Introduced the "swan turn"
Bill Clifford's impact on organized water skiing is unsurpassed among his peers in a career that spanned nearly 30 years of close association with the sport. For 25 of those years, he was executive director of the American Water Ski Association but his service to water skiing extended for beyond his duties in that capacity.
Clifford was introduced to the sport in 1948 when he enrolled at Florida Southern College under the G. I. Bill and signed up for water skiing for physical education credit. He made the water ski team and competed against skiers from the University of Miami and Rollins College, three-way match-ups that marked the beginning of intercollegiate water ski competition.
Tricks and slalom were his favorites ("My jumping was good only for laughs.") He introduced the back-to-front toe turn (then known as the swan turn) to competition in 1951. His skill as a trick and slalom skier took him to the Nationals during the 1950's. His best finishes were a second in tricks and a fourth in slalom, not bad when you consider that he was one of the few slalom skiers who persisted in running the course on two skis long after the single ski had been almost universally adopted for high-speed runs.
Clifford's lengthy list of officiating credits began in 1950 when he was named judge of the World Championships at Cypress Gardens. In the next 18 years, he was judge for scores of major tournaments, including the Nationals, All-American, Dixie, North American championships, Southern Regionals and the Masters.
He was chief judge of the 1959 Ida Cason Callaway Gardens Invitational, renamed the Masters Water Ski Tournament the following year, and continued as chief judge for the next ten years. His rose extended to additional counseling with tournament host Bo Callaway that helped make this tournament the model for water ski competition throughout the world and a sport attraction picked up by the ABC-TV network's Wide World of Sports for seven straight years.
Many refinements that later were incorporated in the official rules were tried experimentally at the Masters under Bill Clifford's guidance. His continuing determination to press for simplification of the rules led to such reforms as continuous slalom, elimination of form in jumping, use of video tape to assist judges in conforming complicated trick runs, standards for towlines and later for towboats, and many others.
Much of this activity reflected a dedication to the sport far beyond his service as the first paid executive director of AWSA, a job he was appointed to in 1958. He had served as president of the association in 1957 and had become thoroughly familiar with its volunteer leaders and operation. Under his leadership, AWSA grew steadily from a competitive activity that was attracting but a handful of tournament regulars into a more broadly based sport that not only involved more than 350 sanctioned tournaments annually in the U.S. alone, but expanded into the Boy scout movement with a merit badge, a rating system for summer camps and a widely promoted program of skiing safety for family participants.
Clifford's influence extended into international circles. He served as U.S. delegate to the biennial congress of the World Water Ski Union. He was secretary-general of the WWSU in 1957 and later was elected secretary-general of the WWSU Group I, a position that enabled him to encourage greater participation in the sport by the countries of Central and South America.
As secretary of the American Water Ski Educational Foundation, Clifford led a successful financial campaign in 1975 that resulted in construction of the building now shared by AWSA and AWSEF, including the Water Ski Museum and Hall of Fame.
Clifford's varied talents extended outside the sport of water skiing to include acting in motion pictures and television commercials, most notably as a clown. But of all of his accomplishments, Clifford is proudest of his successful drive back in the 1950's to include Junior Boys and Junior Girls in our National Championships.