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About The Production
A smart, motivated twenty-something African-American man, Jim Ellis had been to college and traveled around the world; but when he came to Philadelphia in the 1970s in search of a teaching job, he found only closed doors. In the eyes of the city's employers, Ellis' passion for education and his unique experience as a college-level competitive swimmer didn't qualify him for a position. Faced with no other options, Ellis grudgingly accepted work closing down the operations at Marcus Foster, a city recreational center in the poverty-stricken Nicetown neighborhood, not expecting that the dead-end job would actually lead him to his true calling: teaching students how to swim.

"I initially started the program for young Afro-American men,” Ellis says, "trying to provide good role models for them, good positive situations where they could grow, and exposing them to other things in the community – showing them another side of the planet, so to speak. I was just trying to put back into the community, and swimming was the vehicle that I was comfortable with.”

Thirty-five years later, Ellis is still teaching Nicetown kids how to swim. During that time, Marcus Foster has become an extracurricular outlet for kids throughout the neighborhood, with Ellis instilling pride in his young athletes and inspiring most of them to seek college educations and professional careers. It's a remarkable feat in a community that, like many inner-city neighborhoods in the 70s, was suffering from a crumbling economy and municipal negligence. Ellis says, "I never looked at it as saving troubled kids. I felt that I was just offering something a little different, a bit more untraditional, as we like to say.” 

As one of many teachers and coaches in the Philadelphia school system, Ellis initially wasn't sure why writer Kevin Michael Smith singled him out. "I got a call about three years ago from Kevin Michael Smith who asked me if he could write a story on my life as a coach,” Ellis says. "There wasn't any point where I felt this was a story to be told, because my personal goal was to try to put an athlete on the U.S. Olympic Team. I felt that no one wanted to hear about our journey until we did something that was the ultimate.”

Smith and the film's team of writers, producers and studio executives respectfully disagreed. In Ellis' decades of coaching and teaching, they saw a different kind of story. Director Sunu Gonera says, "Here we find a guy with a dream who sets about starting this swim team. He sees this as an opportunity to build something, to give these kids hope, direction, something to believe in, and in turn finds hope himself.”

"When I first met Jim just before we started shooting, I could see right away why he's achieved what he has,” says producer Paul Hall. "He's the coach everybody wishes they had: part father figure, part best friend. And he's worked for years behind the scenes without any desire for recognition. That's the beauty of his story. It reminds us that there are heroes everywhere we look.”

Ellis is typically modest about his accomplishments. "The biggest thing is I had a dream and I worked towards it,” Ellis says. "I didn't know how big it was when I started. I didn't know I would be doing it this long, but I stuck to it. I did the reading and tried to educate myself as much as possible. I saw what it took to get to where I wanted to go and set out a plan. You have to be willing to commit, because there are no shortcuts.”

Smith and the filmmaking team surveyed the three-and-a-half decades of Ellis' coaching career and decided to focus on his early years, when the swimming program's fate was uncertain and the P.D.R. swim team first began competing. Hall says, "This period was the most exciting because everything was just beginning. If it weren't for Jim's determination, the program would never have survived. His efforts could have jus


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