The architect behind the Cottonwood High swim legacyAug 05, 2021 02:43PM ● By Brian Shaw
Assistant Cottonwood High School swim coaches Kailee Sandberg (L) and Ashton Palmer (R) surround the Colts’ NFHS Regional Swim and Dive Coach of the Year, Ron Lockwood in 2018. (File photo courtesy Ron Lockwood)
By Brian Shaw | [email protected]
The legacy that the Cottonwood High swim team built over time did not start with Rhyan White, who is competing at the Tokyo Olympics in multiple events. There have been many great Colt swimmers who came before her, many of whom have gone on to have success in college. But White is unique in a very special way.
“It’s quite an accomplishment to have an Olympian,” said Greg Southwick, Cottonwood athletic director. “It’s the first swimmer we’ve had as an Olympian, and it does a lot for not only our school but also the swim program.”
The actual brains behind this Cottonwood Colts swimming operation is about as understated and unassuming as any great coach in Utah high school sports history. He takes zero credit for any of the Colts’ success—including White’s—despite receiving the very prestigious West Region Coach of the Year award two years ago.
He looks a little like Clark Kent in his prescription eyeglasses, a tall and wiry sort pacing back and forth across the pool’s edge while carrying a small leather zipped binder everywhere he goes that contains all the data he will ever need on every swimmer he coaches. He is meticulous, but approachable; competitive but realistic to a fault.
But, it has been his process that, over time, has transformed supposedly average swimmers in their early teens into Supermen—or in the case of White, a swimming Superwoman about to compete in two events on the world’s biggest stage. And it all started for White and others on the club team he helped create, the Wasatch Front Fish Market.
“He’s quite simply a state treasure, and we’re so lucky to have him here at Cottonwood,” Southwick said.
The 'he' that Southwick is referring to is none other than Ron Lockwood, the Cottonwood swimming head coach and Clark Kent lookalike who for years has quietly built this empire at the base of the Wasatch Mountains from a fish market to an aquatic giant. It’s one that has produced numerous state medalists and champions like Rhyan White, who Lockwood admits is “undersized compared to her contemporaries in the sport but also possesses this giant heart and will to be great”—traits that many of his Colts swimmers have had, argues Southwick.
“At Alabama, they were able to build on what we weren’t able to build on,” Lockwood said about White. “In high school, you don’t have a strength and conditioning program, you don’t have a full-time swim coach and you don’t have a full-time team of coaches — everyone from health trainers to academic advisors — who are driven and who go in the same direction as you. The vision that they had for her career resulted in special things that ended up happening.”
Despite churning out great swimmers who move on to major college programs and in the case of White, the biggest stage of all, the person behind their success wants very little of the actual credit.
Instead, Lockwood prefers to point out his coaching staff or even the families of the swimmers themselves. Never will Lockwood ever refer to any accomplishment as something he did; it’s always us or we. When asked whether White was one of the best-ever swimmers he’s coached at the school, he deferred that again to others.
“Yes, Rhyan was special but she was given a lot of tools from her age-group coaches to club to high school,” he said. “It’s important for people to know that if you have the right opportunities, anything is possible.
I have been so fortunate to have had the same group of coaches for a few years now, the same administrators and so forth. Greg and Terri [Roylance, Cottonwood High principal] have also been instrumental in helping us do the things we wanted to do. I do hope that Rhyan and all of the other swimmers believe Cottonwood was a big part of their careers.”
Cottonwood’s athletic director Southwick said these comments are typical of Lockwood’s approach with any Colts swimmer. “He treats them all with fairness,” Southwick said. “He makes it competitive, of course, but the kids also enjoy it and I think that’s the magic formula that drives them to do their best.”
It all started in the working class community of Stockton, California for Lockwood. The son of Roger and Claudia who got his start in the sport at the ripe age of 10, Lockwood earned a scholarship to Fresno State, competing for the Bulldogs’ swim team in the years 1992 to 1994.
He then transferred to BYU in the years 1994 to 1996 after Fresno State was forced to drop its swimming program and became a team captain for the Cougars, helping lead his new team in Provo to a Western Athletic Conference title his senior year.
Like many who find their fit in coaching, Lockwood was good, but not great as a college swimmer. Although he was a high school All-American, his highest finish in an individual event came while he was at BYU in 1995, when he finished sixth at the WAC Championships in the 500 freestyle.
From that point forward, Lockwood took the dive into coaching, bouncing from Utah to Colorado and back where he led club teams and high school teams to championships before becoming an assistant coach at the University of Utah in 2005.
Three years later, the Wasatch Front Fish Market formed and shortly thereafter, Lockwood found his way to Cottonwood where he began molding region and state champions, year in and year out. More than anything, however, the longtime Cottonwood coach is happy when his swimmers are.
“I’m just a cheerleader now,” said Lockwood, laughing when asked if he gave his first Olympic swimmer Rhyan White any advice after her amazing Olympic Trials showing earlier this year. “I’ve reached out to a few coaches and congratulated them, and just told them how impressed I am with the work they’ve done.”