Tom Prior built the Blugold swim program into a conference and national powerhouse during a three-decade period beginning in 1969.
As the men's swim coach from 1969 to 1999, Prior's teams won 25 of 30 conference championships and placed among the top 10 at the national meet 24 of those years. At one point, the Blugolds won 19 consecutive Wisconsin State University Conference crowns. Three times the team was the NAIA national runner-up (1978, 1979 and 1988) and 15 times achieved a top five finish despite going against scholarship competition without the same benefit. .His men's teams produced a 234-49 dual meet record (.826 winning percentage) and won 243 gold medals at the conference championships.
In 21 seasons as the women's coach, Prior's teams won 19 conference championships including 18 straight at one point. His powerhouse 1983, 1987 and 1988 teams also claimed the NAIA national championship. During a 14-year stretch, Blugold teams never placed lower than fifth in the women's NAIA national meet. His women's teams produced a 132-25-1 dual meet record (.838 winning percentage) and won 201 gold medals at the conference championships.
During Prior's tenure, 140 men and 102 women earned All-American distinction, several as many as four times. He mentored 35 national champions. Twenty-eight of his swimmers and one assistant coach previously were inducted into the Blugold Hall of Fame which this year will add two more swimmers.
Prior earned a level five classification, the highest level attainable, from the American Swim Coaches Association (ASCA) and was awarded the two highest awards of Master Coach and Distinguished Coach from the ASCA. He was the men's NAIA Coach of the Year in 1976 and both the men's and women's NAIA Coach of the Year in 1987. He was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 1993 and the NAIA District 14 Hall of Fame in 1994. He served as president of the NAIA Swim Coaches Association during the 1991-92 academic year after stints as secretary and vice-president. He was a six-year member of the rules and sites committee and was chair of the scholar-athlete committee from 1983 to 1993.
Prior was the principle lecturer for an Olympic Solidarity Swim Coaches Clinic in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in July, 1990. He returned there the next summer and served as swim coach for the Papua New Guinea National Team which participated in the South Pacific Games. Two of his relay teams won a gold medal with a South Pacific Games record and another individual also won a gold medal.
Prior gained a great deal of local notoriety by guiding annual trips to Hawaii for students, faculty, staff and community members. He was honored by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) with a 30-year award for officiating high school meets. He was one of five founding members of Chippewa Valley Swimming Inc. which provided $25,000 worth of timing display boards, began the Fairfax Pool summer swim meet and supported the swim programs at the Eau Claire YMCA, North and Memorial High Schools.
Prior and his wife Becky, who was a medical technologist for 30 years at Luther Hospital in Eau Claire and a microbiology teacher at Chippewa Valley Technical College, are the parents of two daughters-Heather Bohl and Laura-and have one granddaughter.
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