1979 NCWSA National Champions - San Diego State University

TBT: Fun and Good Skiing at the First National Intercollegiate Championships

We got into our time machine and found an article on the very first NCWSA Nationals (1979). The following article was originally written and published in the 1980 December/January issue of The Water Skier! The Water Skier is the official magazine of USA Water Ski. The original article was imported word for word to be republished on NCWSA.com with permission from USA Water Ski and The Water Skier.

Fun and Good Skiing at the First National Intercollegiate Championships

Text & Photos by Jim Harmon

It was the first National Intercollegiate Water Ski Championships but the atmosphere was relaxed, to say the least.

Big Jon Wreede of Florida Southern College had ridden for 16 cramped hours to take on 20-second trick pass (all that is allowed under Intercollegiate rules) in the Saturday morning chill of Bayou DeSiard. He fell early in his run, and afterward was consoled by his teammates.

“Heck, I fell on a trick that I don’t even think about any more,” he said, shaking his head, then suddenly brightened. “But we’re here to have a good time, aren’t we? There are some great people here – let’s have a good time!” And they did.

Jim Berger - 1979 NCWSA Nationals - Jump
“A picture is worth…”

Jim Berger of Ohio State did his best trying to survive at least one trip over the ramp during the jumping event on Sunday. It seemed clear that he was either new to the event or had not had much practice of late. But the crowd of 400 was behind him, and their collective groans grew louder after each of the three falls. The last was the worst. Jim found himself facing backward when he hit the water, but the crowd applauded him enthusiastically for his efforts. When Jim finally struggled to shore, there was a tired smile on his face.

“Man, I really wanted that last one. I made up my mind that I was gonna hang on no matter what. I was thinking about trying to ride it out backwards, but I don’t even know if that’s allowed. Man, that was fun!” He paused. “It sure doesn’t matter much how you do – everybody just seems to be having a great time.” And they were.

Yes, sports fans, all is not won or lost during actual competition. The first Intercollegiate Nationals in Monroe, LA., October 13 – 14 was above all else, a darn good time. It seems that when you gather 100 college kids together for a first anything, that’s one thing you can count on.

The good times were only made better by the close competition. The entire championship came down to the last jump by the last jumper, and when the final scores were totaled, San Diego State University had squeezed past host Northeast Louisiana in the overall team competition by 10 points. The teams were close throughout, with San Diego and NLU slugging it out with Florida Southern and Florida State, who eventually finished third and fourth, respectively. The University of Texas was fifth, followed by Ohio State, Bowling Green, Cal State – Long Beach, and Penn State (well, what do you expect after a 23-hour road trip?).

Stacie Spiker - 1979 NCWSA Nationals - Jump
Spiker dominated the women’s events

There were excellent performances in the individual events, led by competitors who usually score well in national Open competition. Stacie Spiker of Walnut Creek, Calif., now skiing for NLU, swept all three women’s events with relative ease. Spiker started off with a 1670-point pass in tricks, which was enough to top San Diego’s Lisa Nock, another national-caliber competitor, who scored 1410, and Shelli Hayes, also of San Diego, who had 1170.

Spiker’s 64-buoy slalom run (four on 13-meter line) left her 12 buoys ahead of second place NLU teammate Patty Gibson. Nock finished third with a run of 48.

Florida Southern’s Tommy Ingram had a single pass of 2050 points to win the men’s tricks even, a remarkable score considering the 50-degree cloudy weather that prevailed Saturday morning. David Loveless of Ohio State was second (the best finish of anyone from neither the South nor the West) with a run of 1880, followed by Gordon Hall of Texas with 1810.

John McElyea - 1979 NCWSA Nationals - Slalom
McElyea tied Mark Crone’s slalom record — Photo by NLU Photo Lab

Perhaps the top performance of the tournament came in men’s slalom, won by John McElyea of Florida State. McElyea had a run of 62.5 buoys (2.5 on the 12-meter line), which tied Mark Crone’s national intercollegiate record, set in 1974. John, whose talents are often underrated, had hoped for a record-bettering performance.

“I can usually get through a 12-meter pass without much trouble, and I’ve made a lot of buoys at 11.25 meters. I felt like I could’ve done better, but it’s good to have at least tied the record. Crone’s a pretty good skier.” he said with a smile.

San Diego’s Mark Scharosch and Kevin Freiberg, both of whom had been expected to give McElyea his stiffest competition, finished second and third with runs of 59.5 and 58 buoys, respectively.

At the end of Saturday’s evens, San Diego had a 145-point lead over NLU, and the two Florida teams were still within striking distance with the jumping event still to come. The NLU skiers were confident, feeling that jumping would be their strongest event. Florida Southern was equally confident in its jump team, as was San Diego.

