James “Jimmy” Smith (USA)
Honor Water Polo (1992)
FOR THE RECORD: Father of modern water polo; Designer of modern water polo ball; 1955 PAN AMERICAN GAMES Coach; Author of first water polo textbook, 1936.
Jimmy Smith, father of modern water polo, knew more rules and history of the sport than anyone before or after him. Smith introduced and wrote them, developing many of the modern rules which are used in competition today, including the use of the yellow rubberized ball adopted by FINA in 1956.
A native of Oakland, California, Jimmy began his athletic career at the University of Southern California in 1924. Elected team captain of both the swimming and water polo teams, Smith earned an undergraduate degree in Business (1928) and a Masters degree in Education (1935).
Smith used his athletic experience to begin his professional career as a swimming and water polo coach and collegiate athletic director. For over thirty years, Smith served as the athletic director of Fullerton Junior College and Fullerton High School. His water polo and swimming teams amassed 164 team championships, including five national, five AAU, and six California State Championship titles. Internationally, Smith coached the United States Pan American Water Polo Team in 1955 at the second Pan American Games in Mexico City.
Smith was a mentor to many of America’s top coaches, including Hall of Famer Monte Nitzkowski, United States National and Olympic team water polo coach. “He was the man who launched my career,” said Nitzkowski. “It was Jimmy’s guidance, leadership, and undying love for the sport that inspired me.”
Smith authored several works on water polo mechanics and coaching. His first book, Playing and Coaching Water Polo, published in 1936 and revised in 1948, was the world’s first complete textbook on the sport. Smith also produced and edited The World Encyclopedia of Water Polo, published in 1989. A member of the 1948 and 1952 United States Olympic Water Polo Committees, Smith was elected to the United States Water Polo Hall of Fame in 1976, and in 1985 received the highest honor in the United States Water Polo, the Peter Uebberoth Award, for his contributions to water polo.
Smith was an innovator and his creation of the modern day water polo ball was instrumental in the development of the above-the-water, faster-moving, ball-controlled game. From the 1912 Olympics, the leather soccer ball absorbed water and became extremely heavy, slippery and out-of-control when wet. Following the 1936 Olympic in Berlin, Jimmy developed a ball made with a cotton bladder, which later changed to nylon to improve performance, with a rubber fabric cover. The new ball was red, but by 1948 yellow was adopted for better visibility. It became an official Olympic ball in 1956, greatly increasing spectator interest.
Jimmy Smith is honored for his achievements, friendships, and trail-blazing accomplishments in the sport of water polo. As competitor, coach, and author, water polo was his life.