Betsi Hugh Keeps Her Team in a Festival Mood

A working knowledge of U.S. geography isn’t needed at the Olympic Festival. Easterners swim for the West team. Southerners find themselves assigned to the North squad. The Mason-Dixon Line suddenly means nothing here. The Continental Divide ceases to exist.

All of this explains why Betsi Hugh, born and raised in Huntington Beach, as Californian as smog checks, finds herself the captain of the South women’s team.

It is an unexpected honor, especially because Hugh has yet to set foot in any state east of the Mississippi River and south of Kentucky.

“But my parents are from Texas,” she said.


Doesn’t matter. Hugh, 18, is here because her 1989 times in the individual medleys, the butterfly and freestyle events dictated that she be invited. As for her appointment as team captain, she can thank Don Wagner, her coach at Fullerton Aquatics and--surprise--an assistant with the South team.

“I drafted her because I felt that she could help us,” Wagner said. “She’s a hard worker, a real big team person. She’s very upbeat, a very positive person.”

To prove the point, Wagner slightly tilted his head. There on his right cheek were two strips of green, courtesy of Hugh. Wagner had arrived at the Oklahoma City Community College pool without the proper war paint (green is the South’s team color), so Hugh dabbed him with a bit of dyed zinc oxide.

Hugh also organized a shopping spree for South swimmers, who raided area dime stores in search of kazoos, green sunglasses, green lipstick, green headbands and green markers for green signs. If you didn’t know better, you would have thought you’d stumbled upon a St. Patrick’s Day pool party.


In truth, that’s how Hugh has treated the Festival, as a celebration rather than a competition--and all with the approval of Wagner.

She began her stay here with a seventh-place finish in the 100-meter butterfly Tuesday evening. The next night she finished fifth in the 200-meter butterfly and ninth in the 200-meter IM.

That’s OK. Hugh isn’t here to win, but to enjoy. The emphasis on split times and such comes later this month in Los Angeles, when many of these same swimmers assemble for the Senior Nationals at USC. At the moment, Hugh’s training program doesn’t lend itself to record-breaking moments.

“When you swim unrested and unshaved, you’ve got to swim your own race,” she said.


Hugh did and her times reflected it. But that will change. “She’ll be considerably faster (at the Nationals),” Wagner said.

Because she had completed her Festival limit of three individual events, Hugh spent Thursday night as a cheerleader. She didn’t seem to mind. If anything, she reveled in the role as captain and motivator.

“I’m really glad I came,” Hugh said. “You learn that you can come together as a team.

“I mean, I had never talked to these people in my life.”


Now she has, enough so to trade addresses and phone numbers with her temporary teammates. So what if she returns home without a medal? She came here for more important reasons.

“As an experience,” she said.

Hugh is headed for Arizona State this fall, marking the first time in almost two years that she won’t be able to claim the celebrated and Stanford-bound Janet Evans as a teammate. The two have known each other for years, though, most recently as Fullerton Aquatics members. Now they begin a Pac-10 rivalry of sorts.

Hugh is proud of the association. Better yet, she uses Evans as an inspiration.


“Seeing somebody who can swim that fast means anyone can do it,” Hugh said.

Said Wagner: “Janet Evans is Janet Evans. She’s got three world records because she’s earned them. But there are other kids in the pool who don’t feel that they should take a back seat. They’re going to achieve their highest level.”

That would be Hugh’s plan. And so what if it didn’t happen this week at the Festival? That wasn’t the point. This one was for fun. And the lost art of kazoo playing.