John K. Williams, Jr. International Adapted Aquatics Award
Honoring An Individual Serving Persons With Disabilities

Established in 1994 by the Adaptive Aquatics Committee of the International Swimming Hall of Fame this award honors an individual who has made significant and substantial contributions to the field of adaptive aquatics (aquatics for persons with disabilities) as a participant, athlete, teacher, instructor, coach, organizer, administrator or media representative.  



For almost 50 years John Spannuth has been a leader and innovator in almost every field of aquatics, including Adapted Aquatics, working with and developing programs for persons with disabilities.  From his first full time job in aquatics in 1956 as Aquatics Director of the Reading, PA, YMCA, he has developed outstanding programs.  He has been the Aquatics Director and Head Swimming Coach for Phillips Petroleum Co., developing one of the best age group teams in the country; the National Aquatics Administrator for the AAU, where he organized the first Masters national competition; the International Director of the Special Olympics for Eunice Shriver in Washington, D.C.; and the director of aquatics, sports and recreation in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

John is the creator and founder of many innovative programs and conferences including: The World Swimming Coaches Clinic 1969, which is now run by the American Swimming Coaches Association; Masters Swimming (1970), where he implemented Ransom Arthur's ideas and decrees to begin a competitive fitness program for adults; Masters Synchronized Swimming (1975); National YMCA Masters Aquatic Championship (1976); Water Walking as a program (1986), which began as a water fitness program for individuals who were not great swimmers or who needed water therapy work; National Aquatics Directors Certification (1996); National Programs Award (recognizing the top programs in the country); Top Water Fitness Programs (1990); Top Aquatic Programs (1997); Top Water Exercise Program (1998); and National and State Leadership Awards (1990).

One of the major influences that helped to inspire John to include all Americans in aquatics, regardless of abilities or disabilities, was a conversation that he had with Clarence Pendelton in 1950.  Mr. Pendelton was Aquatics Director at Howard University and on the CNCA Board of Directors with John.  Mr. Pendelton convinced John that, "The average aquatic program in the United States is designed for and includes young healthy white children."  He said, "Go to the average swimming pool on a Sunday afternoon and who do you see?  Young, healthy, white children."  He asked John to help him to change this.  As a result, John developed a philosophy that everybody in the world should be in a swimming pool, including people with various disabilities.  Since then, John has gone on to promote aquatic activities for people with disabilities; Pendelton went on to be named chairman of the National Civil Rights Commission by President Reagan.

John's first experience of conducting an adapted swimming class was when he was the Aquatic Director of the Reading (PA) YMCA in 1956.

In 1977 when Louise Priest wrote a book, Adapted Aquatics, for the National Red Cross, John served on the editorial committee along with other leaders in adapted aquatics.

One of John's greatest accomplishments was to work successfully with a wide variety of national organizations at the first ever National Adapted Aquatics Summit held in Fort Lauderdale May 10-12, 2001, which John organized and directed.  As a result of that conference a five year plan for promoting Adapted Aquatics programs was established.  At the same time John helped John K. Williams, Jr. Chairperson of ISHOF's Adapted Aquatics Committee to organize and conduct a national meeting of the ISHOF committee.

Spannuth has been a speaker at various national conferences regarding adaptive aquatics over the past 50 years.  The U.S. State Department sponsored a trip to Brazil, where John conducted a national conference regarding physical education, recreation and sports for people with disabilities.  The United States national wheelchair basketball team accompanied John to give demonstrations and answer questions.

John has been on the Advisory Board of the Disability International Foundation (DIF) for a number of years.  He was a featured speaker and panel member at their national fitness and rehabilitation conference held in Longview, Washington (2003); he was awarded DIF's Sevier-McCayhill National Award for outstanding service to youth with disabilities and he was awarded a Career Achievement Award by DIF for the development of education, sports and specific population (2004).  The award recognized John's extraordinary leadership as Executive Director of the International Special Olympics, during which time, with the help of June Krauser, he wrote the general rules and sports rules for Special Olympics competition.

John first met John K. Williams, Jr. in Reading, PA in 1975 at a national aquatic conference and for the past 30 years had been one of John K.'s mentors.

Previous Award Recipients...
Dori Maxon

Elizabeth "Libby" Andersen

Anne Green

Dr. Monica Lepore

Uri Bergman


Dr. Julian Stein 

Mary Essert (El Cerrito, CA)
Mary Essert is the founder of Mary Essert and Associates, maker of many videos and tapes on water fitness, founder of "Move It or Lose It" and active with Grace Reynolds at the YMCA.

Ruth Sova (Port Washington, WI)
Ruth Sova is founder of the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA) and the Aquatic Therapy and Rehab. Institution.  She is a well-known entrepreneur and speaker around the world.

Louise Priest (Indianapolis, IN)
Louise Priest is the mother of adaptive aquatics.  She wrote the Red Cross aquatic materials and is now Director of Communications with the Jeff Ellis Organization.

Grace Reynolds (Longview, WA)
Grace Reynolds was head of "Swimming for Special Populations" for the national YMCA for years and head of "Project Aquatics" and "Project Aquatics Mainstreaming".  She is founder/president of Disability International Foundation (DIF).

John K. Williams, Jr. (San Diego, CA)
John K. Williams, Jr. graduated from San Diego State University with a B.A. degree in Therapeutic Recreation and is now an aquatic consultant.  Speaker at numerous workshops on Adaptive Aquatics, he spends his summers working at Camp Able.


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