Mel Roberts retired as swim coach at Tooele High School two years ago, but honors continue to pour in for the man who mentored the Buffaloes for 49 years.
The Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation inducted him into its 2019 Distinguished Coaches Hall of Honor at a banquet at Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Monday night.
“The most gratifying thing that I have received from coaching is when someone comes into my office and says ‘thank you for the things you taught me. It meant so much in my life,’” Roberts said in a video presentation at the event.
About 70 of Roberts’ associates, including former University of Utah swim teammates, former THS swimmers, family and friends celebrated with him at the banquet.
Just last year Roberts was honored by the Utah High School Activities Association. He also was inducted into the Utah Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Hall of Fame in 2010.
Monday’s honor was extra special for the legendary swim coach.
“I looked at that group of people honored and thought, wow, this is a pretty good honor,” Roberts said.
Other coaches inducted into the Hall of Honor included longtime high school football coaches Larry Wall of Bountiful High School and Dave Peck of Bingham High School, former Morgan High School basketball coach Jim Wiscombe, Delta wrestling coach Ladd Holman and Richfield track and field coach Bryan Griffin. Also honored in separate categories were former Weber State football coach Dave Arslanian and Layton High School coach and administrator Brad Hawkins.
The accomplishments of each coach were presented at the banquet.
In his 49-year tenure from 1969 to 2017, Roberts coached his teams to 11 state championships and 43 region titles. He compiled more than 1,000 combined victories, with a 549-103 record in boys meets and a 463-96 record in girls meets for an overall winning percentage of .784.
Charlie Roberts swam for the Buffaloes and was coached by his older brother.
“When you reflect on Mel’s career, it’s impossible to calculate the number of lives he positively impacted,” Charlie Roberts said.
“With all the wins, championship trophies, All-Americans, honors, and awards, what he values most are the individual relationships he developed with his swimmers,” Charlie Roberts said. “Few things bring him greater joy than a former swimmer sending him a letter expressing their appreciation.”
Mel Roberts thanked Sam Cox who helped him as an assistant at THS for 34 years. He thanked his high school coach Leigh Pratt and college coach Don Reddish.
Roberts named his first son Don Leigh after those two coaches, Charlie Roberts said.
“I tried to teach the members of my team the things I learned from my coaches and other coaches who shared information with me,” Mel Roberts said.
The former coach said he had a no-cut policy as part of his program, and preached good sportsmanship.
“I would tell my team that the people who they swim or dive against are competitors just like them and not their enemies,” Roberts said. “I taught them to win graciously and control their emotions. When setbacks occur they should get up, make changes and try again. I taught them how to budget their time and how to set goals. I taught them how to talk without swearing. If you feel like you’ve got something to say and it involves swear words and you can’t control it, go underwater and say whatever you want.”
Mel Roberts said he never gave up on anyone who wanted to be a part of the team.
“Terry was a freshman. His father came to me and asked me if I could find a spot for him on the team. For two weeks I tried unsuccessfully to work with him on competitive swimming, but he just didn’t want to swim,” Roberts said. “He was coordinated and well built so I suggested he become a diver. He became a three-time state champion and an All-American diver at BYU.”
Mel Roberts said USHOFF had him tape his banquet presentation about four weeks ago.
“They had me do that video, but I messed up,” he said. “I forgot to mention my wife Gwen. I had written it down and had gone through it several times and knew what I wanted to say, but it wasn’t on the video.”
Charlie Roberts said his older brother was anguished when he forgot to thank his wife Gwen in the presentation.
“He just got nervous. Gwen has been an incredible stalwart through all those years,” Charlie Roberts said.
She was the one behind the scenes sweating the details before every home meet and at the computer making sure every event was recorded properly.
“When things didn’t go as planned with the team, Gwen was always there helping Mel bring things into proper perspective and boosting his spirit,” Charlie Roberts said.
Other Tooele County athletes and coaches have been honored by USHOFF. They include: Grantsville’s Sterling Anderson won the same award in 1973, Tooele’s Sterling Harris in 1974, Leigh Pratt in 1983, Tooele’s Clarke Johnsen in 1989, Tooele’s Dean Stringham in 1993, Dugway’s George Bruce in 1999, Tooele’s Gary Alverson in 2010, Grantsville’s Don Wayne Nelson and Tooele’s Paul Dart in 2011, and Tooele’s Kathy Taylor in 2014.
Tooele’s Angelo Cerroni received Distinguished Service honors in 2001, and Gransville’s Larry Harrison received the same honor in 2012.
Erda’s Amy Palmer, who finished in 8th-place in the hammer throw at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. Ron Rydalch, who played football at THS, U of U, and for the Chicago Bears was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year.