Nov. 1, 2004
By Brian Tom
During Earl Ellis' tenure as the Husky swim coach from 1970-1998, he was defined by his dedication. While it is those years of dedication to the Husky swim program that earned him induction into the Husky Hall of Fame on Nov. 5, Ellis' 29-year tenure might not be the most impressive streak the coach maintained at Washington.
For nearly 20 years, Ellis ran every day, racking up at least 65 miles per week, and up to 100 per week during the streak's heyday. The streak began as a bet between Ellis and former Husky assistant track coach Dixon Farmer, now the athletic director at Occidental University in Los Angeles. The pair made a bet to see who could run every day for the longest stretch and believe it or not, despite Ellis maintaining his streak for two decades, he lost the bet. The prize for the winner was $50, a check that still remains uncashed and framed in Farmer's den in Los Angeles.
"He won," says Ellis of his bet. "I had to give up after 19-and-a-half years. I just plain wore out some parts. The cartilage in my knees gave out. It kept me fit and made me able to keep up with the kids everyday."
Ironically, Ellis' inability to competitively run any longer forced him to his 'fallback' sport swimming. Ellis trains at least an hour a day, five to six days per week at a community pool or on a lake near his Winthrop, Wash., home. He's racing in the master's division, competing in the distances. For Husky fans, it's fitting that he's back in the pool as that is where he made a name for himself in the Seattle area.
"One cannot think of the sport of swimming in the Pacific Northwest without thinking of Earl Ellis," said former Athletic Director Barbara Hedges upon Ellis' retirement. "Earl has been a great influence to hundreds of young people throughout his time at UW. He exemplifies the Husky spirit."
If anyone knows about sacrifice and spirit, it is Ellis. Due to budget cuts and Title IX rules, men's swimming was going to be eliminated as a varsity sport at Washington in 1975, Ellis stepped up and offered to establish a women's , and to coach both programs. It was that dedication that convinced athletic director Joe Kearney to keep swimming in Washington's fold.
Ellis proved that Kearney's decision was a wise choice. Ellis took charge of the men's program in 1970 and compiled a 215-45 (.827) record in dual meets. He also coached the women's team since its inception in 1976, guiding it to a 206-29-2 (.873) record. Along the way, Ellis coached 36 men's All-Americans, 25 women's All-Americans, seven Olympians (three medalists), six national champions and all three of his children.
"I liked all of them," says Ellis about the student-athletes he coached. "Whether they reached that top level or not, they all brought something to the program in terms of sacrifice and spirit."
Five athletes that Ellis coached are already in the Husky Hall of Fame. It is only appropriate that Ellis joins them in the Husky history books.
"I never thought I'd be in there," says Ellis about the Hall of Fame. "I always felt that you needed to win a national championship or something, which we never did. So it was a real honor when I found I was going in there. Tears actually formed in my eyes when I found out, because it was such a surprise."
For those familiar with Washington athletics, it is no surprise that his name will be forever etched on the walls of the Husky Hall of Fame. It is a fitting feather in the cap for Ellis, a man who exemplified dedication and excellence during his coaching tenure at Washington.
Besides Ellis, football players Napoleon Kaufman, Lincoln Kennedy and Jeff Jaeger, plus women's basketball player Rhonda Smith and the 1970 and 1971 Men's Crew teams will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Former athletic administrator, Don Smith, will receive the Don H. Palmer Award. For more information on buying tickets to the Husky Hall of Fame celebration, click here or call the Big `W' Club at 206-543-3013.