After a summer of uncertainty over who would heading up the nationally prominent Starlit Aquatic Club this fall, the club management has announced that Holger Dietze, the man who put the club in the national spotlight, will be returning as head coach after a brief one-year absence.
Three weeks ago, Starlit officials indicated the club had reached a verbal agreement with Dietze to have him return to the club. However, officials at Stanford University in California, where Dietze has been women's swim coach for the past year, said Dietze had not told them he would be leaving, and Starlit officials conceded that no formal contracts had been signed. Dietze was out of the country at the time and could not be reached, and family members said they could not confirm his plans for the coming year.
This week, Dietze said he has signed a contract with Starlit, and on Aug. 2 notified officials at Stanford that he would not be returning. His agreement with Starlit, he said, includes three one-year contracts to work as head coach.
Dietze replaces Alan Cardwell, a former assistant to Dietz at Starlit, who was notified in June by Golf Course Specialists Inc., the firm that leases Starlit and manages the swim club, that his contract would not be renewed for the fall.
The decision to rehire Dietze is seen by many observers as an attempt by Starlit management to halt declining membership and a slip in the club's national rankings. In past years, Starlit has had more than 600 swimmers, about double the number it now has. The membership drop has meant a decline in club revenues at Starlit, where it costs swimmers $30.25 to $38.50 a month, plus initiation fees, to participate in the program.
Dietze, in an interview this week, said he fully understands his role in rebuilding Starlit's profits and national standings.
"I'm looking forward to the chance to build the membership up," he said.
As for team rankings, Dietze said he already has established his priorities: "Starlit has some people now who can swim on a national level. I want to get large numbers of people in the younger age groups. I also want to concern myself with the seniors and get them full scholarships," which can help attract talent to the club.
The task will not be unfamiliar for Dietze, who first came to Starlit in 1972, when the club had about 125 swimmers and was not known as a powerhouse of talent.
His first year, Dietze says, he established logical goals: "To be good locally first, then regionally and then nationally."
Three years later, Starlit had its first nationally ranked swimmer, and in 1977, Dietze guided the club to a 12th place national ranking.
Dietze's accomplishments at Starlit drew attention from several colleges, and when Stanford contacted him last summer he was ready to consider an offer.
"I had been out there a year before for an interview," Dietze says, "but nothing worked out. Then when the women's team coach quit, Stanford called me and invited me to submit my resume. I had achieved most of my goals at Starlit, and I thought a move would improve my career.
"I had to know for myself if I could compete at the highest level. Stanford had tremendous talent and it seemed like a logical step to go out there at that time."
Although Dietze said the Stanford job was satisfying professionally, he said personal considerations convinced him to return to Northern Virginia.
For one thing, he said, the pay at Stanford, which was in the mid-$20,000 range, simply was not enough to meet living costs in the Palo Alto area. In addition, a summer position he had hoped for in California never materialized.
"I was supposed to work this summer at (a private swim club) in what seemed like a lucrative financial situation. But that fell through," Dietze said. "That sort of eroded the whole situation."
Still, Dietze says, he refused to make a commitment when Starlit officials contacted him in June about returning as head coach.
"Since at the time they had not fired Alan, I told them I wanted nothing to do with it," Dietz said.
Dietze said he decided to consider the Starlit offer only after Cardwell was officially informed that he would not be rehired.
"I supported Alan the whole time," says Dietze. "He's still a friend and he will continue to be one even after this particular time period is over."
Because of his experience at Stanford, Dietze said he expects to take a a different approach to his work at Starlit. Dietze concedes he was criticized in the past for being unsympathetic toward Starlit swimmers who also wanted to compete for their high school or community programs. That will no longer be the case, he said.
"At the college level, I saw swimming from a different perspective," Dietze said. "Enrollment in swim programs is declining. The lack of Olympic coverage in 1980 hurt and costs are becoming prohibitive. I want to work at promoting the sport with splinter groups like country clubs, high schools and community pools. I want to help get the enthusiasm for swimming back up."