POLK CITY, Fla. – He probably never went barefoot while working as superintendent of Redbank Valley Schools, but a former district official has continued to make waves as one of the top barefoot water skiers of all time.
Dr. John Cornish, who served as Redbank’s superintendent for 11 years starting in 1998, was recently announced as one of the 2019 inductees into the USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Foundation Hall of Fame.
“This is such an honor,” Cornish said recently. “I’m humbled and excited.”
After his years at Redbank, Cornish worked for four years as director of the Riverview Intermediate Unit 6 in Clarion, then retired in 2013. The former New Bethlehem resident currently spends his summers at Youghiogheny Lake in Pennsylvania, and winters at Lake Murray near Columbia, S.C.
The Hall of Fame’s selection committee announced its 2019 class last month, with five new inductees including Cornish. The induction ceremony will take place on April 27 at Walt Disney World’s Swan & Dolphin Resort in Florida.
Cornish was described in his Hall of Fame bio as “a wonderful skier and man.” It describes him as a national champion barefoot competitor and official credited with building the Eastern Region into one of the most competitive regions in barefooting.
“I have been skiing since age six and bare footing since age 15,” Cornish said. “I did shows and competitions and have been all over the world skiing. It is such an honor to be a part of the Hall of Fame with so many that I looked up to and followed.”
According to his Hall of Fame bio, Cornish took up barefooting by reading “The Water Skier” to learn about barefooting and tricks where he would attempt them with no instruction.
“He started a local ski club and put on local ski shows on his lake,” the Hall of Fame states. “He took his barefooting on the road with the West Show Club during the summer. John drew attention when he attempted a state barefoot speed record and was clocked at over 75 mph.”
Cornish first competed in the sport on a trip to the Cypress Gardens Endurance tournaments. He placed third and was inspired to go home and organize his own tournaments. He hosted the first Eastern Regional Barefoot Tournament in 1978.
“When John took over the Eastern Regional Director position, he traveled the country to develop other regional tournaments and officials in nearly every region,” the Hall of Fame states. “John and Stew McDonald were the first two appointed American judges to be sent to the first barefoot world championships in 1978. John was also an alternate on the U.S. Team for the 1978 Worlds.”
In later years, he coached two U.S. teams including the 1986 World Championships in Kelheim, Germany, where the U.S. won its first gold medal.
“From that point on, the U.S. team would dominate the World Barefoot Championships and go on to win an unprecedented 12 straight championships and still counting,” the Hall of Fame states. “John won two overall national titles and numerous individual event titles along with many top placements during his 18 years of competition.”
During his years of water skiing, Cornish served on numerous boards of directors, and leadership positions within the sport. He was selected as Eastern Region Barefooter of the Year and ABC Barefooter of the Year.
Retirement from his 40-year career in education has given him more time to spend doing what he loves.
“I still ski and barefoot a lot,” he said. “My boat was a tow boat for the 2018 World Championship in Canada last August. I competed this summer in the Eastern Region and did well, won my division.”
Cornish currently serves as historian chairman for the World Barefoot Council.
According to Cornish, tournaments are held all over the world. Skiers must qualify in one of the U.S. regions in order to advance to nationals. He said about 125 skiers take part in nationals.
On the world level, Cornish said competition is broken down into three regions, with 10 to 20 countries competing in the world level. He said that the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain are the top competitive teams.
For more about the sport and its Hall of Fame, visit www.usa-wwf.org.