Janet Momsen likes to laugh about all the old prejudices now.
That back in the late 1960s when she was head of the state AAU and then later of the State Swimming Association and was trying to get people interested in the idea of competitive high school swimming for girls, there were entities that were fearful of letting young women attempt any distance beyond 50 yards.
They were afraid it would be too much for them.
"That rule came through (limiting the girls) and the AAU voted it down," she said, "but I said 'Let it go for now, because they'll soon see that 50 yards is so easy that anyone can do it.' "
And she was right and because of her strong advocacy role, her daughter Susan Jeanne Schneider-Momsen became the first great female athlete in Menomonee Falls history earning multiple honors in swimming in the first WIAA-sponsored state championships for girls in any sport in 1970 and 1971.
It laid the groundwork for what would become a wildly popular sport for girls.
Falls pool changed everything
Schneider-Momsen remembered all that her mother did and more, as she was inducted into the Falls Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday after a life lived in the water both competing and coaching.
"The funny thing was," Schneider-Momsen told a crowd in the Falls Library after the football team's 15-14 loss to Brookfield Central, "was that though Mom got us (she and her siblings) swimming, she didn't know how to swim herself. We would go out to Lake Nagawicka and we just wanted to jump in the water, even though we couldn't swim.
"Mom made us put on those giant old orange life vests and we would splash around, and I think sometimes she even tied us to trees (laughs) to keep us out of the water. But when the Falls pool opened in 1963 she got us lessons there."
And life has never been the same since as a passion was born that has yet to diminish. Coached early by Falls legend Bob Schweiger (earlier praised by state diving champion Mike Osborne, another inductee), Schneider-Momsen thrived and swam farther and faster than anyone of the time ever thought possible for a woman.
The interesting thing about that time was that when she was in her early teens, she was so advanced, that she convinced Schweiger to let her "run" a training lane, swimming ahead and faster than the boys ("You're still loafing off the walls" was apparently a favorite training admonition of Schweiger in those days). That was effectively the start of what would become a lifetime of coaching for Schneider-Momsen.
Charms vs. letters
She too laughs about those early days. After Falls North earned the first of two back-to-back WIAA state team runner-up honors in swimming in 1970, Schneider-Momsen noted that she and her teammates didn't earn letters like the boys did.
"They gave us little charm bracelets, like we were china dolls and were going to break or something," she said. Another funny thing about that time was that Jean Oettinger, who would go on to coach multiple sports for girls in those early days, was the swim coach, though she had a little secret.
"Coach was such a good actress," said Momsen-Schneider said. "She really didn't know much about swimming. We didn't know that at the time, but she taught herself and really motivated us well."
Schneider-Momsen would earn four state medals in the 1970 and 1971 state meets and she held all types of school and Braveland Conference records when she graduated in 1972 from North. She was also heavily involved with the Dolphinettes Synchronized swim team, winning state honors with them, too.
When she moved on to UW-Eau Claire, she was again a groundbreaker as she was a member of the Blugolds first women's swim team earning a berth in the first NCAA women's NCAA swimming and diving championships in the fall of 1972.
She was inducted into the UW-Eau Claire Hall of Fame in 1988 after setting multiple school records.
From there, coaching became her calling, though she never forgot where she came from. She remembers with pride coming down with the Marshfield team to the WIAA state boys swim meet in 1977 as a student/teacher and seeing Falls divers, including Osborne, go one through four.
She has coached all kinds of swim teams in the intervening years including high school, synchronized and Paralympic. She was named Illinois girls coach of the year in 1981 and served as head coach of the U.S. Paralympic team from 2001-2008, working with athletes who won nine national championships, earned 18 world rankings and set 27 American records.
And she continues to challenge herself, as the day after the Falls induction ceremony, she was to begin advanced classes in teaching scuba.
And all that because her mother wanted to make sure that her children could have safe clean fun in the water and also get a fair shake.
"Menomonee Falls (and her mom) were the reasons that all this came about," she said as she started to tear up in gratitude, "because it created a love of swimming and sport that has continued and I hope will continue for the rest of my life."
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