The Championship Lake Swimmers
The 1936 Season
Aquatic events expanded at the Lake in 1936 with surf-board, motor boat, sailboat and canoe-tilting contests. Prominent rivals in the surf-board contest on July 5, 1936, were Elwood Davis, son of Lake Squire R.C. Davis, who beat Robert Woolbert, who later had great success in power boat races at the Lake with his brother William Woolbert.
The Water Sports Committee of the Lake’s Protective Association also planned swimming races at the Lake on July 19. Several of the swimmers were from the Wilkes-Barre YMCA, the State “Y” championship team, but who swam at the Lake as the Catholic Boys Club. In mid-April 1936 Zubrod’s YMCA team won the Northeastern Pennsylvania YMCA swimming championships sweeping all age events. Senior events were dominated by Jimmy Campbell. The top youngest swimmer was Tom Hodorowski. In late April the local Y swimmers beat the Clearfield YMCA, the Western Pennsylvania champs, for the State title. The Wilkes-Barre YMCA took all first places and most second places. A key member was Harry Welsh, a Y state diving champion (who in later years would officiate high-school and college swim events with his close friend George Jones).
James “Jimmy” Campbell from Hanover was a YMCA champion free-style swimmer. Tom Hodorowski was a little younger but a breast-stroke and diving title-holder in junior events. They would be joined by Harvey’s Lake native Elwood Davis and Irving Roe of Dallas, a long-distance swimmer. More than 2,000 saw the Catholic Boys Club take all of the July 19, 1936, swim events and 4 of the 5 “carnival” or special events. The critical event was the 440 yard free-style with an unexpected Campbell victory over a more experienced Irving Roe, captain of the Franklin and Marshall College swim team in a time of 5:46. The 880 yard free-style was won by Elwood Davis in 13:18. Hodorowski, the 14 year-old Y diving champ, clearly won the fancy diving contest. There were also swimming events for young women. Many female entrants grew out of the YMCA’s Blue Triangle Lodge Summer camp at the Lake. The YWCA girls had a history of swimming competition against the Girl Scouts from Camp Onawandah near Falls. Among the women swimmers were Ruth Stevenson, daughter of Lake Police Chief Ira Stevenson, and sisters Anne and Helen Lee, daughters of Dr. E.W. Bixby of Wilkes-Barre.
In the absence of an official Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) sanctioned team for Wilkes-Barre, local swimmers often swum for the Scranton AAU Mid Atlantic District team to obtain official swimming titles. For example, in late July, Campbell, age 18, won a one-mile swim event at Lake Newton but took second in early August at Lake Winola – even after he strayed off course at Lake Winola. Tom Hodorowski lost a high board diving contest by only one point to a college diving star. Elwood “Woody” Davis finished sixth in a half mile slog across Winola.
Local newspapers took account of the local swim stars and advocated an AAU club for Wilkes-Barre. The lack of local support for area swimming competition had also been an issue a decade earlier. Margaret Hoffman, Kingston, had to swim for the Scranton AAU. She was the only American woman to qualify for the breast stroke in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands. She qualified for the finals but did not take a medal.
In mid-August 1936 the Water Sports Committee sponsored a three-mile swim at Harvey’s Lake which attracted sixteen competitors with Charles Stitzer, Kingston, a surprise winner in 76:25 minutes. The race course was from the Picnic Grounds to Warden Place with a return to the Grounds. Only ten swimmers finished the race. Two women showed up to swim, Elinor Abbott, Nanticoke, and Agnes James, Sylvan Lake. Since the rules did not exclude women, they were allowed to compete. Abbott finished second, just beating Lake native Robert Jackson who suffered leg cramps and finished third using his arms only. The James woman finished eighth. (Immediately after the race Abbott jumped in her canoe to paddle over to her cottage at Sandy Beach. She had a train to catch home.)
The Lake standouts, Jim Campbell and Elwood Davis, did not compete in the August three mile swim but were training for a very special swimming contest later in the season. Campbell appeared for a portion of the three mile race to pace Abbott for her home stretch. Campbell, Davis, Irving Roe and Charles Stitzer planned to enter the three-mile President’s Cup meet on the Potomac River in Washington D.C., on August 29, 1936. Sponsored by the Washington Canoe Club the President’s Cup was one of the nation’s most prestigious long-distance swim meets. The local team, coached by the YMCA’s Bob Zubrod, practiced daily at the Lake. Lake resident State Senator A.J. Sordoni agreed to underwrite the team’s twenty-five dollars of expenses for the Washington, D.C. event.
Only two years earlier Jim Campbell could barely tread water. He was called “Water Dog” by his teasing friends but he vowed to become a champion swimmer – even setting the 1940 Olympics as his goal. Joining the Wilkes-Barre YMCA under Coach Bob Zubrod, Campbell was sporting blue ribbons and gold medals from swimming events by 1936.
Campbell, Roe, Davis and Stitzer bonded as a special team to compete for the prestigious Cup which the Lenox Hill Athletic Club, in New York, won in 1935. The Y’s Bob Zubrod took two days leave weekly from the Y to meet the boys at the Lake to coach them. The rest of the week the boys had to discipline and coach themselves.
Campbell, Roe and Davis, with coach-driver Bob Zubrod, left Wilkes-Barre early Friday, August 27, and did not arrive in Washington, D.C., until late in the evening, too late to have a practice swim. Roe arrived separately from college in Lancaster with college mates.(The President’s Cup speedboat regatta, with related swimming and other water sports events, was established in 1925 with the approval of President Calvin Coolidge. In the first three-mile Cup in late August 1925 Clarence Ross, New York Athletic Club, won the individual title in one hour, seventeen minutes. In 1972 Ross resumed “master’s” swimming, winning 123 of 125 events in late life. He is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.)
The President’s Cup was Saturday, the next day after the Y-Lake team arrived in D.C. to compete for the prized award. The swim was along a triangular course in the Potomac. The Akron team members all had times which beat the Lenox Hill winners of the 1935 Cup. Akron’s team leader, Tex Woodling, was National AAU champion in both the three and five mile event. Teams were also from Ohio, New York, Boston, Philadelphia.
The Akron team won the 1936 Cup as expected with Tex Woodling in first place. When it came to second place, the officials were “dumbfounded” and rechecked their scores three times, as Lenox Hill believed it had the second team place. But Campbell had fifth place; Davis won seventh place (125 feet behind Campbell); when Roe finished in eighth place the Wilkes-Barre team’s points placed them in second place for team honors (Stitzer, hampered by muscle problems, still finished eighteenth). The Wilkes-Barre team was only three points behind Akron for first place. The Scranton team finished fourth among the entries. Woodling expressed the Akron team’s admiration for the Wilkes-Barre team:
“We, the Akron Club, expected to win and also looked for close competition from Lenox A.C., Scranton A.C. and Washington Y.M.C.A., but when the 3 unknown Wilkes-Barre swimmers came in among the first 8 we began to worry and held our breath until the official count was made. The Wilkes-Barre team deserves a great deal of credit as a team; we met most of the swimming outfits and defeated them much easier than we did Wilkes-Barre.”
Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo