Bettye Reese sat high up in the packed stands at O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla. last Saturday night as No. 4-ranked Florida prepared to face top-ranked Texas in the teams' Civil War of swimming. She held allegiance to both sides, but more than that, she held allegiance to her sons: Coach Randy Reese of Florida, who had guided the Gators to victory in last year's war, and Coach Eddie Reese of Texas, who as coach at Auburn had given his brother's Gators their last dual meet defeat in 1978. "They're good boys," Bettye said. "They never fought as kids."
Or as adults, either, at least not seriously. But the dry Reese humor does provoke some skirmishing. On the eve of the meet, with Texas scheduled to show up for a last-minute workout, 34-year-old Randy was asked, "Will you wait here to see your brother tonight?" "No," he said, "but I'll drop by early to dump a load of chlorine in the pool." The next day, Eddie, 39, who, unlike Randy, is quick with a grin, gestured across the pool toward "that nasty-lookin' little fellow with the mustache over there."
Then the brothers sent out their proxies to do battle. The Texas 400-yard-medley relay team all but blew the Gators into Alabama, winning in 3:22.64. But then the home-pool hero, Craig Beardsley, the world-record holder in the 200-meter butterfly (1:58.21), swam a 9:09.29 in the 1,000-yard freestyle, helping Florida even things up. Despite his win, Beardsley knew he wasn't in line for a medal from his coach. "I totally respect Randy," he said. "But he does have awfully high standards. I think he might have said 'Good swim' to me six times in the more than two years I've been swimming for him."
By the 50 free, the fourth event, Florida had opened up a gap of six points (20-14) when the Gators' Rob Ramirez (20.52) outtouched Kris Kirchner of Texas by .04. Muscles such as Ramirez has are important in the 50; so are very long fingernails. In the stands, Ramirez' father, Gil, was saying proudly, "Randy Reese instilled character in my boy. Rob was 10 minutes late for one practice last year, and he got benched for the meet with Auburn."
In the 200 IM, Texas' Scott Spann out-swam three Floridians, and Texas trailed by only five points, 19-24. Spann's father, Don, was equally loud in his praise for a Reese. "Eddie will challenge Scott to achieve certain times in his workouts," Don said, "and he'll get results. But he knows that practice can get tedious. When it does, he might bet one of the boys a milkshake he can outglide him in the pool, or that he can beat him in a race in which they tie a leg behind their backs. He's the master at that sort of thing."
Spann, a senior from Greenville, S.C., attended Auburn in 1978, when Eddie was still the War Eagles' coach. As Reese says, "Scott followed me to Texas, despite my begging him to stay."
"No," Spann says, "I came to Texas, and he followed me."
Such low jinks are almost as important to Texas' success as "innovations," the most important word in the coaching lexicon of both Reeses. This year Eddie has been holding workouts in a pool shortened from 25 to 16? yards. "We swim the same total distances as before," he says, "so our swimmers make more turns, and because you move faster in a turn, you learn to handle a faster pace. I did it first, but it was Randy's idea."
"I'm sure many coaches have done it," says Randy, "though not as much as we have, and I think it's one of the most important developments in swimming. What else can we do?"
Plenty, as it turns out. Neither Reese is bound by convention when it comes to training his swimmers. Eddie thought up something he calls a "body scooter," sort of a belly board on wheels, but says, "Randy took it a step further," and a contraption called "wheels" was born. It consists of two six-inch lawnmower wheels joined by a padded, 16-inch-long two-by-four on which one lies. Knowing when his brother has a good idea, Eddie now has his swimmers huffing up the ramps of the football stadium on "wheels," using a sort of butterfly stroke. "But you can't bring your hands around," Eddie warns, "or your face smashes into the cement."