In women’s jumping, Spiker faced her biggest challenge of the tournament from San Diego’s Nock, but prevailed with a best effort of 109 feet. Nock was four feet behind and far ahead of third place finisher Gibson, who had a best jump of 85 feet. Much to the delight of the crowd, Spiker’s performance gave NLU an 80-point lead going into the men’s event.

Kevin Freiberg - 1979 NCWSA Nationals - Jump
Freiberg’s 135-footer led San Diego sweep — Photo by Jenny Ingalls

But San Diego left no room for doubt concerning the talents of their jumpers, who made an impressive sweep of the event. The national intercollegiate record of 141 feet, held jointly by Wayne Grimditch, Marty Flournoy, and Barry Horton, had been expected to fall. However, the record (unlike many of the jumpers) remained intact despite some outstanding efforts. Freiberg’s 135-footer was the longest jump of the tournament, followed by Scharosch’s second place effort of 131 feet. David Horton’s best of 130 feet completed the sweep and proved ultimately to be the winning margin for San Diego State.

San Diego State University Water Skier Jacket - 1979
A winner shows the colors — Photo by Erick Brubaker

Mike Adams, NLU’s top jumper whose efforts as tournament director were largely responsible for its success, had a chance to win it for the host school with his last three jumps of the competition. However, his hard work and the gathering darkness may have had an effect. He could manage only a 123-footer, far off his best, but he made no excuses and was one of the first to congratulate members of the San Diego team. Scorers Barbara Stailing and Nicki Lee checked and double-checked their totals, and the results were announced. San Deigo, 5405; NLU 5395.

Although no official individual overall scores were tallied, the competition was interesting. Spiker’s sweep of event victories left her 40 points ahead of Nock, whose worst finish was the third in slalom. Florida State’s Lisa Mims finished an unofficial third, another 100 points back, with seventh in jumping and fifths in slalom and tricks.

Scharosch was the unofficial men’s overall winner on the strength of his second-place finishes in slalom and jumping and a sixth in tricks. Florida Southern’s Ingram was 55 points behind, thanks to his tricks win, a fifth in slalom, and a ninth place finish in jumping. McElyea was third, another 75 points back, combining a fifth place tricks performance and a 17th in jumping with his slalom win.

1979 NCWSA Nationals - Florida Southern Men's Team
Tom Ingram, Curt Guyer, Tom Usher, and Jon Wreede of winning Florida Southern men’s team.

As always, there were disappointments, but no one was about to let them get in the way of the good times. And it might have been impossible to conclude the weekend with a better time than the victory banquet on the Twin City Queen, a riverboat which cruises the serene waters of the Bayou DeSiard. Competitors and officials were treated to an excellent buffet, and they were discoed right into Monday morning. Awards were presented to the top three overall teams as well as the top three finishers in each event. The Florida Southern men’s team and the NLU women were also given trophies for winning their respective divisions.

Correct Craft, which donated $3,000 worth of scholarship money to the three top teams, and MasterCraft were co-sponsors of the tournament. Food and drink were provided by U-Tote-It of Monroe. “And we never could have done all this without the support of our school,” Adams said. “Everyone from President Vines right on down helped us so much that it was really hard to believe. If other schools find as much support as we did, we’ll have no trouble making this tournament bigger and better each year.”

1979 NCWSA Nationals - Chief Judge Jeff Clark
Coffee break for Chief Judge Clark in the morning chill

Chief Judge Jeff Clark was ably assisted by Elmer Stailing, Bill Wenner, Jack Downs, and Pete Salassi. Hal Stata and Sam Newsom handled the boat driving. Charles Salassi served as tournament co-chairman along with Adams, and Bill Rainwater was in charge of publicity. Paul Risch and Ginny Rainwater were the registrars.

The Florida Southern team had planned to leave early Monday morning and make it back to the Lakeland campus in time for a good night’s sleep. As things turned out, they finally left sometime after noon, and arrived just in time for breakfast on Tuesday. “I had some early morning classes and was supposed to have studied for a test, but I didn’t even care,” said the usually soft-spoken Curt Guyer. “I just said to heck with the whole deal … I guess I just had too good a time, but that’s what it was all about.”

Permission for Republishing

This article has been republished from the 1980 December/January issue of The Water Skier, and is posted on NCWSA.com with permission from USA Water Ski and The Water Skier. The Water Skier is the official magazine of USA Water Ski.




Adam Koehler

Skied with the Illini Waterski Team and the Marquette Waterski Team. Past winner of the NCWSA Outstanding Leader Award. Former NCWSA Operations Committee Chair and current NCWSA Secretary.