Light's out: Longtime Woodbury diving coach hangs it up
When the Woodbury swimming coach Jerry Simpson approached Rick Light nearly three decades ago to coach diving, Light began the edifice that he now leaves behind at the school.
“I’ve had the fortune to coach some of the best athletes to ever go through Woodbury high school,” Light said.
Light had a wall of fame worth of swimming and diving stars during his 25 years coaching at Woodbury. Erica Shiffler won the first diving state championship for the Royals under Light. Holly Johannsen became the first All-American diver from the school. Katie Oien won the first state swimming title for the Royals, and she holds the 100-yard backstroke record. She also earned All-American honors.
Though Light had been asked to coach diving, the former Division II college swimmer had never competed in the event himself. Light, a physics teacher at the school, simply pulled together two of the things he knows best – the laws of physics and what it takes to win at any sport.
“Gymnastics or diving, it’s all physics, so I understood theoretically what had to be done to get the dives in,” Light said.
He also knew how to compete from his days at Albert Lea High School and Winona State. Light also had previously coached swimming at Rocori and Red Wing before taking a teaching position at Woodbury.
“He understands the dynamics of what needs to be done,” said Rick Ringeisen, a long-time friend and former teammate of Light’s at Winona State.Both Ringeisen and Light came on the metro area swimming/diving coaching scene in the late 1980s. Ringeisen coaches at Lakeville South, and he looks forward to seeing his old college teammate each year at the state meet.
“He became the foremost expert on the east side of town,” Rick Ringeisen said of Light’s ability to coach diving. “With a legacy in diving. It’s probably unequal in the state of Mnesota because year after year, he would have multiple divers in the state meet.”
Light took the diving program, and eventually the swimming program, at Woodbury at ran with it. He coached many Division I athletes, one state championship team, four conference and section team champions and many state entries over his 25 years with the Royals. Heidi Lundervold, the first diver Light ever worked with, went Division I.
His time at Woodbury has included service as diving coach for both the boys and girls teams, and he served as the head coach for girls swimming girls for a spell. Many times, the Royals had a full slate of divers at the state meet.
“There were times when you were allowed four entries in the section meet, and there would be four divers from Woodbury competing in the state meet,” Ringeisen said.
When Light became eligible to retire from teaching at the end of the school year, he decided leaving coaching would logically follow. He and his wife will take cycling trip to Florida this fall, and he plans to take a break from being involved in swimming and diving. However, he does have plans to help as a diving judge in future state meets.
“I’ll miss the friendships I’ve made in the sport,” Light said.