ISHOF Celebrate Black History Month ~ A Tribute to Coach Jim Ellis

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 2007 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 was recognized by ISHOF not only for his accomplishments as a coach and mentor, but bringing his personal story to the Big
Screen. “Jim is a remarkable individual with a remarkable story to tell,” said 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.”

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