This is the fourth in a series of five articles profiling the Seneca Valley Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018.
DAMASCUS, Md. — Rich Dobrzanski believed his days of competitive swimming were over. Then he was contacted by a former Seneca Valley teammate.
It was 1980 and Dobrzanski, a 1977 graduate of Seneca Valley High School, was nearing the end of his three-year enlistment in the United States Army.
“I received a letter that urged me to enroll at Clarion (State College) and join the swimming team,” said Dobrzanski. “It was signed by Mark VanDyke (SV Class of 1975), who had recently graduated from Clarion. But I think Bill Miller had him write it. Bill coached me in high school and was then the head coach at Clarion.
“I was thinking of what to do after I got out of the army. I was looking to get out, for no overriding reason. That letter got me hook, line and sinker.”
Dobrzanski, who had turned in a decorated scholastic swimming career at SV, came to Clarion and became part of the school’s very successful men’s program. He helped the Golden Eagles win four consecutive conference titles and competed at the NCAA championship meet several times.
“I loved my time at Clarion,” Dobrzanski said. “It was a great experience.”
Dobrzanski, a native of Zelienople, will be inducted into the Seneca Valley Sports Hall of Fame Sept. 15.
Swimming was a family affair in the Dobrzanski home. Rich’s brother John and sisters Joanne and Yvonne all swam at Seneca Valley.
“John and Joanne are older than me, so I followed in their footsteps,” Rich said. “But it was my dad, Klemens, who got us in the pool.”
Rich Dobrzanski wasted no time making an impact for Miller as a freshman in 1973-74. He helped the Raiders place second in the WPIAL in the 200 medley relay, an effort that earned the quartet a trip to the state meet.
His sophomore year, he came into his own in his individual events, the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley. At WPIALs that year, he placed third in the breaststroke to help SV to the district team title.
The next year, with Jim Cupp as his head coach, Dobrzanski was part of three school records achieved at WPIALs — medley relay, breaststroke and IM.
Dobrzanski swam a leg on the WPIAL-winning medley relay team his senior year and capped his high school career with a fourth-straight appearance at the state meet at Penn State University.
“Leading up to a big meet, you don’t know how well you will do when you hit the water,” said Dobrzanski, “but if you’ve done the work, all the things your coach told you to do, things are probably going to work out.
“As each year approaches, you try to do better than the year before. When it happens, it’s an awesome feeling. If you can set a personal record, it’s even better.”
Dobrzanski’s success in high school attracted attention from the college ranks.
“Penn State expressed interest and my coach, Jim Cupp, wanted me to listen to them. But I had already committed to the army and I did not want to break that.”
When Dobrzanski returned to the sport three years later, he had a bit of catching up to do.
“Swimming itself was like riding a bike, but to get into the shape I needed to be in to compete in college, that took a while,” he said. “Being a 21-year old freshman helped.
“I learned a lot from swimming, like being persistent and a perfectionist. I’m still like that today, sometimes to a fault.”
The hard work and dedication he put in paid off for Dobrzanski during his swimming career. Now it is paying off again with his upcoming induction into the hall of fame.
“I did not know that Seneca Valley had a hall of fame,” he said, “but it’s an honor, for sure.”
Dobrzanski and his wife Cathy live in suburban Washington, D.C. They have a son (Joseph) and a daughter (Claire).