BY KEN MORSE
When Jim McKee relinquished his duties as Naugatuck boys swim coach in 2018, it came as a surprise but certainly not something that was unexpected. Beginning in 1976, after 42 years patrolling the pool deck it was time for that chapter to close for the lontime swim coach.
McKee continued on as the girls swim coach, along with his long time partner David Kunces, who has been his right hand man recording every event down to the last second. The legendary coach called it a career over the summer, and for the first time in decades the girls team will begin this season without McKee yelling out encouragement from the pool deck.
“I had no idea any of this would take place,” said McKee, recalling his illustrious career. “It started rather simply with me just helping out my old college roommate Ed Aston and the next thing you know I’m applying for the job at Naugatuck. Coaching is a bigtime commitment. My wife Suzanne and I just celebrated our 50th anniversary and when I started this I was single.
“But not only was this a commitment for me but for my family as well. Suzanne gave me the ok to keep going and I needed her ok because it turned out to be a lifelong commitment. I was fortunate enough to have coached both of my sons. Mark (class of 1994) and Michael (class of 1996) were both on the 1994 NVL championship team and we finished as Class LL runner-up.”
Along the way McKee put up some staggering numbers, winning 16 boys NVL titles. At one point over an eight-year span (1986-1994), the Naugy boys went 102-10, winning the 1992 Class L state championship, finishing as Class L runner-up in 1991 and 1994, along with State Open runner-up in 1993. McKee was named state coach of the year three times (1990, 1993, 1997) and compiled a sturdy 392-188 record.
The Naugy girls swim teams were just as successful under McKee’s tutelage. From 1996-2005, the girls won eight NVL championships, twice putting together runs of four straight titles.
When the Greyhounds weren’t bringing home league titles they were knocking on the door rather loudly, and in the final 10 years of McKee’s career as girls coach, Naugy was runner-up three times (2012, 2018, 2021) and were runner-up with the boys in the final four years of his career.
“I don’t know, maybe it was all the craziness with COVID going on, but I told Dave (Kunces) back in June that the girls were in good shape and had a good team coming back so I was going to call it quits,” said McKee. “After all this time I feel fulfilled. “It was fun to have large teams of 50-plus kids. The meets were a little longer but there was a strong bond. A lot of lifelong friendships were made on those teams. I know today kids are pulled in a lot of directions playing other sports or being in the band. Just as long as whatever you do you make that commitment to be the best that you can be. That’s what it’s all about.”
All told, McKee led the girls team for 36 seasons, starting in 1986, compiling a record of 272-120-2. When you put that together with the boys teams you are looking at 78 swim seasons and a record of 664-308-2 that includes 24 NVL championships and one state title.
The Naugatuck boys and girls swim teams are now under the direction of coach Dan Knepple. McKee is quite comfortable leaving the Greyhounds in the hands of the young coach.
“Dan will do a good job,” said McKee. “He is very knowledgeable and he will do well. He has a good group of kids to work with.”
“Coach McKee has really made this rather easy,” said Knepple. “Just like when I took over the boys program a few years ago, these kids already know what to do and they can just flat-out swim.”
When you think about the rich history of Naugatuck sports, the names of Ray Legenza, Craig Peters, Ed Mariano and Art Nunes come to the forefront. Now the name of Jim McKee can be added to the list, but in the minds of most people in the borough, Jim was already on that list years ago.
BY KEN MORSE