As a swimmer, Wendy Morton had little intention of signing up her daughter Zakayah for anything other than swimming. And Morton, a Baltimore City police officer, knew that the only instructor good enough for Zakayah was the one who coached Morton when she was a freshman at Western.

So when Zakayah was 3 years old, Morton sought Russell Kim Williams of the Baltimore City Swim Club.


"My first job when I was 14 was with him as a lifeguard," Morton said recently while watching her daughter swim at Callow Hill Aquatics Center near Pimlico Race Course. "He took care of us. If it wasn't for him, traveling, meeting different people from different states that swam … the people I swam with, my former teammates, we're the best of friends. We're inseparable. We are all doing different things in life right now, but we communicate every single day. They're my best friends, and I wouldn't have met them if it wasn't for him."

Morton's testimony illustrates the love many of Williams' former pupils have for him, and his induction into the Maryland Swimming Hall of Fame on April 9 is just as much a victory for them as it is for the 61-year-old Baltimore native.

"From teaching swimming and teaching lifeguards, I would say it's overdue," said Elii Hendricks, a former student of Williams' who is now his assistant coach at the Baltimore City Swim Club.

Williams was introduced to swimming by his aunt Lydia James, who occasionally took him to Atlantic City, N.J., and allowed him to play in the Atlantic Ocean. When he was 13, Williams began taking lessons at a local YMCA.

"Love the water," Williams said of his desire to swim. "The way it felt around me, how it made me feel so lifeless when you float on top."

Williams swam at Morgan State, excelling in the freestyle sprint events. He was a member of the 1975 squad that captured the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title.

Courtney Kalisz, three others to join Maryland Swimming Hall of Fame

Courtney Kalisz, James A. "Jim" Pusateri, John Ferrari and Russell "Kim" Williams will be inducted into the Maryland Swimming Hall of Fame on Oct. 24.

After graduation, he became a special education teacher at middle and high schools in the city. He began coaching a swim team at the since-closed Southern High School in 1982 and formed the Baltimore City Swim Club in 1986.

Williams said he organized the swim club to encourage members of the African-American community to get immersed in the benefits of swimming.

"When I took lessons, there weren't that many African-Americans in my class," he recalled. "I was the only one. We needed to learn how to swim. Statistically speaking, 70 percent of African Americans can't swim. That's a shame."

At the height of its popularity, the Baltimore City Swim Club had 125 members. At one point, that number dropped to 12, but today, it has risen to 45.

Williams, who said the club had just six swimmers when it opened in 1986, said he has never strayed from his "teach one, reach one" philosophy.

"If one [who is swimming] has a friend, he's going to find out what he or she is doing," Williams said. "Everybody can't be a football player or a basketball player or a baseball player. It's unique to be a swimmer."

Swimming can be a time-consuming activity for those who swim competitively. Many wake up early in the morning to swim before school and then swim after school before eating dinner and finishing their homework in the evening.

Stephanie White, a 16-year-old sophomore at Poly, said those who swim under Williams' watchful eye also get lessons in time management and priorities.


"This program has kept me out of trouble, and I've kept up my grades," said White, who said she has been pulling A's and B's in school.

Ka'yin Walker said Williams, who is called "Coach Kimmy," can also be difficult to please. Walker, a 19-year-old sophomore at CCBC-Catonsville, remembered winning the 200 breaststroke in only his second meet and excitedly informing Williams of his accomplishment.

"He said, 'I thought you could've done better,'" Walker said with a chuckle. "I thought it was a little harsh at first, but I felt inspired to keep pushing. It was a good push. … He doesn't quit on you, and I appreciate that."

Benjamin Griffin, another assistant coach at the Baltimore City Swim Club who has known Williams since they were teammates at Morgan State, said Williams has tried to break down the stereotype that African-Americans don't know how to swim.

"He's always helping the community, and he's brought an awareness of swimming to the black community," said Griffin, 61. "It's a worthy honor because we have trained over 2,000 kids in all of our years of coaching and teaching. We taught, and we've really enjoyed it. I don't think we thought we would be doing this for that long, but it's just making the public aware that blacks can swim and that if they give it a chance and come out and see us, they can get into this sport. It's just been fun."

Loyola Maryland's Cara Egan founded Junior H2Ounds to teach drowning prevention and open opportunities

Cara Egan, a Loyola Maryland senior on the women's swimming and diving team, founded drowning-prevention program Junior H20unds in 2014 to help bridge this particular opportunity gap in North Baltimore.

Darryl Sutton, the aquatics chief for the Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Department, has known Williams since 1984 when Williams trained Sutton to be a lifeguard. Sutton said the agency has tried to reach out to single parents to emphasize the importance of children learning how to swim, and Williams has helped by organizing an Aqua Brats program for toddlers.

"We've found that the earlier you introduce children to swimming, there is more of a likelihood they will continue to swim over their lifetime," Sutton said. "He's been instrumental starting the Aqua Brats over there to get to these kids and teach them how to swim. We'd like to break that cycle if we can do so."

Williams, who still swims 20 laps three times a week, said he is "honored, overwhelmed and humbled by his inclusion in the 2015 class of the Maryland Swimming Hall of Fame. But he said his greatest feeling of achievement comes from seeing former students such as Morton return.

"It's touching," he said. "You never know how you impact a person. It's just touching to know that you're doing the right thing, that you're producing productive citizens, and she's giving back by giving it to her daughter. That's why I say, 'Teach one, reach one.'"

Hendricks and Griffin assist Williams with the swim team, but Williams said he never gets tired of coaching and instructing.

"I love it," he said. "To see a sparkle in a kid's eye when he or she can master something is just exciting."

So how long will Williams continue coaching?

"Until I can't be wheeled in anymore," he joked.

Williams credited his desire to teaching the next generation of swimmers to the aunt who introduced him to the ocean.

"It's a give-back," he said. "My aunt exposed me and I appreciated that, and I wanted to give back what was afforded to me. She afforded me the opportunity to be exposed to swimming, and it was the best thing in my life. It was the highlight of my life. So I wanted to give back."



Honor swimmer: Courtney Kalisz

Honor contributors: James A. "Jim" Pusateri, John Ferrari and Russell Kim Williams