Sep 02, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Jim Funicello was already a member of the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame. Now, the Liverpool boys swim team he coached to unprecedented heights in parts of three decades gets to join him in that pantheon.
The Warriors’ teams from 1966 to 1983 were named as the Team of Honor for the 2014 class and will be feted on Oct. 20 as part of the 28th annual Hall of Fame dinner at Drumlins Country Club.
Both Funicello and several of his swimmers on those teams were on hand Tuesday at Tully’s in North Syracuse for the announcement. Funicello said that the reason his teams did so well was that he emphasized a close atmosphere within the program, with several different sets of siblings finding success.
“Liverpool had a wonderful group of families,” said Funicello.
And what they produced in those 17 years was extraordinary. Liverpool competed in 220 meets and won 215 of them, tasting defeat just five times and, at one point, winning 113 consecutive meets and 15 straight Section III championships.
Not once in Funicello’s long tenure did Liverpool lose a meet at home. What’s more, a remarkable 21 of his swimmers would earn All-American honors by the time they graduated.
Going beyond the local level, Liverpool also won the 1979 Eastern Interscholastic Swimmming Championships in Lawrenceville, N.J., beating more than 100 teams from across the entire eastern United States.
Paul Edwards, who graduated in 1976 and went to St. Lawrence University, said that Funicello was an innovative coach, bringing in aspects like weight training that weren’t common in swimming programs at the time he competed.
“Our success was a byproduct of the preparation we put in,” said Edwards. “Winning just seemed to happen.”
Mark Edwards, Paul’s younger brother (he graduated from LHS in 1981), said that work started in the program at a young age, with kids working alongside the older swimmers and picking up all of their good habits that carried over into later years.
“It’s a great honor to be recognized,” he said. “Liverpool has a lot of tradition.”
Adding to the all-around approach, said Mark Edwards, was the way Liverpool’s swimmers acted away from the pool, traveling to each meet with a suit coat and tie and excelling in the classroom, too.
Echoing those thoughts, Peter Schaefer, a classmate of Paul Edwards and now an attorney in Fayetteville, said that his career, and that of his swim teammates, can be credited to the efforts they made while part of a high school swimming dynasty.
“Swimming requires so much commitment and dedication,” said Schaefer. “Coach (Funicello) made it fun for us. All of us are very honored to be part of this program.”
Jim Funicello’s son, John, grew up within the auspices of the Liverpool program. He said he can still recall his father’s speeches before each practice and meet, talks that put a belief into his swimmers about what they could accomplish.
“He made us believe we were faster and better than everyone else,” said John Funicello.
One of the Warriors alums that took his passion into the coaching realm was diver Ken McInerney, who went on to coach the diving program at Liverpool for 10 years.
McInerney said that the main lesson he learned was to make his swimmers and divers feel that, in an individual sport, they were an important part of a team’s winning effort.