“To Harry, the best coach ever – Lou Holtz”

Posted on July 28, 2010


From the Orlando Sentinel by Rene Sultzman.

He Taught Orlando Kids Swimming, Perseverance

U.S. Olympic swimmer Jilen Siroky Bouwer was 5 years old, growing up in Casselberry, when she started swimming for Coach Harry Meisel at the Rollins College pool.

“He watched me and gave me the chance and let me be part of the team when other coaches didn’t,” said the 28-year-old auditor who competed in the 1996 Olympics and now lives in Chicago.

Susie Aspinwall of Orlando had three children, now ages 40, 41 and 43, who swam for Meisel. They started at age 6.
“They all went on swimming scholarships to college,” she said, at the University of WisconsinUniversity of Michigan and Miami University in Ohio.

For five decades, Meisel coached Orlando-area children, specializing in teaching boys and girls ages 5 to 12 how to swim.

He died Sunday of brain cancer. He was 87.

Friends, swimmers and family members remembered the Orlando resident Tuesday as a no-nonsense man who taught children not only sports fundamentals but also how to work hard, train hard and play by the rules.

“He believed in ‘Pete and Repeat.’ Repetition,” said son Kevin Meisel, “and he did it daily and unselfishly, whether it was in the classroom or on the pool deck.”

Meisel was a lifelong physical education teacher and coach. He taught at Orlando Senior High School, then Boone High, then Bishop Moore High. He coached a variety of sports, including football, basketball, tennis and tumbling.

In 1962, he joined the physical education faculty at Rollins College, where he retired in 1997 and was named professor emeritus.

But it was his work with young swimmers that he most loved, said sons Kevin and Steve Meisel.

He led swimmers to 20 state swim championships and taught thousands of young people to swim.

“He was great with kids. Loved kids,” said Skip Foster, assistant athletic director at the University of Florida, formerly its swim coach who helped lead the school to three NCAA championships.

Meisel taught them not just how to swim and compete but also “being on time, doing things the right way, not making excuses and trying to do the best every time you stepped on the block,” Foster said.

Meisel was a big University of Notre Dame fan and, after a son-in-law joined the faculty of its business school, began to attending Notre Dame football games.

“The next thing, he’d begun diagramming and mailing directly to Lou Holtz plays, football plays. I don’t know if Holtz appreciated it then,” said Kevin Meisel, but more than a decade later, Holtz moved to Lake Nona, next-door to Susie Aspinwall, who had three swimmers coached by Meisel.

A package then arrived at the Meisel home. Inside was a Notre Dame baseball cap. Written on the underside of the bill: “To Harry, the best coach ever, Lou Holtz.”

“Harry was not only successful, he was significant. When you’re successful, you dial that in. When you’re significant, you help other people be successful,” Holtz said Tuesday. “That lasts a lifetime, and Harry certainly did this.”

Meisel was named to the Central Florida Sports Hall of Fame in 1987 and the W.R. Boone Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

“He taught the younger ones, the inglorious ones,” said Aspinwall. “I was laughing, remembering Harry used to love to have a meet Thanksgiving Day.”

Meisel was a World War II Army veteran and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He also was president of the committee that erected the Battle of the Bulge monument at Orlando’s Lake Eola Park.

Meisel is survived by his wife of 60 years, Jeanette; five children, including Karen Hales, Mary Meisel and Teresa Crant; and 10 grandchildren.

Baldwin-Fairchild Funeral Home, Lake Ivanhoe Chapel is handling the arrangements.