Gift from alumnus fosters greater diversity and inclusion on Grinnell swim and dive team

Mar. 24, 2021 — During his time on the Grinnell College swim team, Mike Daley ’72 always competed in freestyle events up until the 1972 conference meet.

That day, legendary swim coach Ray Obermiller needed someone to swim breaststroke to attempt to earn more points for the team. Although he hadn’t swum breaststroke since high school, Daley stepped up and entered the event. And while the story didn’t have the happiest ending (Grinnell finished in second place), it was an early illustration of how Daley selflessly put the team first.

Over the next 49 years, Daley contributed to the Grinnell College Swimming and Diving team as a coach, donor, recruiter, and connection point. His latest efforts will help bring more diversity into the sport while working in tandem with the team’s anti-racism action plan and efforts to enhance recruiting underserved populations.

A newspaper from 1975 shows members of the women’s swimming team. Daley served as the coach for three seasons.
A newspaper from 1975 shows members of the women’s swimming team. Daley served as the coach for three seasons.

Daley and his wife, Maureen Murphy, recently pledged $500,000 to start the Daley Swim and Dive Diversity & Inclusion Fund. The primary intention of the fund is to increase the number of Grinnell student-athletes from underrepresented groups on the team. A secondary goal is to preserve the long legacy of excellence in coaching that has been the program’s hallmark.

The gift’s direction was inspired by what was happening in the world last summer as numerous examples of racial injustice became front and center.

“I had a conversation with my wife and daughters about taking a more targeted approach to supporting the swim and dive program,” Daley says. “As we talked as a family, we felt compelled to do something on a larger scale. While Grinnell has done a good job recruiting students from diverse backgrounds, even more can be done. We can have more of an outreach presence in the aquatic community.”

Erin Hurley, head swimming and diving coach, says she sees the gift as a call to action.

“There’s an opportunity for swimming and aquatics for everyone but the accessibility doesn’t always exist for a variety of reasons,” she says. “Mike thought the Diversity and Inclusion Fund would align well with the direction the program is heading. We met and came up with some ideas for the present and future that extend beyond the boundaries of Grinnell.”

Another factor that resonated with Daley was that the team had created an anti-racism action plan. Hurley says team members decided last summer they need to do more than say Black Lives Matter. All team members provided feedback for what became a nine-page plan.

“The plan addresses what are we going to do and what things look like when we take responsibility,” Hurley says. “We eventually came to a point where we asked the team to sign on to it. We have an understanding that people are at different places, but we will have no tolerance for racist behavior, language, and action.”

Mike Daley stands in front of a Grinnell photo background at the College’s 2019 campaign event in Chicago.
Mike Daley ’72 stands in front of a Grinnell photo background at the College’s 2019 campaign event in Chicago.

Beyond a commitment to recruit diverse team members and coaches, the Diversity & Inclusion Fund will support educational and outreach initiatives, which will provide opportunities for Pioneer swimmers and divers to connect and get involved across generations. Already, several current student-athletes, along with coaches, and a few alums recently attended a virtual conference about diversity in aquatics.

Daley and Hurley say the conference sessions were enlightening and provided contacts for future interaction. One of those is a woman working on a documentary about the history of Black swimmers. “It will be an interesting film for anyone on Grinnell’s campus to see because of the historical and social justice themes,” Daley says.

As for outreach, a number of ideas have been discussed for the future, such as service learning, mentoring, holding clinics for high school swimmers, and community programs both inside and outside of Grinnell. Hurley and Daley stressed they are still in the early stages of talking about how the fund can be best utilized over the next five years.

The final component of the gift is for coaching, which is near and dear to Daley because of the mentorship and counsel he received from Coach Obermiller. Obe, as he was affectionately known, was even the best man at Daley’s wedding. In 2009, Daley made a $50,000 gift in honor of Obe to name the Daley Meet Management Room in the lower level of the Charles Benson Bear ’39 Recreation and Athletic Center Natatorium.

Coaching brilliance has continued to be a characteristic of Grinnell’s program, Daley says, noting the fund can help hire diverse and talented leaders in the future. “As there’s turnover in coaching down the road, this fund would potentially help the College support having a pool of candidates from underrepresented groups,” he says.

Daley has benefited personally and professionally from his participation in swimming as an educator, athlete, and swim and triathlon coach. He is a 3-time Ironman, with swimming as his strongest discipline. Mike also is a master’s swim coach for the Holland Community Aquatic Center in Michigan.

Mike Daley ’72 is pictured with a swimmer at the Holland Community Aquatics Center in Michigan. Daley is a master’s swim coach at the center.
Mike Daley is pictured with a swimmer at the Holland Community Aquatics Center in Michigan. Daley is a master’s swim coach at the center.

His initial coaching job was the first coach of Grinnell’s women’s swim team. He worked as a residential assistant at the College from 1974 to 1977 along with duties coaching the newly created women’s team and assisting Obermiller with the men’s squad. He hadn’t seen most of the women that he coached in the 1970s for 43 years until a virtual Swimming & Diving Reunion in November. Daley and the swimmers reunited in a breakout session.

“It was a great experience to see and talk to them,” he says. “The core of team was there. Most of us had not talked to one another since graduation. They did not know where each other lived, or what they had done professionally or personally. It made me recall what a great group of women were on those teams. Though few had competitive backgrounds, they ended up doing things competitively that most had no idea they could do.”

The reunion was just one more way Daley has promoted the swimming and diving program, Hurley says. In addition to being a tremendous financial supporter, he has engaged with other alums that swam before Hurley’s time at Grinnell.

“Mike continues to leave a mark on our program that helps us be better in so many ways,” she says. “We thank him for all the ways he’s contributed to making the swimming and diving team excel. We’re grateful for his engagement and collaboration in making our team more diverse and inclusive.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Follow the latest news about the men’s swimming and diving team and the women’s team. For additional information about Grinnell College’s diversity planning visit the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion web pages.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.