NEW LONDON — The years tend to run together for Brian Swafford these days. Thirty years of coaching wrestling will do that to a guy.
But each year brings a new challenge for the long-time New London coach, who not only is an assistant coach for the high school team, but the head coach of the junior high squad.
And with each and every passing season, the sport brings its share of rewards, too.
Case in point: Swafford, who started coaching junior high 26 years ago, was named the State Junior High Wrestling Coach of the Year. Swafford will receive his award during a ceremony tonight before the finals at the state wrestling tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
For Swafford, who wrestled for Mediapolis before joining Mark Chiri’s staff at New London in 1987, it is just icing on the cake. His real reward is seeing his wrestlers succeed on the mat and in life.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. I know the guy who I talked to on the phone from the state said there were 18 really qualified candidates. One of the things that touched me when i found out was Coach Siegle gave me a call when he found out. He said, ‘Good job. Well deserved.’ It just blows my mind. He said, ‘I’m one of those parents of the kids that you coached. I was lucky enough to have you as a coach for my son.’ That meant a lot,” Swafford said.
Swafford learned the ropes from three legends of the sport. He started wrestling at Mediapolis under Ron Crooks and finished up his high school career under Hall of Famer Dan Cummings. He had been with Chiri at New London for 30 of Chiri’s 31 years at the helm, helping the Tigers compile a 387-188-3 record in duals over that span.
Through it all, Swafford has developed his own coaching philosophies, mixing and matching a little bit from everyone he’s coached with through the years.
“I went to Mediapolis. I was a part of the beginnings of their wrestling program becoming what it is. Ron Crooks was my coach. My senior year was Dan Cummings’ first year. I had a really good relationship with Dan. I learned some things from him about developing strategies. When one thing isn’t working, you have something to go to. They fit together. I feel like I learned how to wrestle from those guys. I did all sports and the lessons I learned from wrestling I’ve taken to all my sports,” Swafford said. “My first year in 1987 I feel like I was learning a lot. He exposed me to a lot of technique. Techniques changed from when I was in school. You rode people and you had all three positions that you worked at and you had to be good at all of them. My fundamentals were really sound. I feel like I brought a lot of that to our program and Coach Chiri had been exposed to a lot of techniques in the Des Moines area. I was learning some new moves. I think that’s what makes all of us good is when we’re learners. I’ve been trying to learn every year.”
“I think it’s been a really long road. I remember being here when I was 25. I got a phone call in the office and I go running up there. They said, ‘Coach of the year.’ I go, ‘I don’t even know the coaches down here. I don’t know who to vote for.’ They go, ‘No, you got district coach of the year.’ You don’t think of that when you’re with your kids. Now you get to the end and I should feel so cool because not only has Reno (Chiri) made it to state his senior year, but now Brian has gotten Junior High Coach of the Year. We’ve been together for 30 of the 31 years,” Mark Chiri said.
Swafford is now coaching second generation wrestlers at New London. The kids of kids he coached when he first came to New London are coming through now. Swafford is still enjoying every minute of the sport which has meant so much to him for so long.
“I think that’s why I do what I do. That’s what I enjoy the most is seeing little guys like this Carson (Coleman) kid starting out and I get them in junior high and seeing them progress. That’s what I get my satisfaction out of,” Swafford said.”It seems like I’ve only been at the school for 10 years and yet here I am 30 years at a place and I’m coaching next generation kids. A lot of the names that I started off with, I’m coaching their kids already. It’s like a family. I’ve enjoyed the whole boat ride. I wouldn’t do anything different.”