Coach Katz Celebrates a 90th Birthday

A 90th birthday celebration is always a big deal. But there’s a party being planned at the 14th Street Y in a couple of weeks that’s on a whole different level. On Sunday, November 14th, generations of Lower East Side swimmers will return to the Y to help a neighborhood legend, Coach Leon Katz, mark the momentous day.

Beloved by thousands of kids, as as well as adults, Katz passed on his passion for swimming to anyone who took the plunge — during an illustrious career that spanned more than 60 years.  Coach Katz started the City of New York’s “Learn to Swim Program.” He also developed a water rehab program for injured veterans.

Today his legacy is carried on by Dr. Jane Katz, who competes in Master’s events, has herself taught swimming in the City University system for decades and authored the groundbreaking book, “Swimming for Total Fitness.”

Coach Katz made a strong impression on the lives of so many New Yorkers. Patricia Perlo says he literally gave her the strength to get through the most difficult chapters in her life. Having first met Katz after she graduated from college in the 1970’s Perlo told me, “Coach Katz was way ahead of his time and he worked me so hard.” She says, “he made me faster and made me stronger.” But it wasn’t until years later, in coping with an ailing parent, that she realized how strong, physically and emotionally, swimming had made her.  Good swimmers learned how to be great, with Katz’s help. But most notably, Jane told me, he encouraged any swimmer who wanted to get better.

Coach Katz, who lives on Grand Street, still swims three days a week, with a little help from Jane. She’s overseeing plans for the upcoming birthday bash. Our friends at the 14th Street Y (part of the Educational Alliance) hope lots of former students will come by to reconnect with Coach Katz. The party will be held Sunday, November 14th, at 4pm. RSVP to Camille Diamond: camille_diamond@14streety.org.

See below for some recent photos of Coach Katz in his natural habitat.

Jane and Leon Katz.