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Fallon to be inducted into Hall of Honor

January 12, 2013
By Jim Tate , Marshall Independent

You'd figure that a swimmer would, in some fashion, find a way to spend much of his professional life around water.

Such is the case with SMSU alumnus Mike Fallon, who will be inducted into the SMSU Hall of Honor on Jan, 26.

The 1975 alumnus spent four years as a standout swimmer as part of the late Don Palm's teams that dominated what was then the Northern Intercollegiate Conference.

"I have such wonderful memories," he said of those years. "If you talk to anyone from that swim program, you can't say anything without mentioning Don Palm. He was such a huge influence on all of us. We didn't really comprehend how much until after college."

After Fallon graduated with a double major in chemistry and biology, he helped Jean Replinger get a women's swim team off the ground.

"She was the head coach, I assisted," said Fallon.

After that, Palm was instrumental in getting Fallon a position coaching a club team on an Air Force base in Anchorage, Alaska.

"Don Palm got me the job," said Fallon. "After a while, I knew I wasn't going to do well (financially) just coaching, so I was able to get a job with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game."

Fallon had always wanted to work for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, "but I couldn't get on with them." Instead, he spent a 23-year career working with fish hatcheries in Alaska.

He retired and moved to Estes Park, Colo., where he had a daunting coaching commute. Former teammate Brian Luke, still the girls and boys swim coach at powerhouse Stillwater, asked Fallon to help out with the girls program there, and Fallon did that for three years.

"I would go three weeks on and one off, that sort of thing," said Fallon about the commute.

He's been the high school coach at Estes Park, and recently completed his third year as the coach of a club team there.

"On and off, I've done a lot of coaching," he said. "I enjoy it. I look at it as a payback. When I saw the commitment and dedication that Don had, it rubbed off on all of us."

Fallon was a top swimmer at Cooper High School in Minneapolis and came to SMSU to swim. He was undefeated in the conference in the 200 butterfly for four years. He was also an outstanding individual medley swimmer and was a member of three NIC championship teams.

At the 1973 NAIA championships, he was 13th in the 400 IM, 15th in the 200 butterfly and 22nd in the 200 IM. He won seven NIC individual titles. He set conference and school records in the 400 medley and 200 butterfly and was a captain his junior year. As a team, SMSU finished 24th, 16th and 11th at the NAIA national championships his final three seasons.

When he first started his SMSU career, Bemidji was the team to beat, which is what SMSU did for the conference title his second year, an event that still ranks as one of his favorite memories.

"My fondest memories are of beating Bemidji for the conference title, in their pool, and continuing the outstanding program we had,"?he said.

The swimmers from that era are a close group, and every second or third year get together at the Lukes' in Stillwater. There's a reunion planned this summer.

"It's a great time to catch up and discover what everyone has gone off and done. I think Don would be proud of the way we've carried the competitive spirit into our professions. The camaraderie is still strong," he said.

The amount of swimming talent on the SMSU roster amazed Fallon when he arrived.

"Don was an excellent recruiter. I remember when I looked at the roster it read like a who's who in swimming in Minnesota. He put on thousands of miles recruiting, and we pushed each other (in practices)," he said.

The swimming facility was named Don Palm Natatorium in 1986. Palm died Oct. 27, 1982, at the age of 44. He coached the team from 1969 to 1979.

The newest Hall of Honor members will be inducted Jan. 26 at a noon luncheon in the Conference Center. They include Fallon; former basketball player Frank Belmont; football player Jason Jacobs; football and baseball player Rich Rhine Smith; basketball player Andrea (Schreier) Sawatzky; former head baseball coach Jim Denevan; community members and supporters of SMSU athletics Brian and Kris Gruhot and Dan Snobl; and the 1991 volleyball team.

Fallon is married to Susan, who he met in Alaska.

The team had a saying back then, and it's a feeling shared by all the swimmers during those glory years: "Swimming is Great at Southwest State."



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