— After years as an assistant with both North Catholic and Bishop McDevitt wrestling, John Swift plans to build Ryan’s program from the ground up.
It was such a successful year in Archbishop Ryan athletics that the school decided to add a new sport to its repertoire.
John Swift couldn’t be happier.
Two weeks ago, Swift — or “Swifty,” as he is known to those closest to him — was hired as the first wrestling coach in Archbishop Ryan’s history. At a school with such deep-rooted athletic tradition, it’s almost hard to believe that wrestling has never been an option for Ryan student-athletes.
That will all change later this year, when the school embarks on its first-ever wrestling campaign. Athletic director George Todt, who has been at the school for more than 40 years, believes he found the right man for the job in Swift, a former coach and wrestler at North Catholic (Class of 1994). As a wrestler at North in the early ‘90s, Swift was part of three Catholic League championships; now an assistant wrestling coach at Bishop McDevitt, Swift is set to leave his post for his first major head coaching opportunity.
“Being a North Catholic guy coming into Archbishop Ryan, I wasn’t sure what the reception would be like, but they’ve already embraced me as part of the family,” Swift said by phone on Monday afternoon. “At a recent open house at the school, so many of the other coaches offered me their help right away, and they all wanted to learn more about wrestling. It’s overwhelming to see that type of reaction without having been around the school.”
Though he’s surprised it’s taken this long, Swift is thrilled to be the one who gets to build Ryan’s wrestling program from its foundation.
“To be honest, I was always shocked they didn’t have a program here,” Swift said. “Ryan was always one of the schools with the most kids in the city, and they’ve got tons of student-athletes here. Thing is, probably about 90 percent of them have never seen a high school wrestling match, so it’s going to be a challenge. But I’m ready to take on that responsibility.”
Swift hopes he has no trouble luring Ryan students into taking up wrestling. He said he and head football coach Frank McArdle have already hit it off, and Swift hopes to address McArdle’s players sometime soon in an effort to get some of them interested in wrestling, which offers physical and mental challenges that are similar to those in football.
Swift knows just how challenging the task at hand is, especially given that the new program will be participating in the Catholic League, which is ultra-competitive in every sport. Ryan’s new wrestling coach said he easily could have stayed in place at McDevitt until a job in a program with an established history opened up, but that just isn’t his way.
“I was very happy at McDevitt, so I probably could have waited for an opportunity to slide into place,” Swift said. “As anybody knows, anything worth fighting for doesn’t come easy. Even though there’s no program in place and we’re starting from scratch, it was the right decision.”
Swift said his short-term goals are just “to get this thing up and running.” He will have a brand new, state-of-the-art facility that will house a weight room and the school’s first-ever wrestling room. Swift, who used to run North’s junior wrestling program (teaching the sport to kids in first through eighth grades), hopes to establish one at Ryan down the line. He plans on getting information on the new program at Ryan to area grade schools in hopes of attracting future wrestlers for the high school. Long term, Swift said he wishes to turn the school into a “powerhouse in Southeastern Pennsylvania” that will “bring championships to Ryan.”
Getting hired by someone like Todt, someone who has devoted his entire life to Archbishop Ryan, also has fueled Swift to succeed.
“A guy like that, he’s taken so many 14- to 15-year-old boys and turned them into men,” Swift said. “To be in his presence and hear him speak was both intimidating and overwhelming. I think in our second interview he could see the passion I have for the sport, and I think he saw in me a young coach looking for a chance. I’ll work as hard as I can to make sure to put Ryan wrestling on the map and make my hiring worthwhile for him.”
Over the course of his long career, Todt always has preached family to his coaches and student-athletes. Swift has immediately felt like a part of it, and he can’t wait to officially get started. He knows it will be anything but easy, which is fine for someone who’s devoted most of his life to wrestling.
“It’s absolutely the toughest sport you can do at the high school level,” he said. “Not only the physical part of trying to pin another guy on his back, but also the mental aspect of it; losing weight and keeping it off … it’s just very different from sports like football or baseball. It’s not for everybody.
“Whoever wrestles for us at Ryan, they’ll learn to be tough on the mat, and win or lose, they’ll learn to wrestle with pride. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation to come into.” ••
Sports Editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or firstname.lastname@example.org