The Umtali High School was established in 1907 in the border town of Umtali, as a successor to St. John's Public School, a church institution. In about 1954 the school was segregated into a girls school and boys school, the latter moving to its new premises in the eastern suburbs.
In April, 1926, the first swimming gala was held. The gala was kept private as it was the first attempt. "It was a great success and there were some great races." The gala was held at the Municipal baths and all consequent galas were held in this bath until the School acquired its own swimming pool in 1956. The new bath was opened by Mr. B. B. Hill and Hill House dominated the first gala. Indeed, this House won every gala until 1968, when Livingston House became the new champions.
Swimming began with the new town swimming pool in 1926. The girls would swim on one afternoon during the week and boys on another. According to the Easter, 1926 copy of the "Borderer," "it was a great surprise to1 find such a large number of children could swim and dive." In the Christmas, 1926 copy it was said that the girls attending swimming lessons "show keenness and work hard to improve their skill." A. Norris and B. Rose were mentioned as being outstanding swimmers, and, indeed, the girls felt proud in defeating the boys in a team race during the gala which was held at the Municipal Baths in 1926. However, it must be added that the boys were confined to breast stroke! In 1927 Eileen Critten became the first girl in the town to pass the stiff life-saving test necessary to earn the Bronze Medallion. In 1929 Molly Watson, who was the diving champion, was selected as the first swimming captain. In 1931 Helen Cooper became the first Victrix Ludorum in the School's swimming history and the following year it was won by Jasmine Gordon-Forbes. Jasmine was the swimming captain in 1931 and 1932, the diving champion in 1931 and she and T. Rutherford in 19321 became the first school girls to gain the Award of Merit for Life Saving in Umtali.The galas at this time were very different from today. For the girls there were 11 events made up of handicap, beginners, trick and crocodile races as well as diving and plunging competitions. The School swimming was dominated by Mona Harrold between 1933 and 1936 and she spear-headed a side which swam in the Umtali Swimming Club Gala. However, because of the distance, the School was unable to send a team to Bulawayo to compete in the Inter-School Gala.Backstroke was introduced in 1937, freestyle having been the only style practised in the galas prior to this one. June Hodgson, who was senior girl champion in 1937 and 1938, was an outstanding back stroke swimmer. During the War the children rarely got the chance to swim and the War years copy of the "Borderer" mentions that the 1945 gala was very successful "considering there had been no swimming at all in the previous year." Also in 1945 the School competed at the Inter-Schools gala in Bulawayo and finished fourth out of seven schools competing.The next four years failed to produce any outstanding swimming although Inter-House galas were very enjoyable affairs
Swimming for the School began when the municipal bath was opened near the main park - "it was a great surprise to find such a large number of children could swim and dive." (1925 Magazine) The U.H.S. also applied for affiliation to the Royal Life Saving Society and was duly accepted. In April, 1926, "our first attempt at a swimming gala was made, and because it was our first attempt, we kept it private." (1926 Magazine) This first 'cloak and dagger' gala was won by Chancellor (boys) and Connaught (girls) and consisted of 17 events, with freestyle and breaststroke events, plus backstroke. To compare times, the boys winning time for the backstroke one length, was 31 seconds, whilst that of the girls was 551 seconds. However, the girls triumphed over the boys in a relay and hoped "to repeat it (the win) whenever called upon. "Perhaps as a result, swimming was introduced as an official sport for girls. At the first school swimming sports conducted in public, in 1927, Moffat and Milner attained the top places in the respective boys and girls competitions.
In 1954 the co-educational Umtali High School was divided into two schools. The girls used the knowledge they gained at their clubs and hobbies to raise money for several projects, the main one being the swimming pool. Thus in October, 1955, a fete was held which realised £700. In July, 1956, a second fete was arranged in the school quadrangle which brought in £1,000. Then followed a variety of fund-raising ventures and by 1957 the school had raised £4,790. The State Lottery Trustees made a grant of £4,000 and the Ministry of Education one of £1,050. Work now began on the pool which was to be 75 feet by 35 feet, and in the third term of 1958 it was officially opened by Mr. B. B. Hill, formerly headmaster of Umtali High School.
The Boys High School had moved to create a new campus located to the eatsern part of Umtali. The generosity of the Rhodesian State Lottery Trust brought the completion of the swimming pool by the end of 1956 — long before the school had dared hope. It was understood however that the installation of changing rooms would have to come later after the completion of the school hall, but a log cabin structure was built to serve meantime. The bath was fully tiled with a length of 75ft., breadth of 60ft., and a deepest point of 9ft. 6ins. The pool was officially opened on the 1st December, 1956, by Mr. B. B. Hill, a former headmaster of Umtali High School and a State Lottery Trustee. In 1957 the swimming bath surround was all but completed and permanent storm water drains constructed where necessary.
Swimming was very difficult for the boys in the first three years as the nearest pool was over two miles away, but with the completion of the pool at the end of 1956 swimming became a favourite pastime. Swimming was not introduced as a sport at first but definite rules were set up regarding the use of the pool. Only 36 boys were allowed in at a time and the pool was cleared every half hour for the next "batch" The number of non-swimmers decreased considerably and from 1958 boys began taking tests to pass the Royal Life Saving Certificate. All inter-house galas from 1956 were held in the school pool and most of the events were over a distance of 50 or 25 yards. Water polo was played for the first time at U.B.H.S. in 1959, although it was regarded, as it is today, as a hobby.
Mike Taylor became a well-known figure in the swimming world after setting Rhodesian records for the back stroke while still at school.