Introduction of Jim Lilley, presented by Kingsley Bowen, Class of 2019 and Men's Swimming Team member
In 1971, Tufts University hired a young and energetic new swimming coach named Don Megerle. The Jumbos had enjoyed some success in the years prior to Megerle’s arrival, but it was Coach Megerle who would build the program into a national contender.
In 1977, the Tufts men’s swimming team scored points for the first time-ever at the NCAA meet. In 1978, the team made more progress, placing 21st at the NCAA meet. And for the 1978-79 season, Coach Megerle brought in a class of freshmen that would propel the Jumbo men’s swimming team to a truly unprecedented heights. The team turned in four consecutive Top 10 finishes at the NCAA meet, finishing 6th, 7th, 4th and 6th over that incredible four-year span.
The centerpiece of that 1978-79 freshman class was a young man named Jim Lilley. Originally from Bogota, Columbia, Jim attended to the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut. As Coach Megerle tells it, Jim never visited Tufts before enrolling – “he just showed up.” As it turns out, Jim’s father strongly encouraged him to attend Tufts, even though it meant turning down a full scholarship at Boston University.
Jim was a natural athlete. In fact, Coach Megerle tells a story about bumping into the Tufts men’s soccer coach Gerry Clinton on campus one day. Coach Clinton inquired about this swimmer who had scored six goals in an intra-squad game during a captain’s practice. It will surprise absolutely no one that Coach Megerle reacted to that conversation by heading directly to Jim’s dorm room to tell him his soccer days were over.
With his focus squarely on swimming, Jim accomplished some amazing things during his four years as a Jumbo. He was team MVP in each of his four seasons, and he was a three-time New England champion, winning the 200 individual medley, the 100 butterfly and the 200 freestyle in an era when the New England Championships included 56 teams competing from all three NCAA Divisions. His versatility was unmatched in New England, and he earned the prestigious the Bob Muir Award for scoring the most points in a four-year career at the New England competition.
During his junior year in 1981, Jim finished as the national runner-up in the 100 butterfly at the NCAA meet. And during his senior year in 1982, Jim returned to the NCAA meet and claimed the national championship in the 100 butterfly. In so doing, he set an NCAA record time of 50.67 seconds that would stand for more than 25 years!! Jim’s national championship performance was the first in the history of Tufts swimming. And to put the significance of that accomplishment into further perspective, 37 years went by before another Jumbo would win its second NCAA swimming title – congratulations to my great teammate, Roger Gu, who won the NCAA 50 freestyle title 3 weeks ago in North Carolina!
By the end of his Tufts career, Jim earned 15 All-American awards across multiple events, and he received the Pop Houston Award as Tufts best male athlete in 1982.
I should mention that Jim’s swimming accomplishments did not end when he left Tufts. He gained further acclaim as a world champion and record-holder in U.S. Masters Swimming. During more than 20 years of Master’s Swimming, Jim earned USMS All-American honors in eight individual events and sixth relay events, and he set five individual records and helped set eight relay marks.
Coach Megerle said about Jim, “The first time I saw him swim freestyle in our pool, my mouth watered. And Jim always displayed a superior inner drive to excel. His success was the direct result of making an investment in the following three words that allowed his motivations to come from the heart - determination, patience, and love.”
Please help me welcome Jim Lilley to the stage and into the Tufts Athletics Hall of Fame.