Louis DeBreda Handley (USA)

Honor Coach (1967)

The information on this page was written the year of their induction.

FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1904 gold (water polo, 4x50yd freestyle relay); 1920 (First U.S. Women’s Olympic Coach); Coach of New York Women’s Swimming Association with a swimmer on every Olympic team from 1920-1936; AAU NATIONAL INDOOR AND OUTDOOR WATER POLO CHAMPIONSHIPS: on team which won 13 out of 14 championships (1898 to 1911); held position of volunteer coach with the Women’s Swimming Association from 1917 until his death in 1952; Swimming journalist; published five books on swimming and wrote the swimming section for the Encyclopedia Britannica.

With all due respect to the excellent coaching of Charlotte Epstein and the organizational skills of Elsie Viet Jennings, the guiding genius in the golden era of the New York Women’s Swimming Association was a volunteer swimming coach, the late Louis deBreda Handley–known to his friends as “Lou” and to his swimmers as “L. deB.”.  For so long as L. deB. Handley coached, WSA dominated both U.S. and World women’s swimming.

Three of his swimmers–Ethelda Bleibtrey, Martha Norelius and Aileen Riggin– are being honored with him as 1967 Swimming Hall of Fame honorees.  Two others–Gertrude Ederle and Eleanor Holm–have already been honored in 1965 and 1966.  Certainly “L. deB.” must rate as the father of U.S. women’s swimming.  He was the first women’s Olympic coach in 1924 and his Women’s Swimming Association girls, Charlotte Boyle, Helen Meany, Helen Wainwright, Ethel McGary, Lisa Lidtrom, Agnes Geraghety, to name a few, dominated between world wars as even Santa Clara cannot dominate today.

L. deB.’s genius did not rest with champions alone.  He must be rated the first and foremost swimming journalist.  No other writer ever has been bylined in the “Times”, “Tribune”, World and American at the same time.  He published five books on swimming and wrote the swimming section for the Encyclopedia Britannica.  L. deB. must rate as the foremost scholar in developing the freestyle flutter kick.  When coaches thought 4 beat the limit, especially with girls, his girls went to 6, 8, and even 10 beat kicks.  Swim “experts” throughout the world said his Gertrude Ederle would never make the Channel with her 8 beat crawl kick.  She did, the first woman to make it, and in time 2 hours faster than any man had done.

The dominant U.S. women’s swimmers from the 1920 Olympics to the 1936 Olympics credit “L. deB.” as their coach, but few know what a world-renowned athlete he was before he turned to coaching.  Born in Rome in 1874, he came to New York in 1896 as an importer and joined the Knickerbocker A. C., then the New York A. C., where he competed successfully in football, as an oarsman, water polo player, yachtsman, and swimmer.  In the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, he won gold medals in both water polo and relay swimming as a member of the winning U.S. teams.  From 1898 to 1911, L. deB. helped to win all but one of the AAU National Indoor and Outdoor Water Polo Championships.  When the murderous American softball water polo was retired in 1911 in favor of international rules, the 39 year old Handley retired with it, taking up yachting and field dog-training with new enthusiasm.

Modern pentathlon advocates might be interested in a tarnished silver cup on display at the Swimming Hall of Fame.  It is engraved: “To L. deB. Handley as the world record holder of the ‘medley race'”, which consisted of continuous quarter miles of walking, running, horseback riding, bicycle, rowing and swimming, in that order.  His time was 16:27 4/5, defeating Joe Ruddy, another fabulous name in the era.