It is 1974 and life is not easy for a black male, even a college-educated one like Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard), to find employment. Struggling to find anything better, Jim, a former competitive swimmer, accepts the job of dismantling the decrepit Marcus Foster Recreation Center operated by the Philadelphia Department of Recreation. The center includes a dilapidated swimming pool, which Ellis rehabilitates. Ellis' presence and activities causes friction with a bitter, overprotective janitor named Elston (Bernie Mac). One day, Jim invites a group of black teens who have just been thrown off the basketball court in the Center's yard in for a swim. Andre (Kevin Phillips), Hakim (Nate Parker), Reggie (Evan Ross), Puddin’ Head (Brandon Fobbs), and Walt (Alphonso McAuley) prove to be fairly capable swimmers and with a few pointers, could become great swimmers. With some help from Elston, Jim decides to try to save the public swimming pool by starting the city's first all African-American swim team. When the team also acquires Willie (Regine Nehy), a female swimmer more gifted than any of the boys, the prospects of competing against much more experienced rival white teams begin to seem more positive. Jim also develops a romantic interest in a beautiful city councilor (Kimberly Elise), Hakim's sister and guardian. Throughout their struggles, in or out of the swimming pool, Jim and Elston embrace and mentor the kids, helping them become successful at swimming and struggle against prejudice, crime, and poverty.