How swimming won the heart of a die-hard football fan
EVEN all of these years later, years of records and championships, and, most of all, years of helping small kids get into the pool, hall-of-fame swim coach Al Minn sounds like he can't quite believe it himself.
"My first love is football," he says.
After all, who would want to, in his own words, "swim one end of the pool to the other end until you know every crack at the bottom of the pool"? That's hard. That's laborious. That's drudgery.
He swam in the Natatorium, he grew up on the beach, but ...
"With a broken leg, I played football," he says.
"A cast up to my neck, I played football," the man synonymous with swimming says.
So, swimming? Why swimming? How does one become Mr. Swimming?
Well, we know what happened. We told the story a few years ago, when Mr. Minn retired from coaching kids (like that would last; he's doing some helping out again). He went to college at Willamette in Oregon, and a bunch of kids in the area drafted him as their swim coach. But today, the story takes another twist. It was part of his scholarship:
"I had the satisfaction of teaching 35 80-and-above-year-old women to swim. It was great," he says.
Just imagine, all these rich ladies taking this young Hawaii kid to tea at "the club."
"And that was the beginning now," Mr. Minn says.
So who else would you turn to if you were a bunch of kids who wanted to make a splash at the big meet? Al Minn trained them in an oval pool. Of course, they won. It was the first time he was thrown in the pool.
But still, Al Minn loved football. He came home to Hawaii, eventually was Farrington's coach. And the Govs finished last.
His center, Minn says, sighing, "he will always say, 'Coach had a hard time.' "
"In those days," Minn says, "Farrington had the reputation of being the toughest in Hawaii. And they were the toughest. Not on the football field. On the street."
Under Coach Minn, they were last in the ILH.
Meanwhile, Farrington's swimming team was state champs.
"It's a different feeling," Minn says.
So maybe that was it. He would eventually grow to love swimming. But he already knew he liked winning. Maybe he wasn't cut out to coach football.
But in teaching swimming, he seemed to have a special gift.
This week at the Honolulu Quarterback Club, he waxed poetic about what kids get out of the sport, he talked about hard work, and breathing, and resistance, and movement of form. He can go on and on. About swimming.
He still loves football.
He buys a ticket to get in.
But his life's work was another sport, and championships, and records, and halls of fame, and, always, helping kids swim. Swimming! How did he end up in swimming? Even now he sounds like he sometimes can't believe it himself. But then he goes back to those old ladies and those kids in the oval pool, his first team. The first time a team threw him into the pool.
"When you're up in the air and you look around, everybody's jumping up and down," he says ... he pauses, as if hanging in mid-air.
"It's the most wonderful feeling," he says.