Character education has been a buzz phrase in education in Florida in recent years. Florida legislators in their wisdom feel it is important to teach citizenship, respect and compassion along with academics. Because these traits have traditionally been cultivated and modeled by families and religious institutions, it is challenging to teach/instill genuine ‘character’ at the school setting in the midst of FCAT and the academic demands of a competitive 21st century. When we look back on the history of Zephyrhills, character and integrity were modeled by many exemplary teachers and coaches. Perhaps the most notable of these is Coach John Clements, a veritable institution in the community of Zephyrhills! Let’s see now what is character?…Honesty, responsibility, perseverance, caring, self-discipline, integrity, patriotism, compassion, generosity, fortitude, tolerance, humility. Yes, that’s our John Clements!
Newcomers to Zephyrhills will know his name from the field that bears his name, “John F. Clements Field,” on County Road 54 East, home field of the Bulldogs. The field dedication comes from not only his extraordinary humanity but an unparalleled coaching record!
In 1988 Clement’s record was recognized by the Florida High School Athletic Association with a plaque for being only one of five high school coaches in the united States with a winning record of more than 400 games. Consider: Zephyrhills Football from 1948-61; 1966-67 (record 57-94); baseball 1949 to 1972 (record 419-127), basketball 1947-1955; and track 1949-1952.
The man however, is John F. Clements–born to a poor family, January 20, 1920 in Baxley, Ga., a country boy who retains the warmth and down-home caring of his roots. At the age of 5, his father passed away and his family relocated to Bunnell, Fla in the early 1930’s. A man of strong family values, Clements and his wife, Marvene (Beanie) celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary in 2009. They have two children, John II and Diane and two grandchildren, Johnny III and Kim McGavern.
Along the way also, Johnny was a professional league baseball player before assuming a teaching/coaching position at ZHS. He had affiliations with the Cardinals, Phillies, and the Tampa Smokers.
We had an opportunity to interview Coach and his wife last Sunday and we have prepared an eight-part article that is available on the alumni website at: www.zhsalumninews.web-siteanimal.com/ under the “Memories” tab, which includes mini-articles on the following chapters of his life: Biographical Info; Swimming; Senior Class Sponsor at ZHS for 20 years; Teaching in Zephyrhills; Driver’s Education Teacher; Anecdotes; Pro-Baseball and Our Coach. We chose to focus on one aspect of Clement’s community service for this week’s ‘countdown’ article because of the season—summer and recreation time, and the topic is his role as ‘Red Cross Swim Instructor and Facilitator of the Summer Swim Program in Zephyrhills for 15 years.’
Would you be astounded to learn that Zephyrhills provided an exemplary swimming program that certified 500 youth in Red Cross Swimming every summer? Impressive by today’s standards, but this is actual data from the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Clements operated the summer swim program for 15 years. Their team included the legendary Marianne Simons as a swimming instructor and a variety of ZHS coaches. Kids literally came from a five-county area to the program—children from Brooksville to Lakeland.
HOW DID THIS BEGIN?
John Phillips, City Manager, in the 1950’s heard that John and Beanie had been lifeguards and recruited them. They managed the pool for 15 years and that would add up to 7500 children learning to swim. “We had kids coming from everywhere and we divided the group up in order to teach them all…beginners, juniors, intermediates, junior life saving, senior life saving and survival swimming. In addition to this, one night per week, we had adult classes.”
Folks may not know that the Clements also managed all of the cleaning and maintenance of the pool. Beanie said, “I’ll never forget the big hole you went down and there was an old rickety ladder…often there were snakes down in there. John had to mix up a big vat of chlorine and go through several processes to keep the pool clean, draining it twice per week. We would have the state inspector come around and we always passed. John Phillips, City Manager requested that we fill the pool at night so we wouldn’t take the water pressure away from the people who lived nearby.”
WHERE WAS THIS POOL?
It was at Zephyr Park. The recently published book, Zephyrhills From A to Z, details how Roosevelt’s New Deal Work Projects Administration funds built the state-of-the art pool which opened June 1, 1939. Admission to the pool was five cents and for five cents more a towel was included. The Clements said the admission never went higher than a quarter. For an additional ten cents more, you could sign up for swimming lessons.
The configuration/construction of the pool was quite efficient—a baby pool was available for young children, sloping from 8 inches to 17 inches; the main pool had a gradual incline to 10 feet deep with two diving boards…one stationary board and a 10 foot high diving board. The VFW Hall served as the dressing room area.
So many stories about the lifeguards and various folks! Cookie Massey was their most notable lifeguard serving for many years; she went on to become a mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs. Others mentioned were: Casey Kearse, J.W. Wells, Clayton Stokes and Glenn Miller. Many coaches from ZHS, such as Bill Kustes and Ann Crawford, assisted. The Clements credit the dedicated staff for the remarkable safety record of no serious injuries during their fifteen years of operating the pool.
Stories however, were abundant and some of their favorites were the tales of kids who snuck in for night swims by climbing over the chain link fence. John related the account of Floyd Kersey, Ernie Peeples, and Bob Howell creeping over the fence one particularly dark evening. As the tale goes…just as one of them was about to jump off the high dive, Ernie said, maybe we better check to make sure there is water? Sure enough, the pool had been drained—bone dry. Thank heavens for the intuition of Ernie! Beane said, can you imagine…wouldn’t that have been awful?
On any given summer day, approximately 100 children were swimming throughout the day. Everyone agreed the snack bar was exceptional and Beane said that was in part because she is a chocoholic and kept an ample supply on hand. Interestingly enough, the Clements also did bookkeeping for the kids! Children would bring in a small amount of money and they kept an account of how much each spent and how much was left. All in all, the pool was a babysitter in so many ways!
Johnny, who is a 30-year Rotarian, likes to chat with the Director of the East Pasco YMCA at the weekly meetings and he said she finds it unthinkable that in the 1950’s they served those types of numbers for swimming lessons. John completed 500 Red Cross Swimming Cards in a typical summer. Does anyone still have a copy of their Red Cross swim card from Coach Clements?
All rights reserved. Photos © Madonna Jervis Wise