John deBarbadillo, US Swim Pioneer, Dies at 91

On November 21, John deBarbadillo died in York, PA at the age of 91. DeBarbadillo was one of the last pioneers of competitive swimming in the United States. The following brief biography was written by his son:

"JOHN deBarbadillo joined the York, PA, YMCA in 1930 as an assistant in the youth department. He was a competitive gymnast, but he took an interest in the growing sport of competitive swimming. His collection of swimmers from the Y Neptune club quickly gained local prominance. Through summer courses at Springfield College, John became acquainted with Red Silvia, the Springfield coach and then with Thomas Cureton, Matt Mann and Bob Kiputh.

During the 1930's, he brought the best concepts of stroke mechanics and physiology into the York program. A friendship with Bob Hoffman, the founder of the York Barbell Club, introduced him to weight training and nutrition. He applied this knowledge to build the York Y team to national prominence by the mid 1930's. The York Y and York High School teams under John and the coaches he trained dominated competitive swimming in Pennsylvania from the 1930s through 1970, when he retired. During this period York produced dozens of high school All Americans and college swimmers and one Olympic medalist.

Following his mandatory retirement from the YMCA, he coached the York Outdoor Country Club team and then the York YWCA Bule Dolphins. He is thought to have been the oldest active swimming coach in the world.

John was a leader in organizing competitive swimming on the YMCA level. His teams participated in the first truly national YMCA championship in the early thirties. Later, York would go on to host this meet. Following his retirement from the York Y, John served for a number of years as the meet director for the Y Nationals in Fort Lauderdale. He also championed the idea of a YMCA Masters program and hosted the first YMCA Masters National Championship meet in York.

Throughout his career, John was an active swimming official at the AAU, USS and NCAA levels and served on many regional and state committees. He was scheduled to officiate a York College meet a week after his death.

John's contributions to the field of swimming instruction were equally important. He had a particular interest in teaching basic swimming skills. He had started a "learn to swim" campaign in York, which involved students from all of the city elementary schools. Handling several thousand children over a six week program was a challenge for his limited YMCA staff. To deal with the problem he broke the process down into discrete steps and developed what became known as the "station-to-station" method of teaching. It was nothing more than an assembly line method, but it was extremely effective.

Eventually this method became a national YMCA standard. John was ultimately credited with having taught 30,000 youngsters to swim (virtually everyone in York, just ask them!). The method also came in handy in World War II. John joined the Navy in 1943 and was assigned to various posts in the US and later in the Pacific where he was responsible for teaching swimming skills. (Many WW II Navy draftees had never seen water.) As the YMCA mission expanded, John became interested in teaching swimming to very young children and developed the "toddlers" program. This also became a national YMCA standard.

Perhaps John's greatest legacy was the thousands of young men and women who grew to adulthood under his mentorship. Many of them went on to careers in the YMCA (28 Yorkers went on to Springfield College) or to coaching in swimming. As a result of John's interest and inspiration in natural sciences, others became doctors, chemists, geologists archaeologists, teachers and engineers.

John's longevity enabled him to be well recognized for his achievements. He recieved virtually every YMCA award, including election to the International YMCA Hall of Fame in 1999. He is also a member of the York County and Pennsylvania Sports Halls of Fame.

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Author: Archive Team

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