The voice of USF Athletics, Jim Louk, will routinely put down his radio headset and pick up the pen to share his perspective on the history of USF Athletics.
Louk has been broadcasting games for 27 years and is the resident historian in the Athletics Department hallways so this week he talks with Hall of Fame inductee Joe Lewkowicz.
No matter how good of a Bulls fan you are, you may not know the answer to this question: What was the first national championship for USF Athletics?
You have to go all the way back to 1969, and you have to go to a program that no longer exists. But the journey is worth it, because it will lead you to Joe Lewkowicz.
Lewkowicz was a swimmer, and was one of the true pioneers of USF Athletics in the infancy of the University’s intercollegiate competition. When he came to Tampa, even the program nickname was still to be determined. Lewkowicz recalls a local sportscaster encouraging the team with an inexplicable “Go Falcons!” early in his USF days. Later of course came the Brahmans and later still, the Bulls.
As for the trivia question, here is your answer. It was Lewkowicz who brought home a national championship in the 200 yard butterfly in 1969. Three years later, he did the same thing in the 400 yard medley relay with teammates Rick Morehead, Mike Sheffield and John Stevens.
He came to the Bulls from the Midwest, recruited by another Illinois transplant, Coach Bob Grindey. By the time Lewkowicz’s USF career ended in 1972, he had racked up 12 All-America honors in five different swimming events.
It was a different world at 4202 East Fowler Avenue at that time. “There were very few buildings here,” Lewkowicz recently recalled. “The trees around Argos had just been planted."
He recalls an annual campus walking race from fine arts to physical education, when there was almost nothing on campus between the two buildings.
USF swimming was a member of the NCAA College Division at that time, but competed around half their matches against major institutions like LSU, Alabama, Georgia and Missouri. That meant often being outmanned. Outmanned in terms of numbers that is; not outmanned in terms of talent.
“A typical team that you would take to the nationals would be 18 and two divers. I can’t remember a team that we took to the nationals with more than seven and a diver,” said Lewkowicz. “What that meant is that everybody had to perform at their absolute peak and win or place highly just to get the amount of points that we needed.”
In 1969, USF finished 12th in the NCAA College Division Championships, followed by 15th, 2nd, and 5th place finishes in the NCAA Championships the next three years. It was the earliest and most sustained national success USF Athletics enjoyed.
After his USF days, Lewkowicz opened a successful bar in Tampa, and then left that business for real estate, where he has excelled for over 25 years. He continued to swim masters events for many years after his USF career ended.
The names of the early heroes of USF Athletics may not be known to many of today’s Bulls fans, but the contributions these pioneers made to the program are many. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, USF swimming was at the forefront of the department. Joe Lewkowicz was at the top of his game, and brought some of the very first national exposure to the USF Athletics program we know and love today.
On Dec. 3, USF Athletics will pay a long overdue honor to Lewkowicz, inducting him in to the 2010 class of the USF Athletics Hall of Fame with Sherry Bedingfield, Kerine Black, Ross Gload and Dan Holcomb.
It will mark the second consecutive year USF swimming has been honored with Hall of Fame membership, after the 1984-85 women’s team went in last year.
It’s a fitting reminder of the prominence swimming once held at USF Athletics, and the honor they brought to the department.