Coaching Staff

Jim Ellis, Head Coach & Board President

In 1971, Jim Ellis formed the PDR (Philadelphia Department of Recreation) Swim Team which was the first African-American swim team in the country. The team originally practiced in West Philadelphia at the Sayre Recreation Center and then moved to the Marcus Foster Recreation Center in the Nicetown neighborhood of Philadelphia in 1979. Until 2010, Jim continued to coach swimming at the Marcus Foster pool, with the program qualifying swimmers for the US Olympic Trials from 1992 through 2008. 

Jim has achieved several accolades and awards, including being named one of USA Swimming's 30 for 30 as one of the 30 most influential people in the sport of swimming for the last 30 years. Additionally, the movie Pride starring Terrence Howard was produced based on Jim's life as the head coach of PDR. He was inducted into the International Swim Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2019.

In 2010, Jim moved to the newly built pool at the Salvation Army and started the Salvation Army Kroc Aquatics (SAKA) team. After nearly a decade as SAKA, Jim brought PDR Swimming for Success back better than ever before, and the team has continued to make great strides since then!

Zachary Thomas, Assistant Coach

Zachary Thomas was born and raised in Philadelphia. He started competitively running track from the age of 7.  For six years, Zachary competed in track & Field events until he joined the SAKA swim program when he was 13 after taking swim lessons with Jim Ellis to prepare him to join the team. Joining the team at an older age was a struggle; however, with the SAKA training program's help, he was able to join the highest level training group by age 13. 

Zachary attended Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, where he participated in a work-study program for four years and was able to intern at notable companies like Comcast. This program helped him gather professional skills that propelled him to attend The University of Scranton to pursue his studies in Journalism in Electronic Media in 2016.

At the University of Scranton, Zachary earned honors and competed as a Division 3 Varsity athlete for his University swim team. He was a scorer for his team at Conference Championships, where he specialized in butterfly events. He also worked as a lifeguard for seven years, where he taught local youth the importance of water safety, especially in the African American community. 

In 2020, Zachary finished his final year of competitive swimming and graduated from the University of Scranton on the Dean's List. Currently, he's a Communication Manager for a Philadelphia media program that teaches Philadelphia residents the importance of storytelling and educating the youth on the film industry. He's a graphic designer and a board game designer and currently working on the new release of his game. 

Zachary begins coaching for PDR in 2020. He hopes to give back to the program which has given him so many skills that shaped his life today. He hopes to become an example to the kids and teach them that swimming opens many doors and opportunities. His goal is to encourage the participants to continue to swimming competitively in college, no matter where they might end up after the program.

Coaching Schedule

  • Kroc Center: Monday - Saturday