The Post-Journal

Recalling Two Stints Of Double Duty

When the Sherman girls’ basketball team lost in the Class D Far West Regionals last Saturday, it was the end of another long season for Coach Mel Swanson. He would have liked to have seen it go further, but after coaching the Lady Wildcats for 31 years Swanson admits he still feels worn out after a basketball season.

But two times in his career Swanson was even more worn out after coaching not one, but two basketball seasons. For the 1995-96 and 1996-97 school years, Swanson coached both the Sherman girls and boys teams.

It was an unusual situation brought on unusual circumstances.

Frank Wasylink had been the Sherman boys coach for 33 years when he passed away in the fall of 1995.

“It was such a shock when Frank passed away,” Swanson recalled. “At that time there really wasn’t anyone in the system that had coached at the varsity level or the jayvee or junior high level that wanted to move up or that was really ready to.”

So he and the Sherman administration discussed the situation and it was decided Swanson would coach the boys’ team in addition to the girls’ squad, which he had coached since 1979. “It was a mutual thing” Swanson said. “We thought we could make it work as long as it was just a year.”

He added “I had worked with Frank so much before and had been around those kids, it wasn’t a hard transition. At the time it seemed like it was the right thing to do and I had a lot of support. The players were all OK with it.”

But what Swanson didn’t know was that “just a year” would become two years.

Under the coaching of Swanson in 1995-96, the girls finished with a 23-3 record after advancing to the Far West Regionals and the boys were eliminated in the sectional quarterfinals with a 15-7 record.

Things had gone rather well and Swanson thought coaching both teams in one season would be something to put in his memory bank. But in July of 1996 he discovered his memory bank’s deposit window was still open.

Swanson’s boys’ assistant coach during the 1995-96 season was supposed to take over the head coaching duties for 1996-97. But in mid-summer, the assistant coach took another teaching position and left the area. “That was a little shocking when that happened,” Swanson said.

Suddenly Sherman was again without a boys’ basketball coach. In order to keep things as consistent as possible, Swanson agreed to coach the boys again while also coaching the girls.

It was déjà vu all over again!

Both teams went on to have 16-6 records as the girls lost in the sectional semifinals and the boys fell in the sectional finals.

“Both of them went deep into the playoffs,” Swanson said. “It would have been a lot tougher if we were losing game after game.”

When asked if at times during his two seasons of dual coaching he looked in the mirror and asked, “What am I doing?” Swanson said no.

But he added, “There were a few times my wife said that.”

What added to Swanson’s decision to do the dual coaching the first, and supposed, only season was that his son, Patrick, was a senior on the boys’ team and his daughter, Leslie, was a junior on the girls team.

“Coaching the boys the second year without my son was a little harder,” Swanson said. “He was a good leader and very patient.”

Patience describes Swanson because it’s one thing to have practice and games with one team, but what about two? “It was a full day,” was his understatement.

As the seasons wore on, sometimes the teams would practice together with a half court for each. But mostly they had separate practices and Swanson was careful to keep the boys’ situation the same.

“We really tried to keep it as similar as to how the program had run before and Frank always practiced late,” Swanson said.

So often the girls practiced from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Then Swanson would go home for dinner and return to the school for the boys’ practice from 8 to 9:30 or 10:00 p.m.

And sometimes it was difficult for Swanson to remember which team he was coaching. For instance he recalled setting up a play for the boys’ team, but it was the wrong team. “They’d look at me and say ‘Coach, the girls run that.”’ Swanson said.

Fortunately back in the 1990’s girls basketball games were scheduled on Mondays and Thursdays and the boys played on Tuesdays and Fridays. So Swanson had games almost every week night, but there was only one conflict. One night the girls were scheduled to play at Ripley and the boys had a home game. It was arranged for the girls’ varsity game at Ripley to be played at 6 p.m., when the junior varsity plays, and then Swanson drove to Sherman and arrived after the boys’ game had started. Assistant coach Cory Emory had started coaching the game and Swanson just sat on the bench and let him continue.

And Emory did continue the following season when he took over the boys’ varsity and is still the Wildcats’ head coach.

“Cory was ready to do the job, he just didn’t feel like he wanted to jump in right away,” Swanson said about his second year of coaching the boys. “He probably could have done it without me being there.”

After his two seasons of dual coaching, Swanson has been on “vacation” for the last 14 years by only coaching one basketball team – the girls.

Looking back at his double dose of double duty Swanson said, “Without good kids it would have been impossible.”

He also noted, “I was a lot younger then.”

And he added emphatically, “it’s not going to happen again.”

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