Still In The Swim

Pete Higgins has coached Westminster to 25 state championships

Who would you say is the most successful coach in America? If you said Bobby Cox, Vince Dooley, Joe Paterno or “Coach K,” you’d be wrong. How about Robert Nash (Pete) Higgins, who’s beginning his 48th year as swimming coach at Atlanta’s Westminster Schools?

What Higgins has done with his swimmers is mind-boggling. He has coached more than 150 high school and independent schools All-Americans. He has coached Westminster to 25 All-Class State Championships.

Four of his swimmers, Jeff Galloway, Marian Seidler, Jenny Chandler and Sadi Jacobson, qualified for the Olympics. He coached the first high school swimmer in history, Bill McGinty, to break 50 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle.

One swimmer, Harrison Merrill, who as a freshman set three NCAA records in one day, set another NCAA record as a junior.

Higgins was named Georgia High School State Coach of the Year 38 times, National High School Association Southeastern Coach of the Year 10 times and Best Coach in America once.

There is insufficient space to list all his honors, but they include a proclamation by the city of Atlanta for a “Pete Higgins Day,” receipt of the first Merrill award at Westminster Schools for “Teachers Who Make A Difference” and being the first coach selected to the Westminster Hall of Fame.

Said former athletic director at Westminster, Harry Lloyd, “I have never seen a coach get as much out of his athletes as Pete. He was loved and tremendously respected by all his swimmers. I think his record speaks for itself.”

“I never have had many rules for my swimmers,” Higgins says. “I want to be a coach, not a policeman. I get my kicks from watching my swimmers doing things in the pool they never thought they could do. I am happiest when I am around positive and successful people.”

Higgins grew up in Tampa where he played football and basketball, swam and ran track for Hillsborough High School and was named to the prep All-American swim team.

He turned down a football scholarship to Georgia Tech to attend the University of North Carolina. While at UNC, he coached the Tar Heels’ swim team to the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA national championships.

Higgins has no plans for retirement. Indeed, he’s taken on an additional job at Westminster, creating an online database to operate the athletic department.

At 74, Higgins is going strong. He is up at 7:30 a.m., downs a light breakfast and heads for Westminster. In the evenings, he’s at home working on the database.

Six days a week he is at Westminster and the seventh day is the Sabbath and a day of rest. He’s a deacon and usher at the Trinity Presbyterian Church.

Higgins’ record includes a lifetime of service. He’s a board member of the International Swimming Pool Hall of Fame, chairman of the National AAU Swim Marathon, founder of the Georgia Aquatic Council and founder and past president of the Georgia Swimming Coaches Association, to name a few.

Swimming – and athleticism – runs in the family. Higgins’ son Bobby, who passed away last year of Lou Gehrig’s disease, was on two state championship teams at Westminster and his daughter, Susan Blynn Masters, was the first swimmer from Cobb County ever to win a state championship. His father, Nash Higgins, was a high school track coach who went five years without losing a dual meet.

Higgins and his wife, Nell, have been married 52 years.

What advice does Higgins have for his swimmers? “Persevere. … Never, ever give up.”

Who is the best swimmer he ever coached? “Harrison Merrill is in a league of his own. He still holds national records he set as a freshman. Matt Lunati holds state records and so does Elizabeth Hill. There have been so many good ones it is difficult to pick anyone as the best.” Anyone, that is, except Merrill.

Higgins keeps turning out winners and state titles. His Westminster Wildcats captured the state title last year, and if the bookmaker was giving odds this year, the Wildcats would be off the board.

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