program. … John Spannuth was responsible for those good teams,” said Bill King — a swimmer on the ’62 team — during an interview in 2020 or 2021. “He was a tough coach. He was young.”


Spannuth played another significant role — he arranged for the high school team to compete at the Adams pool rather than the now-disappeared little 20-yard bandbox YMCA pool downtown.

“He (Spannuth) was just getting into his prime,” King said. “He was a student of the sport and got us into interval training. There weren’t too many people doing that at the time.”

Spannuth also installed two-a-day practices, another sparsely-used implementation of the era.

“He was excellent,” 1962 team member John Engleman said about Spannuth.

Here’s a significant notice — 12 of College/Bartlesville high’s 22 state swimming championships since 1950 occurred with either Treadway, Spannuth or Englehart as head coach.


The Splash Club’s list of coaches is: Ken Treadway (1950-51, 1954-56, 1970 interim), Doug Wall (1952), Jim Brewer (1953), Ludy Harmon (1957-61), John Spannuth (1961-1968), Rick Hoover (1969), Richard Walls (1970), Ed Glick (1970-71), Bill Baker (1971-78), Doug Ferguson (1978-85), Mike Bass (1985 interim), Bob Pease (1985-90), Steve Betts (1990-92), Celine Long (1992-96), Milt Nelms (1996-00), Bob Staab (2000-10), Ben Harlow (2010 interim, 2014 interim), Jeff Allen (2010-14), Chad Englehart (2014-current).

This article originally appeared on Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise: A look a at former Phillips 66 Splash Club head coach