BRIGHTON — In their shock and sorrow Tuesday night, the Brighton girls swim team also found a moment to laugh after hearing of the death of longtime swim coach Tim McInnis.
“Jason (girls coach Jason Black) was addressing the team, and it was emotional,” Brighton assistant Sean Hickman said. “And he said, ‘Remember the funny stuff he used to say.’ And the girls were laughing and crying.”
McInnis, who was part of the Brighton swimming program for 27 years, died suddenly Tuesday at the age of 54.
As for his impact on a generation of Brighton swimmers, there was no doubt.
“He’d walk in for morning practices and be about 10 minutes early,” Brighton grad J.D. Ham said. “He’d be on the deck and joking at 6 a.m. ‘The horses got out,’ he’d say.”
McInnis lived on a farm near Morrice, making the commute to Brighton on a daily basis. Whether or not the anecdote was true, the boys would laugh, which Ham said helped relieve the drudgery of swimming endless yards in the winter.
“It made it a lot better,” he said.
“If he didn’t make me laugh once a day, it was a bad day,” said another alum, Dominique Meldrum. “I don’t think there were many of those. I aspire to light up a room like he does. He’s amazing. You want to sit next to him in a restaurant so you can hear everything that comes out of his mouth.”
McInnis ran the Brighton aquatics program until his retirement earlier this year and coached at all levels, most recently the Brighton boys team.
“Those boys loved him,” said Black, who was named McInnis’ replacement as boys coach last week. “He mentored them so well. Some of the boys stopped in today. We’re all really heartbroken.
“He’s been a part of Brighton swimming for years, and he touched a lot of lives,” Black added. “Most anyone who was a swimmer at Brighton he had an influence on.”
Meldrum, who now swims for Michigan State, is one of those swimmers.
“Without a doubt, the determination I have is 100 percent because of him,” she said. “He wouldn’t let you quit. By the end of my (high school) career, quitting never crossed my mind, and in hindsight I realize it was because of him.
“He had a signature (phrase): ‘Move it!’ That’s with me in practice today. I have a new set of coaches, but it’s his voice I hear when I’m in the blocks,” Meldrum said. “I get instruction from new coaches and I have a connection with them, but it’s his voice I will hear in the water, and I”m positive that’s not going away.”
“There was never a dull moment,” Ham said. “Always had a joke. Always had a story from back in the day. Always a funny story.
“But he was just so caring about his swimmers. He would help in any way he could. If there were kids who were having trouble at home or in school, he was there to help. He was always there to help. He was a second father to some kids on the team.”
McInnis was on the committee that oversaw the design of the new pool at Brighton High School, which opened last year.
“He had good recommendations,” Hickman said. “It was a proud point for him.”
McInnis lived on a farm in Byron and also spent time in the fall attending college football games, specifically the Southeastern Conference.
“He was a big fan of the SEC,” said Brighton athletic director John Thompson, who once was an assistant coach at SEC member South Carolina. “He’d catch a couple SEC games every year.”
“You’d go in his office, and there was a picture of every SEC stadium,” Hickman said. “He was always willing to talk football. He wasn’t as much into the Big Ten, but he was a big Georgia Bulldogs fan. He went to a lot of games and he knew a lot of people.”
McInnis was the assistant girls coach under Black for the last nine seasons before his retirement.
Ham said he had gone to the library at Grand Valley State, where he is on the swim team, and had ignored texts and phone calls until he said his sister texted him that it was urgent for him to call back.
“I was looking at everyone’s texts, and that’s how I found out,” he said. “I called some of the guys back, but it didn’t set in then. (Wednesday), I woke up, went to class, then went to practice. I went up into the bleachers, looked down at the pool and it hit me.”
“He worked with hundreds and hundreds of student athletes and young swimmers over the years,” Hickman said. “He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. I hardly ever saw him get upset or angry.
“I’ve known him for two decades,” he continued. “There were kids who were there to learn about lifeguarding, 8-and-under kids learning to swim or even college kids who would come back and swim. Kids who graduated in the 80s would stop by. There were a lot of relationships over a long time that he built.
“I don’t know,” he concluded. “We’re all pretty shocked.”
“Just a good guy, through and through,” Ham said. “I’ve known him since I was 6 years old. He coached me all the way up through high school. I was really close to him.”
“He loved those kids,” Black said. “He was here all the time for them. He was there whenever they needed him. He was a pillar of Brighton swimming.”
McInnis, an Eastern Michigan University graduate, is survived by three brothers and five nieces and nephews. According to an online obituary, a private family service has already been held. Memorial contributions may be made to the National Park Foundation, 1110 Vermont Ave, Suite 200, Washington, DC, 20005.
Photo by Denis Hall/Ann Arbor Photo.com
You can see more photos of Tim McInnis by Denis Hall by clicking here.