After 50 years, Stevenson's 'Swanee' is still going strong
It's 132 seasons.
Fifty baseball seasons.
Forty-nine basketball seasons.
Thirty-three football seasons.
Paul Swan has never missed coaching a baseball season at Stevenson since he began working there in 1969.
He would still be coaching football at the school but 17 years ago, after his 33rd season with the Patriots, he was offered an opportunity to coach college football at Bethel University in Minnesota so he spends three months every fall doing that as the running backs coach.
But each winter, he eagerly returns to Lincolnshire to coach basketball at Stevenson. Somewhere in his 50 years at Stevenson, Swan missed a basketball season. He can't remember what year exactly that was, but there have been 50 of them to keep track of, after all.
Fifty years of coaching at Stevenson. 50 years across three sports for a total of 132 seasons.
Swan's longevity, and his loyalty to one school are unparalleled.
Friendly, well-liked and widely known in Lake County's high school sports community as "Swanee," Swan has quite literally been a lifer coach at Stevenson, and the school is planning to honor his 50 years of service before its home boys basketball game against Prospect at 7 p.m. on Dec. 15.
"I am so blessed," Swan said. "God has been so good to me. He's given me way more than any one person deserves."
Swan says that he has done for 50 years, and is still doing to this day, the one and only thing he ever wanted to do with his life: coach.
Next to his longtime marriage to Kathy, a fellow teacher whom he met at Stevenson and who Swan says is "a rock, a warrior and what a coach's wife is all about," coaching sports is the great love affair of Swan's life.
He was the Patriots' head baseball coach for seven years early in his career at the school, but he is more widely known as that good-natured, cheerful, good cop assistant coach who has faithfully and more than willingly served behind the scenes.
Of his 132 seasons at Stevenson, 125 of them have been as an assistant. And the 71-year-old Swan, who officially retired from Stevenson in 2002 but has been either a paid or volunteer assistant there ever since, says he wouldn't have it any other way.
"At one time, I thought that I wanted to be a head coach," Swan said. "But I'm just more comfortable being an assistant coach. I'm not really a very good X's and O's guy. I'm not a big picture guy like you have to be as head coach.
"I love the teaching part of coaching. I love to encourage the kids and to help them grow and to be better people. I think that's what my gift is."
Of course, Stevenson boys basketball coach Pat Ambrose would argue that Swan brings far more to the table than that.
Ambrose, in his 20th year as head coach at Stevenson, recently celebrated his 400th career win and Swan has been his top assistant for all of them.
"What Paul has done at Stevenson has been amazing. Think about it, 50 years. And for me, he's been with me for everything," Ambrose said. "With our staff, he has been that voice of wisdom, of reason, of calmness. Having coached for 50 years in football and basketball and baseball, at the high school and college levels, he has helped to build so many teams and he has worked with so many different people. He definitely has great perspective and he can always put things into the right perspective.
"He's always the guy to say, 'don't worry about this, or this isn't a big deal.' He's great in that role for us and that has certainly helped me over the years as a head coach."
Swan was on the bench with Ambrose when Stevenson won the Class 4A state basketball championship in 2015. He was also on the bench in 1992 when Stevenson made its very first trip to the state finals in boys basketball under former head coach Ken Johnson.
"One of my favorite games in basketball was the season before we went downstate in 1992. This would have been the 1990-91 season," Swan said. "No one expected us to do much that year but we ended up winning the North Suburban Conference title by winning an overtime game against Warren. I'll never forget the crowd spilling out of the stands after that game. It was such a great game and such a great environment, and then the next season we made our first-ever trip downstate by beating Glenbrook North in triple overtime at the supersectional at Northwestern. All of that ... that's just a great memory for me."
It's one of many, many great memories. 50 years of memories. Almost too many memories to remember.
"Obviously, all of the wins are fun and great to remember, but winning isn't really what fills you, and that's what I try to teach the kids," Swan said. "The main thing I want kids to learn from me is how to be grateful and how to be selfless and how to care about their teammates. Teaching that and working with so many kids over the years to help them grow as people, that's my favorite memory."
Celebrate Swanee: The Stevenson baseball program is holding a pasta dinner fundraiser on Saturday, Dec. 15 at Stevenson High School prior to the varsity boys basketball game to honor Paul Swan for his 50 years of coaching at the school. The dinner will run from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Wood Commons and West Commons. The cost is $10. For adults 60 and over and children 10 and under, the cost is $8. Anyone who attends the pasta dinner will also receive a free ticket to the boys basketball game against Prospect that will follow at 7 p.m. in the Stevenson Sports Center. Tickets for the dinner may be purchased online at Stevenson's Online Superstore through Dec. 14 or at the door with cash, check or credit card.
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw