Former Venice Olympic athlete inducted into L.A. City Section Hall of Fame

Josiah Destin, Reporter

Legendary coaches, champion athletes and generous contributors poured into the Culver City Doubletree Hotel on Sunday April 26 for the third bi-annual LA City Section Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Among the 60 inductees who all attended LAUSD high schools was one from Venice High School, swimmer James “Wally” O’Connor.

O’Connor passed away at the age of 47 in 1950, but Venice High Assistant Principal Rene Maza was glad to be his representative. O’Connor was honored at the event in front of a crowd of approximately 300 people. A short summary of all his incredible achievements was announced by Mr. Maza, who received the trophy from LA City Section Commissioner John Aguirre.

The Olympic medalist swimmer represented Venice all over the globe. He participated in an outstanding four Olympic games. O’Connor won a gold medal as a part of the 1924 USA swim team competing in the 4×200 freestyle relay team. He also earned a bronze as a member of the U.S. water polo team. Not only was he highly talented athletically, he took his studies seriously. He attended Stanford University and won the NCAA championship in the 220 and 440 freestyle events. After his studies at Stanford, O’Connor went on to win another medal in the 1932 Olympics. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, O’Connor was chosen to be the U.S. flag bearer in the opening ceremonies where he refused to dip his flag toward Adolf Hitler.

“It’s significant that he’s the first (inductee) from Venice and appropriate that it’s in aquatics because Venice is so close to the water,” said Mr. Maza. O’Connor was a member of the Venice Swim Association teams while he was a student at Venice High. He also was the captain of the lifeguards at the Venice Plunge. The Venice Plunge was a hot salt-water indoor pool near the beach that existed from 1906 to 1943. Cal Porter of claims that he and O’Connor were the last two people to swim in the famous Venice Plunge. They broke through a nailed-up entrance to enjoy their last swim.

The event was full of outstanding athletes and individuals.

“It’s amazing to be part of an event with so many great announcers, athletes, and coaches,” said Eric Davis, former MLB player. Former NFL coach Jim Mora, NCAA basketball player and coach Denny Crum and volleyball world champion Randy Stoklos were just a few of the incredible inductees at this year’s event.