Legendary Norcross swimmer headed for another hall of fame

Mary Ellen Warta

Mary Ellen Warta

A year after entering the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame, Mary Ellen Blanchard Warta will receive another honor.

The former Norcross swimmer is one of five people in the Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame's Class of 2012, the second year of induction for the new organization. Two-time Olympian Doug Gjertsen, now a coach with SwimAtlanta, Olympic gold medal diver Jennifer Chandler Stevenson and legendary college coaches Herb McAuley of Georgia Tech and Jack Bauerle of Georgia join her in this year's group, which will be honored Saturday night with a banquet at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

"I am so excited to be inducted into the Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame," Warta said. "What a thrill to have your athletic career forever marked with such an induction and to be included with this year's class is an honor. Swimming has been a sport that continues to be a part of my life and now my family's. I will be forever thankful for what athletics taught me as a young person, strength and determination."

Warta broke two American records in the breaststroke, one that stood for 10 years, as a high school sophomore. She later swam on four NCAA championship teams at Stanford.

Gjertsen, a Dunwoody native, also has local ties. He trained with SwimAtlanta for years, beginning as an 8-year-old, and has coached at the club's Georgia Tech facility for 15 years.

"I know an incredible amount of time has gone into establishing the Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame and I am proud to have been chosen as an inductee in its second year," Gjertsen said. "The state of Georgia has an amazing history of legendary coaches, athletes and individuals associated with aquatic sports. I look forward to seeing this hall of fame grow and become an example for other states to follow."

The new hall of fame began with last year's inaugural class of Steve Lundquist, Pete Higgins, Moose Moss, Sheila Taormina and Reid Patterson. It is designed to honor all aquatic athletes from Georgia, not just swimmers.

A number of people pushed the project forward in recent years, including longtime Gwinnett resident and SwimAtlanta founder Chris Davis. Davis mainly assists with fundraising now that the organization has started, while Fred Stokes has taken over operations.

"So many people have done so many amazing things in Georgia," Davis said. "(The induction) is pretty exciting. I didn't realize what an impact it would have on people. The people inducted last year, you could see the emotion and the appreciation they had for it. It was very gratifying to see the hall of fame come to fruition."