The Charles McCaffree-era Films

Reels of film related to swimming and diving.

Charles McCaffree (1907-1980) was head coach of the Michigan State Swimming & Diving program from 1942-1969, nearly the entire term of John A. Hannah’s presidency at the university.  The IM West building’s indoor pool at Michigan State University (MSU), which was designed by McCaffree, was renamed “The Charles McCaffree Pool” in his honor in 1979.  In 2011, McCaffree was posthumously inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame, having led the team to a record of 191-58-2.  McCaffree coached many U.S. Olympians in his lifetime, two of which (Clarke Scholes and Kenneth Walsh) won gold medals.  Another Spartan athlete, Gary Dilley, won the silver.

In October 2020, MSU announced that its athletics department would no longer sponsor the men’s and women’s swimming and diving program after the end of the 2020-2021 season.1  Having been a competitive swimmer myself until I was sidelined by a neck injury at 15, I took this news personally.  I decided to concentrate some of my preservation efforts on moving image films related to the history of MSU Swimming & Diving.  This presented some unique and interesting challenges.

Some of the earliest films in the collection exhibited strong vinegar syndrome (breakdown in the cellulose triacetate base which causes film to give off a vinegary odor), spoking (deformation of the film caused by shrinkage or too much winding tension)2, shrinkage and curling.  A-D (acetate decay) strips are used to determine how much deterioration has taken place, which can be an effective way to show stakeholders that something must be done to preserve the film before it is too late.  Intervention, such as outsourcing the film to a professional vendor, would be necessary to loosen the film to the point where it could pass safely through a scanner in order to preserve the moving image content.

An A-D strip with an indication of the highest level of deterioration.

One film that I WAS able to scan in-house, a travelogue of the team flying to Wisconsin and then Minnesota to compete in the final dual meets of their 1965-1966 season, was in two separate elements: a reel of images with no sound, and a reel of optical audio only with no images.  These elements were scanned separately, the audio extracted digitally from the optical reel, and then synchronized in DaVinci Resolve editing software.  Preservation, mezzanine (duplication) and access (streaming) files were created afterwards.  The film concludes with images of the indoor and outdoor pools at MSU (the 1959 Pan-American swimming and diving trials were hosted at the outdoor pool), and some campus scenes.

Film footage of the 1950 NAAU Swimming Championships, experiencing severe curling and spoking.

The films that have been digitized include dual and championship meets, highlight footage, travelogues, footage of the construction of MSU’s outdoor pool, and a 1963 interview of Coach McCaffree with sports broadcaster Bob Shackleton, and can be viewed through arrangements with MSU Archives & Historical Collections. Hopefully, these images will continue to be viewed and appreciated for many years.

Still image from the film of Charles McCaffree being interviewed by Bob Shackleton (A009397).
  1. Official Michigan State University Athletics press release
  2. National Archives Archival Formats: Glossary of Terms – Terms Used in the Preservation of Audio, Video and Motion Picture Film


Add yours →

  1. What a wonderful post with appeal and interest for those who simply love to watch old films or are interested in competitive swimming, athletes, Olympians, Spartans, and film preservation specialists. I loved the hip 60s music background in the first film! The links are informative. I can’t wait to see what other films you will blog about and I’m not even a Spartan (Don’t hate me for that). I have films with the same preservation issues so I can relate. There are so many interesting films in your film collection. Are there additional collections beyond those you mentioned in MSU Archives, paper-based or still images, that document the MSU swim team, athletes, Olympians, and coaches that an interested researcher might access? Are you accepting donations of Spartan-related film? Can I share this blog on my blog? Some of my Spartan relatives would find this interesting.

  2. Matthew Wilcox 2021-02-16 — 21:05

    Slight correction: the Pan-American swimming and diving trials were held in 1959, not 1960.

© 2024 Media Preservation at MSU Libraries

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