About this series
Coming up with a short list and then ranking the 10 greatest athletes in the history of each YAIAA high school was a daunting task. For sure, there is no scientific approach. But after two years of interviews, research and roundtable discussions, we are presenting as fair an attempt as possible to create an objective list on a decidedly subjective topic.
OUR CRITERIA: 1. The only accomplishments considered were those achieved while competing in high school varsity athletics. If an athlete earned a college scholarship, that was also factored in. 2. Accomplishments outside the setting of high school varsity sports and accomplishments after high school were not taken into account. 3. Athletes who attended more than one local high school were only evaluated at the school where they had the most varsity success. 4. Female athletes were rated by how they dominated their own sports not how they would fare going head-to-head against male athletes.

Your turn
If you d like to comment or offer a differing opinion on this list, we d love to hear from you. Each Sunday, we ll present your feedback on opinions on page 2 of the York Sunday News sports section - The Rundown. E-mail your thoughts to Sports Editor Chris Otto at cotto@ydr.com or mail them to: Greatest Athletes, c/o Chris Otto, 1891 Loucks Road, York 17408.

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The one story -- and perhaps The Story -- that provides the most clarity into Bill Schmidt the swimmer happened in his senior year of high school.

He took the starting blocks at the regional championships. The race started. The 17-year-old slipped and fell into the water.

No push off. No graceful, aerodynamic dive into the water. Just freefall and a splash.

Oh, Schmidt still won the race.

And that's not the most remarkable part about the story. The remarkable part came in the fact he beat his nearest competitor by five seconds.

He really was that good.

Great swimmers, Olympians, medal winners, they all came out of York County. But Schmidt accomplished more in high school than any swimmer before him or after.

He was a flash of brilliance. From 1940-42, he anchored two state championship swimming teams. The unquestioned star in a pool filled with the state's finest swimmers, he won three individual state titles and one relay state title.

He was the best high school swimmer in his premier event for two entire seasons. He also was the best YMCA swimmer in the nation in the same event. The three-man 150-yard relay team also held the national scholastic and "Y" marks -- even though the lineup changed. Schmidt was the constant.

He understood the sport in a way few teenagers could, and he became an innovator. The butterfly was not yet an event, and Schmidt -- like the elite swimmers of the time -- swam butterfly-style while competing in the breaststroke. It was legal at the time, and no one in the state could catch him. Check that, no one in the nation could match him.

He broke national records so often, it became commonplace. On one occasion in his senior year, he set a national record -- only to realize the school did not have the minimum number of timers needed to make the record official.

No problem. No big outcry in the newspapers. Schmidt broke his own national mark days later.

Consider his level of dominance. He broke his own national scholastic mark in the 100 breast and helped his relay team do the same during the same meet. He competed in national swim meets against college champs and beat most of them.

One of his high school teammates was sophomore Bob Sohl, a talented young swimmer The Daily Gazette took to calling "little." Schmidt never lost to him.

Sohl, of course, would go on to win the bronze medal in the 200 breast at the 1948 Olympics.

In a cruel twist of fate, Schmidt never made it to the Olympics.

World War II wiped out the 1944 Games and what could have been Schmidt's athletic peak. Schmidt held on, swimming competitively first for Mercersburg Academy and then Temple University. But he suffered from the lingering effects of a cold at the 1948 U.S. Olympic Trials.

He finished fifth. The top three finishers qualified for the Summer Games.

"It was disappointing, but my wife was pregnant, and I'm not sure how it would have worked out if I had qualified for the Olympics," Schmidt told the Daily Record in 1988. "At the time, I felt I had gotten everything out of swimming except going to the Olympics.

"I was wrong. I have gained so many valuable and enjoyable experiences since then that it no longer seems that important."

It's a credit to Schmidt that his life's accomplishments became more impressive after high school. He returned to William Penn as an assistant swimming coach in 1955, and he became the head coach in 1964. He coached 31 All-America swimmers, many of whom never knew about their coach's athletic accomplishments.

"Keep in mind my dad, my uncle, my whole family -- they were swimmers," 1969 William Penn graduate Tom Schaeberle said. "When he came back to the (York YMCA) in the '50s, there was an aura about him. But he never said anything. He was humble. I can't imagine he told anyone how good he was."

He became a father figure for the next generation of swimmers, implementing an interval-style training program in 1955 -- years before many high school coaches had even heard about the technique.

"I want to say Bill was laid-back, but he wasn't quite that," said 1966 William Penn graduate Ron Brillhart, who went on to swim at Wisconsin and the University of Maryland. "He could yell, and he wouldn't put up with a lot of garbage, but he knew how to motivate. You respected him.

"Other people got a lot of credit for York High's swimming success, but one factor throughout the years always seemed to be Bill Schmidt. He got us where we wanted to go. I look at myself. I couldn't have paid to go to school. He made it happen."

Up until his final days, Schmidt remained a coach and a teacher. He remained at the YMCA after he left William Penn, and he came out of retirement to help Schaeberle start the West York swimming program.

He died at age 73, collapsing after he completed his morning swim at the YMCA.

jseip@ydr.com; 771-2025