Swim Coach and Subject of the Film Pride
Jim Ellis' story is testimony to the power of dreams and their ability to inspire and transform
human life. His story is the subject of the recently released film, PRIDE, starring Terrence
Howard and Bernie Mac. Ellis was born in 1947 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a period
in American social and cultural history when swimming pools were strictly segregated
along racial lines and for the most part African Americans were provided very few opportunities
to swim. While the Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. Board of Education officially
ended segregation, most municipal swimming pools simply closed or privatized in the
1950's rather than allow racial mixing.
In Pittsburgh, there were two great pools, Highland Park and Kennywood. While Highland Park integrated, Kennywood closed.
It was at the Highland Park pool where Jim Ellis learned to love swimming and eventually became a lifeguard at the pool in spite
of the racial tensions that existed at the time. He swam for Winchester High School and then Cheney State, a historically Black
college near Philadelphia.
As the movie PRIDE recounts, Ellis took job in an impoverished neighborhood and founded
the P.D.R. (Philadelphia Department of Recreation) Swim Team, based at the Marcus
Foster Recreation Center in the Nicetown section of Philadelphia, in 1971.
Over the past 36 years, Ellis has been introducing competitive swimming to inner city
youth and their families. His coaching and mentoring has provided a healthy and stimulating
environment in which the young athletes can grow and compete. It also brings together
families from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Through travel to various competitions, the
program exposes swimmers to other parts of the country and different lifestyles. Today,
P.D.R. is a nationally recognized competitive swim team, the nation's best predominately
African-American team, and has become a model for urban swim programs around the
country. Over a hundred of his swimmers have attended college on swimming scholarships.
As a real-life role model, Ellis' story strikes a chord with all types of audiences. Coach Ellis
is a loveable storyteller whose inspiring true-to-life story captivates and motivates audiences
to always remember the influential power of one.
Ellis is being recognized not only for his accomplishments as a coach and mentor, but bringing his personal story to the Big
“Jim is a remarkable individual with a remarkable story to tell,” said Richard Korhammer, President of the International
Swimming Hall of Fame. “We all share Jim's dream that PRIDE will serve as an inspiration for more African Americans and
everyone who sees the film to share his love of swimming.”