By Jason Haddix
The number 281 by itself has no particular meaning. Combine it with Ed Aston and the Cheshire (Connecticut) High School girls swimming team and you have the record for the most consecutive dual- meet wins in high school swimming. It is the second longest streak by any high school girls athletic team behind Amherst (New York) Sweet Home High School volleyball team’s 292 straight wins.
Aston’s accomplishments were honored with his induction into the National High School Hall of Fame June 27 during the NFHS Summer Meeting in Denver, Colorado. He joined four other coaches who were inducted in the 2013 class.
“It really is (overwhelming),” Aston said. “When you consider I am the fifth from Connecticut who got into this hall of fame and third swim coach in the country, I am like, ‘wow, it is quite impressive.’”
Aston coached the Cheshire girls team for 37 years and the boys for 33, and both found tremendous success under his leadership. They combined for an 824-68-1 record and 43 Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference state championships.
With all of his accomplishments, Aston said the greatest was the consecutive win streak because of its longevity and the number of student-athletes involved with setting it.
“When you look at something like that and see how much it affected the number of kids that it did, you sit back and realize how great this thing was,” Aston said. “The night we broke the record, a number of alumni who were an important part of that came back to be there for it, so many were able to share in it.”
A large contingent of Cheshire’s swimming alumni returned to their former home pool on October 15, 2007, to cheer on the current flock of Ram swimmers. One of the girls to make history that night, Michaela Morr, who swam for Aston from 2004 to 2007, described the atmosphere as being full of energy, as the team earned consecutive win No. 235 against Branford (Connecticut) High School.
“They (alumni) were so into it and when you look at it, you say, ‘something was done right here,’” Aston said. “To have them embrace you afterwards and tell you how much it meant to them, really it was overwhelming.”
While that night made him proud of the accomplishments the team piled up over the years, Aston was quick to point out that the streak and the championships were not about him, but about the team and the swimmers on it.
With Cheshire’s dominance in the pool, few questioned if it would break the record. The question was how long Aston would continue coaching. He had already stepped down from the boys team and cut back to part-time summer employment while spending winters in Florida.
“A couple of parents asked me (to stay on because) I started with their kids and they wanted to see it through their senior year, and the win streak was still going on,” Aston said. “If the win streak would have ended earlier I definitely would have stopped.”
He continued coaching until 2011. That would also be the end of the streak, as Cheshire fell to Glastonbury (Connecticut) High School on October 6.
For there to be an end, there must be a beginning and for Aston and the record-setting Cheshire Rams it was in 1974 when he started the boys swimming team — a year later, the girls. It was not long before the Rams became a force in the pool on both the boys and girls sides.
Three years after each program began, they stood atop of the podium as state championship teams — boys (1977) and girls (1978).
“I like to think it was a perfect storm,” Aston said. “They (swimmers) were willing to listen to what I had to say and they bought into the program, and we had great support from the parents — it just all worked out.”
Before the high school program, Aston started a “feeder system” by establishing both a summer and a winter community swim club. That, in a sense built the foundation of the Cheshire swimming powerhouse.
“His ability to motivate us, train us, get us to work hard and compete were some of his greatest attributes,” Morr said. “By the time I had him as a coach, he had been on the winning streak for 20 years. He had learned how to work with high school student-athletes.”
Morr began swimming at the age of 12 for a neighboring community’s club team. She was just one in a long line of young swimmers in the Cheshire area who wanted to be part of the swimming machine that became known as “Aston’s Army.”
“The reputation of the high school team definitely led me to trying out for it,” she said. “Otherwise, I would have stayed with the club team.”
Morr was part of the team that broke the previous record of 234, held by Elkhart (Indiana) Central High School, and had the honor of changing the No. 4 with a five on the running win total display at the team’s home pool.
“It was an honor,” Morr said. “I know a lot of people put work into that. It all goes back to Ed, but a lot of girls were part of that record too. To be able to represent them and put up that number meant a lot to me. It was a highlight of my entire swim career.”
She went on to be a standout on the Boston College swim team, and added that Aston taught her how to motivate herself. That motivation led to developing a work ethic that she said was a contributing factor in her becoming a Boston College record holder in three swimming events, as well as graduating cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy and sociology and heading to law school.
“I definitely think that a lot of my work ethic that is necessary to be able to get through this part in my life came from back then when I had to motivate myself to get into a pool everyday and work as hard as I can,” Morr said.
Aston said he wanted to be more than a swim coach to his swim team members and with comments like that, he was and has had lasting effects on the swimmers.
“It is very rewarding to hear her say that,” he said.
Aston said being a coach is more than just teaching the techniques of a particular sport. It is about being an extension of the classroom and providing the student-athletes tools they can take with them and use into their adult years. He added that it is also about just being there for them when needed.
“They always knew they had someone they could talk to and confide in,” Aston said. “They would tell me things that I know they would not tell their parents. But, they believed in me.”
That trust transcended being just personal – it also concerned his philosophy about swimming and preparing for competition. Aston said he worked hard at coaching and he believes that his swimmers saw that and it pushed them to work hard.
“The kids saw how much was put into that and they were going to respond to it,” Aston said. “We were going to try and outwork everybody.”
Aston was a believer in practice, so much so that he scheduled his meets for the evening in order to allow the team to practice after school, before the meet. He said the team would practice six or seven days a week.
“People used to look at me like I was crazy,” he said. “I think in the long run, it paid off.”
About the Author: Jason Haddix is a 2013 spring/summer intern in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department. He is a senior at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis studying journalism and medical imaging.