The Coach is gone, and area high school basketball will never be the same.
Not to me, anyway.
I met John Swogger in 1968 when he was named head coach of the Altoona Mountain Lions, and that was the beginning of a relationship unlike I had ever had or have had in my many years of covering area high school sports.
I have always prided myself on being fair in my coverage whether it's to area athletes and coaches or visiting athletes and coaches. Over the 12 seasons - 1968-1980 - that Swogger coached the Mountain Lions, I don't think we ever exchanged unkind words.
Even in tough losses, and the stories that followed, Swogger never questioned my coverage of the games. From the beginning, we had a mutual respect for what each of us was doing, and that never changed.
Out of that respect developed a friendship that never altered, either. A fierce competitor in his younger days, Swogger mellowed in recent years, but his love for the game and its people never changed.
Although Swogger hasn't coached on the high school level for more than 30 years, we've remained close. Whether it was a short phone conversation or at our Thursday morning breakfast group, or an area high school game or a clinic with my granddaughters, he was always the same - smiling and upbeat. And nothing excited him more than talking about his grandkids or mine. Well, maybe high school basketball.
He loved to talk high school basketball anytime, anywhere.
Swogger learned basketball from legendary high school coach Butler Hennon at Wampum, and his first job was assisting Hennon. Then it was on to Mercer for his first head coaching job. He took the Mustangs to five state title appearances and a pair of state championships.
That brought him to Altoona and with him came his great family - wife Sally and six kids. And, several beagles, too. John loved to raise and train beagle pups, which he did for many years.
During 12 seasons at AAHS, Swogger won 242 games (79 losses) and won nine District 6 championships. He never won a state title here, but his fast-breaking offense - he loved the Celtics' fastbreak of Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman - became known statewide and is still copied by coaches throughout Pennsylvania.
Swogger's teams consistently packed the Jaffa Mosque for games with powerful teams from the WPIAL and Pittsburgh City League. Fans loved his entertaining, disciplined style of play, and many still talk about it today.
"Discipline and winning go hand in hand," was a common theme with Swogger.
He was not without his share of detractors, though. The alleged recruiting of Ricky Tunstall did not go over well with a lot of people in the community, and there were some fans and parents who tried to have him removed from his coaching job way back when.
But time heals a lot of wounds, and Swogger always maintained an aura about him. All these many years later, he was still known to most folks simply as "Coach."
Few remained closer to the sport than he did. He always had time for a game or time to help a youngster who sought his advice. They were all his kids, and he'd often tear up when talking about them.
Years from now, when people talk about area high school basketball or coaches, you can bet John Swogger's name will be among the first mentioned.
"The Coach" was the kind of guy you don't forget.
Jim Lane is a retired sports editor of the Mirror. He covered Altoona High sports during Swogger's tenure as the Mountain Lions' coach.