Although Glynn Academy didn't have a swim team in the 1950s, Jimmy Bankston learned to swim and dive on his own as a youngster at both the Casino Pool and the King and Prince pool on St. Simons Island. Primarily a diver, young Bankston studied diving through a book his mother gave him and then began perfecting the sport by diving off the roof of the St. Simons Island Pier.
Bankston was offered a diving scholarship to the University of North Carolina, but with the Korean War heating up, he stayed in Chapel Hill for only four months before coming home and then enlisting in the U.S. Army. While serving in the Army in Germany in the Infantry division, he also served with the special services and did diving exhibitions throughout Europe. Bankston, upon his release from the service, was offered a diving scholarship by the University of Georgia. He immediately accepted the offer and enrolled at UGA in 1955. His younger brother, Charlie, would follow him to Athens two years later, also on a diving scholarship.
It wasn't long before Georgia hall of fame swim coach B.W. "Bump" Gabrielsen drafted Bankston onto the Bulldogs' swim team, suddenly throwing him into a swim event against rival Georgia Tech. Bankston won his first competitive swimming event ever that day and then went on to make UGA history in the pool. A three-time All-SEC selection, Bankston captured SEC individual championships in the 100-yard free (1958), 220-yard free (1957, '58), 440-yard free (1957) and 1,500-meter free (1957, '59). Although the events today aren't the same in distance, Bankston continues to hold the school records in the 220, 440 and 1,500. He also swam in the NCAA national championships where he placed sixth in the 1,500-meter race.
It is believed that Bankston is the only swimmer to swim from the St. Simons Pier across the sound to Jekyll Island and back. He did that as a 16-year-old and was accompanied by two friends when they left the pier. But as he recalls: "I moved on out ahead of them a pretty good ways and when I looked around, they weren't there. They had to go back."