Coaching Staff

Jim Ellis

In 1971, Jim Ellis formed the PDR (Philadelphia Department of Recreation) Swim Team which was the first African-American swim team in the country.  Originally located in West Philadelphia at the Sayre Recreation Center, 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 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 also been 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 is bringing PDR Swimming for Success back better than ever before!

  • Head coach and Board of Director President

Tracy Freeland

Tracy Freeland was one of Coach Ellis’ first swimmers, beginning with the program in 1972.  At the age of 10, he represented Middle Atlantic Swimming as the first African-American to qualify for the Zone All-Star Team. He was also selected to represent Middle Atlantic in Quebec, Canada in 1981. Coach Freeland later went on to attend Howard University on a full swimming scholarship. At Howard, he was voted team MVP his freshmen year, set multiple team records, and was a member of the Conference Championship team in 1988 and 1989.  In addition to his Bachelor’s degree from Howard, he also earned a master’s degree in education.

Coach Freeland has been Coach Ellis’s right-hand man for the past 25 years. During that time, he has had many age group swimmers ranked in the Top 10 in the country along with a handful racked as high as number one. In 2011, Coach Freeland was chosen to coach the 10 and under boys for the Middle Atlantic All-Star Team. 

In addition to coaching swimming, Coach Freeland is entering his 32nd year as a Health and Physical Education teacher with the School District of Philadelphia.  In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife Terri, and three daughters Jessica, Taylor and Madison.

  • Lead coach for Groups 1 and 2
  • Kroc Center coaching days - Monday -  Saturday
  • YMCA location coaching days - Tuesday - Sunday

Darryl Washington

Darryl Washington from Philadelphia swam with Jim Ellis and PDR at a young age at Sayre from 1988-1989, then re-joined the team at the legendary Marcus Foster facility in summer 1998. While with PDR, Darryl swam every event specializing in breaststroke, Individual Medley, and sprint/mid-distance freestyle qualifying for Junior Nationals, US Open Championships, and US sectionals. Darryl’s talents earned him a scholarship to swim at the University of Pittsburgh where he had a successful collegiate career having broken 3 team records, winning 2 team conference championships, 7 individual conference championships, qualifying provisionally for NCAA national championships all four years while there, and a host of other special awards including Most Valuable Swimmer in 2004 and 2005. Darryl additionally qualified for US Nationals on 10 separate occasions swimming in 6 different events (50 Free, 100 Free, 200 Free, 100 Breast, 100 Fly, and 200IM) having made finals several times with the highest placing of 9th and a world ranking of 87 in 2005-2006. 
Darryl was the associated Head Coach of the Shaler Seasogs in Pittsburgh where Darryl lead the team to a league championship in his first season with 31 of his swimmers recording best times in that season. 
Darryl was also an associated head coach of Spirit swimming where he lead swimmers to sectionals, PIAA state championships, and earned one of his swimmers a scholarship to Rider University.
During this time, Darryl was also swimming himself in order to compete to qualify for Olympic Trials. 
Darryl retired from competition in 2011 when I welcomed my beautiful daughter Maya.  Darryl has been dedicated to the sport of swimming for over 30 years where he shows a strong love for the sport with a deep passion and feels swimming can open doors beyond your wildest imagination. 
“Nothing great comes easy! I truly feel swimming is not only a sport but a lifestyle and I am very proud PDR alumnus!”
  • Assistant coach for Groups 1 and 2
  • Kroc Center coaching days - Monday and Tuesday
  • West Philly YMCA coaching days - Thursday, Friday, and Sunday

Brittany Copeland

Brittany Copeland began her swimming career in Houston, Texas at the age of 7 and ranked top in the state as an age-group swimmer. She continued her career in North Carolina where she was a member of a NAG record-breaking relay team and became nationally ranked as a senior swimmer. She swam collegiately for the University of Houston for two seasons and returned to North Carolina ultimately graduating from NC State. During her time as an undergraduate, she created a nonprofit which offered free swim lessons to the community and competed in the US Masters swimming circuit. Brittany also coached swimming for various pools in the City of Raleigh (NC) for ten years. 

Brittany relocated to Philadelphia in 2014 to train under Coach Jim to pursue her childhood dream of making Olympic trials. Although she did not make the cutoff time, she refocused on school and earned a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. She currently works as a school counselor and outpatient therapist in Philadelphia. Brittany is excited to use her experience in swimming and clinical skills to help our swimmers both athletically and mentally. 

  • Assistant coach for Groups 3 
  • Kroc Center coaching days - Saturday
  • West Philly YMCA coaching days - Friday

Zachary Thomas

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. He 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 Divison 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 was a lifeguard for seven years, where he taught neighborhood kids the importance of water safety, especially in the African American community. 

In 2020, Zachary finished his final year of competitively swimming and graduated from the University of Scranton on 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 that has given him so many skills that shaped his life today. He hopes to become an example to the kids and teach them that swimmings open many doors and opportunities. His goal is to encourage the team to continue to swim competitively in college, no matter where they might end up after the program.
  • Lead Coach for Group 3 - Developmental Group 
  • Assistant Coach for Group 1 & 2
  • Kroc Center coaching days -  Monday - Saturday 
  • YMCA Location Coaching days - Tuesday - Sunday