McAdoo Clan

This McAdoo genealogy blog has been created to share family information. It will be used to record genealogy data as well as to communicate family news.

My Photo
Location: Metuchen, New Jersey, United States

Friday, June 16, 2006

"Jimmy" Update

I have just completed writing the manuscript for the book about my dad. It was a demanding effort, but a wonderful experience. Now, begin the tasks of editing, proofreading, and publishing. I plan to include 20-25 pictures that I believe will add interest. I would like to share my concluding thoughts with you.

The last time I saw him
he was stooped and puffy, moving
with slow deliberate care—
but he went for a ride in my MG Midget,
muttered a curse in my ear,
and kissed me with an exuberant joy
as the love which binds him to us
even now.

An excerpt from the poem, Jimmy, by William D. Ehrhart, Swarthmore ‘73
(The complete poem is in Chapter 4)

I have learned many things about my dad during the course of writing this book. Most of the discoveries have been about his coaching career and almost all of the input has come from his former swimmers at Swarthmore College. I have compared the comments I have received during the past year with letters and notes sent to Jimmy at the time of his retirement dinner in 1973. A number of swimmers wrote in 1973 and again recently. I am simply amazed at how similar each of their memories is of Jimmy, then and now, even after thirty-three years. I am also struck by comments about Jimmy’s ability to relate to swimmers on a personal level, his humor, and his inspiration which encouraged team spirit, loyalty, and individual accomplishment. I was particularly touched when I read these comments from Alden Bennett ’40. “I swam for him at Swarthmore during the winters of 1938-39 and 1939-40. I was certainly the worst 440-yard swimmer he had during that time, maybe during his whole coaching career. I didn't really deserve my nickname then of "a-point-a-meet Bennett". (Maybe they averaged in the 5 points I won (just once, by default) when the other team had no entry in the 440.)But, God bless him, he never gave up on me. Near the end of our first season together, he took me aside and said, "Alden, I think your problem is that you let yourself get too far behind too soon in the race." So we tried a new strategy for me at the next meet, - keeping up with the leaders. The 440 took 17 and 3/5 laps in Swarthmore's 25-yard pool. I stayed up with them for the first 12 laps and then had to quit and upchuck in the scuppers. Jimmy congratulated me as if I had won the race. What a wonderful guy! And how often I've thought of him when trying to encourage younger colleagues to get up to speed.”

Standing out among all of his accomplishments was Jimmy’s unique ability as a coach to provide the competitive and supportive environment in which both average and talented swimmers somehow became motivated to perform their best in competition. Season after season, from 1937-’38 to 1971-’72, the records show that his swimmers exceeded even their own expectations and capabilities. Don Cassidy ’75 recalled the locker room pep talk Jimmy gave before the first meet of the 1971-72 season against a powerful Johns Hopkins team. He had this to say, “Before the swim meet, Jimmy called us into the locker room for a Pep Talk. He told us that the Hopkins coach had called Jimmy the week before to find out what kind of team we had. Jimmy told the coach, "Well, you know how we always are. We have some of the old guys back and some new guys, but I'm sure that you don't have anything to worry about." Jimmy told us this with a characteristic twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face. He told us to "go out there and have fun." And not to worry about his Tall Tale, because Hopkins was so deep in talent that the best we could do was "give them a good scare." Just as we all finished chuckling about Jimmy's practical joke, he startled us by turning up the volume and saying, "Okay, boys, now go out there and knock their jocks off!!" Well, my heart pounded.” I believe creating that type of environment happens when a coach loves his job and the athletes he coaches – and they respond.

Jimmy understood that athletics was not the reason student athletes went to Swarthmore and he accepted that fact. Kevin Quigley ’74 summed it up very well when he wrote, “Jimmy was one of the most memorable individuals I met during my time at Swarthmore. Besides his great enthusiasm, I remember his unwavering and flexible support. As you probably know, for many of us swimming wasn’t the reason why we went to Swarthmore. So, seminars, labs, or other activities often took priority over practice (and sometimes meets!). That did not seem to faze Jimmy at all, which makes him a lot bigger man in my eyes than almost any other coach I’ve ever encountered. Jimmy wanted to work with any of us who showed up, when we could show up. He understood that swimming is just one of many things in life, and you would get back from it what you put into it.”

I think another contributing factor to Jimmy’s success was that he was an anomaly at Swarthmore. He was a street kid from Germantown with little formal education. He was a very heavy drinker and a hell-raiser. He had a difficult time earning a living as a coach, so it became a part-time endeavor. He resisted authority and marched to his own tune. In short, he was different and he was a character and he was a survivor. I think his swimmers soon learned that Jimmy was not like the other faculty and perhaps not like most other swimming coaches. Even with all his flaws, he was embraced by his teams and they performed for him to the best of their abilities. John Ridland ’53 described Jimmy at one of his most vulnerable moments in this excerpt from his poem, Jimmy McAdoo Swims Back Across the Styx. (The complete poem is in Chapter 4).

One fucked-up, faraway
Home-meet Saturday
You rolled in half-seas-over,
Tie cockeyed, eyes half-shut.
We could’ve had your butt
If we’d have raised a fuss,
But who’d throw that crap at you?
Potter and Snyder sat you
Down in the offstage office
To keep you out of hearing––
Spluttering lavish praise,
Abject apologies––
And ran the team themselves.
I think we even won,
Though if we didn’t––so?

I have also learned much about my McAdoo ancestors from the genealogy research I have been conducting. I have a clearer understanding of our heritage and it has helped me better appreciate my dad’s life. We McAdoo’s come from humble Irish roots. My great great grandfather, William McAdoo immigrated to Philadelphia about 1850 and worked as a laborer and later as a teamster. My great grandfather, James worked at the iron furnaces and in the quarries of the Great Chester Valley, and later as a farmer. My grandfather, Jim was a steamfitter. My dad, Jimmy made a living over the years as a clerk, a bartender, and a truck dispatcher, but he will always be remembered as a swimming coach.

I have learned that we do not have to be constrained by our background to be successful and that life is not necessarily about achieving material things or in the case of coaching, about wins and losses. My dad’s life has shown me that success can mean much more and it can be achieved in spite of our human frailties.

There are some who drift out in the deserts of doubt,
And some who in brutishness wallow;
There are others, I know, who in piety go
Because of a Heaven to follow.
But to labour with zest, and to give of your best,
For the sweetness and joy of the giving;
To help folks along with a hand and a song;
Why, there’s the real sunshine of living.

Carry on! Carry on!
Fight the good fight and true;
Believe in your mission, greet life with a cheer;
There’s big work to do, and that’s why you are here.
Carry on! Carry on!
Let the world be the better for you;
And at last when you die, let this be you cry;
Carry on, my soul! Carry on!

An excerpt from the poem, Carry On, by Robert Service