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Quite a splash

A longtime swim coach who once trained Olympic-caliber athletes, Ron Buda came home to Auburn and built a solid program at Placer High
By: Todd Mordhorst, Journal Sports Editor
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Ron Buda claims he was a “terrible swimmer” with the Auburn Robalos more than 40 years ago. He found his niche in coaching and raised the Placer High swimming program to prominence over the past five years. In between, Buda earned national notoriety and even coached Chile’s national team. The longtime swim coach is hanging up the whistle. He announced his retirement as coach of the Hillmen earlier this month. “I’m very thankful for what swimming’s given me,” Buda said. “It’s been 40 years and I can’t put in the expertise and energy that I did a few years ago.” Buda’s prolific coaching career began as a 19-year-old with the Robalos when he was a student at Sierra College. After earning degrees in physical education and biology at Sacramento State, Buda took a teaching and coaching job at Palm Springs High, where he slowly built up a southern California swimming power. He was recognized for his achievements in 1983 when he was selected to attend the inaugural U.S. Swim Coaches’ Convention in Colorado – one of just 100 coaches across the country invited. Buda was involved with Olympic development camps for both swimming and water polo in the 1980s and worked at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles at the water polo venue. “I still have a swim cap from the captain of Spain’s gold medal team,” Buda said. After winning three section titles and coaching several All-Americans at Palm Springs, Buda made a life-changing decision in 1985, accepting an offer to move to Santiago, Chile, and coach the Chilean national swim team. He not only helped Chile improve on the international level, he met his wife Isabel. “My intention when I went to Chile was to return to the U.S. and coach on the college level,” Buda said. “But I didn’t count on finding my wife in Chile and having a child (Derek).” Buda returned to his roots. He came back to Auburn and established a competitive swim team at the Courthouse Athletic Club. During that time, he was sought out by Brad Kearns, who was new to Auburn and looking for help with his triathlon training. “When I first moved here, the resources for training were sparse,” Kearns said. “I got his name from someone and I went to see him for instruction. It came at a great time in my career and he had a real passion for (coaching). “Getting some technical tips really helped and he’s a very good coach, very enthusiastic.” Buda eventually returned to teaching and to Palm Springs. But in 2002, Buda was drawn back to Auburn, where he took the reins at Placer. He started with just two boys in the program, but the Hillmen turned in an All-American relay performance at the Sac-Joaquin Section meet in 2004. The Placer girls won their first league title in 2005 and have been strong ever since. Tad Bonner first met Buda eight years ago when his son Nathan took swim lessons from him. Since then, his twins Jessica and Tyler developed into very strong swimmers at Placer. Bonner credits Buda for much of their success. “If a kid doesn’t want to swim, Ron never pushes them,” Bonner said. “He realizes there’s other things in life. He’s a good encourager. He supported the parents and would talk about the kids’ potential. He really helped out our kids.” Buda now teaches at Glen Edwards Middle School in Lincoln, where he is coaching cross country this fall. Placer is searching for a swim coach and Buda hopes the Hillmen can find someone knowledgeable and passionate to fill his substantial shoes. “I prided myself on treating kids fairly and focusing on techniques,” Buda said. “If your technique’s correct, you only have to put in half the effort. Once you put in the full effort, the sky’s the limit.”