Raiders name first ever wrestling coach

— 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 em­or­

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