NAUGATUCK — Last week the Naugatuck boys swim team lost to Holy Cross for the first time since 1983. Despite the loss, Greyhounds coach Jim McKee viewed the meet as a success.
It seems a little odd that one would view a loss as a success. But if any swim coach has the judgment to make such a statement, it’s McKee.
It might be the 24 league championships or the 514 victories over the course of a 36-year career. McKee’s accolades over the course of his career are not only impressive but downright head-shaking.
The former three-sport athlete from Crosby participated in football, swimming and track before going on to a prominent college career at Southern Connecticut State University.
He was the Owls’ captain in 1969 along with roommate Ed Aston, who became another swim coach legend at Cheshire.
McKee took over the boys swim team at Naugatuck in 1976 from Jim Farrar, a coaching legend in his own right, who accumulated 297 wins, eight state championships and two New England titles.
McKee soon took on the double duty of the boys and girls swim program for the Greyhounds. He has coached the boys for 36 seasons and the girls for 26 years. A 333-154 record with the boys and a 181-82 record with the girls has produced McKee’s gaudy coaching stats.
Over the course of those seasons he has guided nine All-Americans, 76 All-State swimmers and a 2002 national champion in diver Brian Mariano. His teams have broken 23 state records and he was recognized in 1990, 1993 and 1997 as Connecticut Swim Coach of the Year.
McKee doesn’t just work the Naugatuck pool deck for seven months a year. For the past 31 offseasons, McKee has also been the coach at the Copper Valley Club in Cheshire with over 150 swimmers.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that McKee’s ‘Hounds hadn’t lost to the Crusaders in nearly 30 years, but the historical success of his teams doesn’t mean that the 96-90 loss was a failure.
“Everyone wants to win, that’s a given,” McKee said. “But we had 90 best times in the meet against Holy Cross and yes, I view that as a successful meet. We came one-tenth of a second away from winning the meet. But I see the heads and tails of success in this sport and we had a very successful meet.”
McKee knows how much work is put in by his athletes and finds the true reward in seeing the fruits of their labor.
“These kids work hard to get better every time out there,” McKee said. “Over the course of a season they will swim up to a half a million yards in the pool. There are not too many student athletes that are willing to sign up for that. It’s nice to see the kids gain confidence and develop their skills. When they succeed, that is the thrill I get out of it.”
Because swimming is different than the popular team sports, McKee knows success doesn’t always lie in wins or losses.
“I mean no disrespect to any other sport or athlete, but in baseball you can come up and hit the game-winning home run,” McKee said. “In football you can kick a game-winning field goal. In basketball you can score the game-winning basket. That is viewed a success—the winning versus losing concept. But swimming is a lot like track. You are competing to do better than the last time you went out there.”
Competition with oneself may start in the pool, but McKee hopes his athletes keep the same attitude in other endeavors for years to come.
“In swimming you have to put in all the hard work and push yourself to the extreme,” McKee said. “It’s in the perseverance, which is where the success comes from. And it’s that same work ethic that they learn, that will carry throughout their life and make them successful in their career choices. That is what this is all about. I would view a successful season like this: When all is said and done and the kids can look back on it and say that all the hard work was worth it and they would do it again. That is a successful season.”
Coach’s Corner is a semi-regular column that shines the spotlight on a local coach.