SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S main claim to uniqueness is that it is a contemporary magazine. As such it reflects the revolution that has made sport a larger part of life and at the same time has made life itself larger. Bowling, for instance, as you will see when you step into your 1960-style neighborhood establishment, is no longer what it used to be; it has attracted a new class of people to its modern lanes. But I can think of few better examples of this revolution than the one Matt Mann suggests in this issue as he begins (abetted by his granddaughter Marilyn and Artist Ed Vebell) a series of lessons on how to teach a child to swim.
When the century opened, the greatest virtue in learning to swim was that sooner or later in a human life that might be the only means of saving one. But as Mann points out, today swimming is also a prerequisite to a growing list of contemporary joys like water skiing, skin-diving, wave riding and underwater photography. It is also the only safe gateway to a number, of others like sailing, motor-boating and canoeing. These are more than ever with us, and our life is larger for it.
It was not quite that way in 1908 when Mann became the swimming instructor at the Central YMCA in Buffalo. "While losing a great amateur," the Buffalo Enquirer said then, "the city will be the gainer, as we are in need of instruction in the art of swimming. The day is coming when more attention will be paid to it. The YMCA is to be congratulated on securing Mr. Mann."
During the next half century others came in line for congratulations—the University of Syracuse, Yale, Harvard, Navy, the University of Michigan (where over a period of 30 years Mann-coached teams achieved national dominance with 207 wins, 3 ties and only 26 losses) and Oklahoma, where he coaches now. And during that half century, thanks in part to Mann himself, the day indeed came when more attention was paid to swimming.
June 26, 1960
No one who knows him doubts Mann's desire to win or the pleasure he takes in winning. But if you ask this developer of countless champions and coaches, and the coach himself in 1952 of one of the most successful of U.S. Olympic swimming teams, where he has found his richest reward, he answers at once, "Why, in teaching kids to swim."
And the contemporary reward for the kids themselves, Matt Mann knows better than most, is as deep and wide as all the water in the world.