Former Hoosiers honor James 'Doc' Counsilman
April 19, 2004
Bloomington, Ind.--Friends, family and former swimmers of the late James "Doc" Counsilman converged on Bloomington this past weekend, April 16-18, to celebrate the accomplishments and life of the swimming pioneer and former Indiana coach. Counsilman passed away on January 4, 2004 at the age of 83, after a long bout with Parkinson's disease.
The weekend was packed full of events paying tribute to Counsilman's career. On Friday, former Indiana swimming and diving athletes met up for a reunion at Bears Place, a local restaurant in town.
Saturday gave way for those in attendance to take a tour of the Indiana-Bloomington campus. Part of the tour included a viewing of the Counsilman/Billingsley Aquatic Center, a facility that many of the former swimmers had not seen before.
Saturday night, all Hoosier reunion participants gathered in the Hoosier Room for a typical "swim team" dinner, consisting of Marge Counsilman's (Doc's wife) famous lasagna, salad, and rolls. After dinner and following a team photo, friends and family members reflected on the former Hoosier coach.
The first to share thoughts was Doc's widow, Marge. After speaking about how they first met, she recalled the first thing that her husband asked her soon after their marriage: "So as to not waste the day, is it ok if I go swimming?" Although many in attendance had already heard the story, they applauded and cheered as if it was being heard for the first time.
Hobie Billingsley, former IU diving coach and close Counsilman friend, was next to relay his feelings about how Doc and he arrived at Indiana.
"Doc and I were on the same swim team at Ohio State. Soon after we finished our careers, I was up for the diving job at the University of Michigan. Prior to being interviewed, I was reading the newspaper and it said,` Doc Counsilman hired as Indiana University's swim coach.' So I called to congratulate him and in doing so I asked, ` Have you thought about hiring a diving coach?' His response, `Well, I am not just going to hire you.' But a month later, he gave me a call and said, ` Well, Hobie, we currently have no diving program, but I would love for you to come work with me.' So I resigned from my job at Ohio University, withdrew my name from consideration for the diving coach at Minnesota, and traveled down to Bloomington where there was no job. I must have been crazy to do all this, but I knew Indiana had something none of the other places had; the best damn swimming coach there ever was."
The evening concluded with "The State of Indiana Swimming and Diving," given by current IU swimming coach Ray Looze and diving coach Jeff Huber, respectively. After remarking about the influence Doc had on each of them, personally and professionally, both coaches asked for the former team members in attendance to do everything they could to help the Indiana program get back to its dominance under Doc's leadership.
The weekend drew to a close with a memorial service held in the Whittenberger Auditorium. The room was packed with anyone and everyone whose life had been touched in some way by Doc. Some 20 former Olympians, including seven-time gold medal winner Mark Spitz, were in the audience.
All who attended the weekend's festivities came away knowing that they had paid tribute to perhaps the greatest swim coach of all-time, James "Doc" Counsilman.
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