The Americanization of John Candler is almost complete. His British accent is still strong and he is not yet a U.S. citizen, but he was a two-time All-America diver at Michigan—and he has uncovered some secrets of the great American pastime of recruiting athletes.
He is now diving coach—under Head Swimming Coach Jack Thompson—at the University of South Carolina, and he admits that his recruiting technique is laughable. It was not intended to be that way, but two years ago when Candler first put on his comedy diving act at the Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. several high schoolers in the audience came clustering around, asking about South Carolina and virtually recruiting themselves. Now the act is standard procedure.
During the recent Christmas holiday there were some 2,000 high school and college swimmers and divers in Fort Lauderdale. During his first few days in town, Candler managed to contact only one young prospect, but after he had put on his clown suits and performed, four other high school divers sought him out and asked about South Carolina.
Of course, clown diving isn't all there is to Candler's recruiting. He has that British accent, the memory of a dive off a spindly 107-foot ladder into 10 feet of water and, finally, a remarkable ability to coach.
Does the accent really help?
"Oh yeah," says Debbie Tomberg, dreamily rolling her eyes. Debbie is a freshman at South Carolina and, with Norma Chandler, is one of two girls coached by Candler. For her part, Norma says, "I've trained under lots of coaches, but nobody is like him. He knows how to treat each kid. He's the greatest. I mean, he can even yell at me and I don't mind."
Norma, a high school junior in Fairfax, Va., makes frequent two-hour flights to Columbia, S.C. to spend weekends under Candler's tutelage. She spent last summer being coached by him, will do so again this year and is determined to go to college at South Carolina.
And that dive?
Candler's 107-foot leap into the pool at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach in 1964 was part of his performance when he won the first of his three world professional high-diving championships. Just as he did not realize that his comedy acts would bolster his recruiting, Candler had no idea that his spectacular dive would net him anything more than the $750 first-place money. But the show was televised, as were two later championships in Las Vegas. One of those watching was Mike Mayfield, himself a three-time All-America diver when he was in high school in Fort Lauderdale. Another was John Thoder, a 1967 prep school All-America from Bethlehem, Pa. After Candler became diving coach at South Carolina, he met Mayfield and Thoder, and they both remembered him from his televised high dives. Presto! They became the first two divers won by the Candler method of recruiting.
As for coaching, well, acquiring high school divers is one thing, but Candler has to turn them into collegiate winners or his recruiting efforts would be pointless. Last season was his first at South Carolina, and none of the boys he had signed up was yet eligible to compete. Nevertheless, his divers had a perfect dual-meet record and maintained that string through the opening three meets this season; in 17 straight meets Candler's divers finished first and second every time in both one-and three-meter competition. Vic Laughlin, a 25-year-old former sailor and the father of three children, won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship on both boards last year.