BY SAMANTHA ELLIOTT
If there is one thing the Trenton community is known for, it is coming together in times of celebration and pulling close in times of sorrow. On Aug. 11, the community did a little bit of both.
That Friday night, a large crowd, including coaches, teachers, family members and current and past members of the swim program, gathered in front of the high school to honor longtime Trenton High School swim coach Jim Lawrence.
Lawrence, a swim coach with the program for 31 years and a former teacher, died earlier this year after being diagnosed with ALS the year before. Those in attendance witnessed the unveiling of the new signage and the dedication of the Trenton High School natatorium in Lawrence’s honor.
Outside, at the main entrance to the pool, stands a new sign reading, “Welcome to James W. Lawrence Natatorium.”
Upon entering the pool, visitors are greeted with a plaque with Lawrence’s long list of accomplishments during his coaching career. The quote above is from Lawrence himself: “If you do the work, the winning will take care of itself.”
On the left is etched a picture of the longtime coach, posed in typical Jim Lawrence fashion, shorts, a vest over a polo, arms folded in concentration. Behind that concentration are the eyes of someone who seemingly everyone knew and adored, especially when your swimmer wasn’t in the lane next to his. When it was game-time, Lawrence was all focus. After the meets, he would help anyone who asked.
During the dedication ceremony, Lawrence’s wife of almost 34 years, Marty Lawrence, told the crowd of a time in the fall of 2016, when Lawrence was asked how he saw himself and how others saw him. His response was perfect and fitting.
“I see myself very simple as a teacher and coach who was lucky enough to mentor kids and hopefully encourage them to do what is right,” he said. “I think other people see me as a fierce competitor and a person who wants to and likes to win, while always pushing the boundaries, but yet will help any coach, any time when asked.
“I hope that I am viewed as someone who has a passion for what I do and for doing what is right for my teams and program (and) lastly, that they all believe that I have the kids’ best interest at heart.”
During the ceremony, the Trenton community showed Marty, along with their daughters Melissa and Emily, just how much Jim had meant to the area.
“Tomorrow would be a year since we had Swim for Jim after he was diagnosed and it’s just phenomenal and unbelievable what the community has done,” Marty said. “From the mayor on down, everyone has just been so supportive of Jim being ill and making sure this ceremony happened today. We couldn’t be any more grateful (and) it’s overwhelming the outpouring of love and support.”
Jim was involved with the beginning of the process to re-name the pool; he even picked the finalized name and picture to go at the entrance. His request for the ceremony; keep it simple.
“He said if you have a celebration, I want it to be casual and people have fun and mingle,” Marty said. “Nothing too fancy, so we tried to honor everything. He had a lot of input; he just wasn’t here to see the end product.”
For Marty, various memories stood out from her husband’s coaching career. He finished with a 566-170 record through boys’ and girls’ swimming. With both programs he finished with 24 League Championships and 40 News-Herald Championship Titles.
Over the years he was named News-Herald, Downriver League, Wolverine A Conference, Michigan Mega Conference, Michigan High School Coaches Association and Michigan Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association Coach of the Year.
He was the MISCA Zone Coach of the Year and also the Matt Mann Award Recipient and is in the MHSCA’s Coaches Hall of Fame. In 1995, he won a state title with the girls’ team and it was Marty’s favorite memory. It was their daughter Melissa’s senior year.
“My favorite memory was them winning the state championship together,” she said. “I was proud of both of them as a mother and a coach’s wife and everything. You couldn’t get any sweeter than that.”
At the ceremony’s end, the Lawrence family presented Athletic Director James Trush with a check for $10,000 to use for the swimming and diving program. Trush was grateful for the money for the program and thrilled with the number of community members in attendance, though not surprised.
“Its’ a culmination of a lot of people’s efforts from the last year, year and a half,” he said. “Everyone knows all the time and hard work that helped contribute to this. Jim was able to reach a lot of different people throughout his years of coaching and it was no surprise the amount of people that came, or the number of people looking forward to this or the number of people that were involved with fundraising this. It was nice to see, as always, but definitely not a shock.”