John Russell Crouch grew up in the small Texas desert town of Hondo. He was a self-taught, standout high school swimmer and got his nickname from sportswriters in 1934 when as a 17-year-old he won every event he entered in the Texas State Meet. Swimming for Coach Tex Robertson at Texas (1935-1941), he was called the “Swimming Cowboy.” Crouch became the first Southwest Conference Champion and two-time all-American in the 50 and 100yd. freestyle. In 1936, when he was team captain, the all-American 300yd. medley relay team brought unknown Texas from number forty to number four in the nation in the national championships. He always stuck out from everyone else because he dressed like a B movie cowboy. For swim meets, he would show up on deck at Gregory Gym wearing his swim suit, boots and cowboy hat. He was known to take his pet skunk and guitar on swim meet trips. As a top-rated swimmer and as a colorful character, Hondo garnered much publicity for the team.
For the next 25 years Hondo ranched in Fredericksburg and coached at summer camps, from Camp Rio Vista to Camp Longhorn to Camp Champions, a camp he helped start in 1960 and owned from 1968 to 1976. He started a swim club in Fredericksburg in 1958 named DFRAC (Downtown Fredericksburg River Aquatics) and with those swimmers, put on a swim show to open the new municipal pool. Hondo taught his kids with humor and psychology, building self-confidence and esteem rather than focusing on competition. His quotes are still remembered: “This is swimming. You can’t find a better sport to save your life.”
Crouch brought recognition to his community, the Hill Country, and his state simply because he was an original. A genuine individualist and colorful character, Texas Monthly dubbed him “The Most Professional Texan.” He and his teammates were pioneers in the young life of Texas swimming, and for a quarter of a century he coached, promoted, and directed swimming for hundreds of kids. In 1970, as owner and mayor of Luckenbach, Texas, he became a folk hero. “The Clown Prince” and “Imagineer, authorized distributor” were some of his titles. Upon seeing the unfinished new Texas Swim Center he remarked, “Gollee! Just think of all the bales of hay I could store in here!” His grandsons Ren and Kit Patterson followed his tradition and swam at Texas under Coach Eddie Reese for seven years, 1986 to 1993. Author James A. Michener wrote, “Hondo said he was a legend in his own mind. He is definitely a Texas legend in my mind and in the minds of countless others.”