Graduation at Woodbury High School on June 1 will be a rite of passage for the class of 2014. It will also be a milestone for Scott Swansson, affectionately known as “Swanny,” who is retiring after 35 years of teaching and coaching. We talked with Swanny about his long career in the classroom and on the court.
Woodbury Magazine: What class at Woodbury High School has been your favorite to teach?
Scott Swansson: I’ve always taught social studies; I was here when we housed grades 7-12 in the building, so I’ve taught 7th grade geography, psychology, economics, American history, world history, sociology and advanced sociology. Sociology is the class I had the most passion for. Through discussions, I would see students’ eyes opened to different perspectives when it comes to prejudice and discrimination in our society.
WBM: You have coached football, basketball and baseball at WHS, taking over the head boys basketball coaching role after Del Schiffler. Tell us about that.
SS: Those were huge shoes to fill, and I knew it would be a challenge. I’d been Del’s assistant for 15 years; he was one of the best coaches in the history of Minnesota basketball, and I appreciate his mentorship. We have tried to carry on what he started. I hope that kids take this away from our basketball program: If you work hard and put in the time, it’s gonna pay off. There are a lot of “life lessons” in that.
WBM: How did Swanny Sweater Night get started?
SS: Here’s what happened: I gained a little weight and started wearing sweaters to cover up my belly. Every Christmas, my sisters-in-law gave me a flamboyant sweater and dared me to wear it. Mind you, this was back in the Bill Cosby sweater era. My students started to pick up on it; one girl even kept a spread sheet on which sweater I’d wear on what day. Then they decided to have a Swanny Sweater Night at a home basketball game, where they’d go to Savers or their dad’s closet and wear ugly sweaters and mock me, imitating every move I made. I had no problem with that, and had fun with it. Every once in a while I’d do a quick standup/sit down, and they’d follow me.
WBM: Describe yourself in three words.
SS: Passionate (about a lot of things). If I’m in, I’m in. Competitive, for sure. Fun. I hope I am; I try to be. Life should be fun.
WBM: How have high school students changed over the years?
SS: I don’t think they’ve changed that much. It comes down to the rules, manners and respect learned at home. Woodbury is a community with great, motivated kids. Education is really important to them. They get a first-class education here and I’m proud to see them excel beyond high school.
WBM: What do you anticipate your feelings will be at your last graduation?
SS: It will be bittersweet, an emotional time for me. Even when the school year is over, since I’m a teacher of habit, it gives me a weird feeling. I know one thing—my whole identity will change. I’ll come back and sub, and kids will wonder who this old guy is. Now people know who this old guy is. I’ll deal with it, and I’m ready for some new things, some new challenges.
WBM: What inspired you to go into teaching/coaching?
SS: My dad was a teacher and coach, so I grew up (in Willmar) around it. I have a social science major and coaching minor from Gustavus where a long line of relatives attended.
WBM: What sports did you participate in?
SS: Football, basketball and baseball in high school; we went to State in all three sports my senior year. In college, I played football and baseball. I was probably a better baseball player.
WBM: Name some standout players that you’ve coached.
SS: Max Hintz, all-time leading scorer for WHS who played for me for four years. He was a big competitor, doing whatever it took to win the game, and he has a huge heart. Larry Suggs, who played for me as a 9th and 10th grader. He wanted to please you, he listened, and he got better and better. But I think my favorite player was the kid that was coachable, understood constructive criticism and went out and tried to do the things you wanted him to do. Some of those kids weren’t standout players, but they’re the ones you enjoy and respect.
WBM: Do you have any plans for your retirement?
SS: I like to golf a lot, and I plan to golf in Ireland this summer. I go on a couple of fishing trips each year, and I enjoy watching my grandkids do their thing. One thing I want to do is drive to a big-time college football game; I’ve always been locked in during the high school football season and unable to do that. I also have a son who lives in Scottsdale, and look forward to spending time with him in the winter. I’ve never ever been able to leave for the winter with coaching basketball.
WBM: How many times do you think your last name has been misspelled?
SS: Everybody thinks they’re spelling it wrong when they do spell it right. I’ve been told if you go over to Sweden and walk through a cemetery, everyone has two Ss in their name.