As a player, and then coach, Jim Swanson watched as high school soccer grew from a sport that wasn't sanctioned by the organization that runs high school sports in the state to now being a sport where thousands of fans attend the state championship match each spring.
And Swanson got to experience it all at Creighton Prep, the most successful boys program in the state with nine NSAA state championships since soccer became an official sport in 1988.
For the past 14 years Swanson has been the co-head coach at Prep with Tom Hoover. During that time Prep won three state championships and was runner-up five times. Prep also won a state title when Swanson was the head coach in 2003.
This season Prep reached the first round of the state tournament and had a 16-4 record.
Swanson, Hoover, Creighton Prep and the state soccer tournament always seemed to go together. After matches, Hoover and Swanson often did TV interviews together, their arms draped on each others shoulders, with Hoover usually wearing a shirt and tie and a baseball cap.
But Swanson won’t be coaching at Prep anymore. He’s been a teacher, counselor, service trip leader and coach at Prep for 25 of the past 27 years, but has left the school for a new job, one where he feels like he can make a positive impact in Omaha.
Next month he’ll start a new job as director of student and family support with Christian Urban Education Service. In that job he’ll do social work and counseling for three inner-city Catholic grade schools, including working with immigrant students. He took the job to work more directly with under-represented students. He also may coach soccer at the youth level.
“I’ll work with families, and help the kids see their future,” Swanson said. “I did a lot of that at Prep, I think. Some of the kids would come in and say, 'This isn’t the right place for me.' And I’d say, ‘No, it is. This is the right place and you deserve to be here. This is college prep and you’re going to go to college and do something with your life for your family that gives you purpose and meaning.’ That’s my goal. That’s what I want to do.”
Hoover will now be the head coach, with Steve Monzu moving up from the JV team to be the varsity assistant.
Hoover and Swanson were each the head coach on separate occasions, but they also took sabbaticals. During his two sabbaticals, Swanson worked in Guatemala, and taught and coached at a Jesuit high school in Dublin, Ireland.
When Hoover returned in 2005, Hoover and Swanson decided to be co-head coaches. That may not work for some people, but they made it work with overwhelming success. Swanson took the lead on a lot of organization and paperwork that goes into coaching. Hoover thrived in relating to the players.
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“Tom, his ability to relate to adolescent males is almost beyond compare,” Swanson said. “He can hang out with a group of young men and banter and have fun talk, but get down to deep stuff.”
But Hoover and Swanson don’t take too much credit for developing great players.
“The soccer part, we get great soccer players at Creighton Prep. Tom and I both admit that,” Swanson said. “They come from clubs and they’ve been playing since they were young, so our job is to humble them a little bit and have a little humility and to develop team chemistry and keep the egos down. We’re really more team managers and counselors and all of that. We’re not tacticians and strategists.”
The relationships were the most important part of coaching, Swanson said, but he’s also proud of all that the program accomplished. Prep hasn’t missed qualifying for the state tournament since 2007.
“I’m very proud of that because you watch Brazil and Germany (in the 2018 World Cup), and in big tournaments it is so hard to get there, first of all, and it’s so hard with soccer being a game of luck sometimes and good fortune,” Swanson said. “France scores on an own-goal the first goal (of the final), and then video review. So I’m very proud that we got as far as we did, even though we always had very good players.”
Hoover and Swanson played soccer at Creighton Prep at the same time, and were also teammates at Creighton University.
Swanson has seen a lot of changes in high school soccer. At Prep about 130 students go out for soccer trying to make one of the four teams the school has. He’s seen Latino players help make several programs more competitive. Swanson says the players now are better and more knowledgeable than they used to be.
Swanson said it was a thrill to be on the sideline for state championship matches. Creighton Prep played Lincoln East in the first state championship played at Morrison Stadium in 2005.
“We lost 2-1 on a goal in the last four minutes of the game,” Swanson said. “It was an amazing experience. I thought that was the best sporting experience I’d ever had. I’d been to lots of cool sporting experiences, but it was just so much fun, and the passion and the excitement.
“Now that would probably be surpassed by us winning in 2011 and being undefeated. And the 2013 (championship) where we lost to Omaha South 1-0 with 8,200 people there. We had to delay the start of the game because there were too many people to get in. It’s fantastic. It’s so exciting.”