SICKLERVILLE – He has coached in more than 500 swim meets, winning over 375 including, among them, five state championships, but it was what happened Saturday that Mike Parker says he’ll remember most.
Parker announced before the season that this would be his last one as coach of the Bishop Eustace boys and girls swim teams. On Saturday he coached his last regular season meet, a double dual against Gloucester Catholic. He insisted he didn’t want any fanfare, but Rams coach Kevin Nolan had other ideas.
So, in the stands at the Gloucester Township Tech pool were Mainland boys coach Brian Booth and John Rakowski, the retired girls coach at Mainland, and they saw the teams split, Bishop Eustace winning the girls meet handily, 114-56, and Gloucester Catholic boys taking their meet, 93-72.
Thinking he was headed over to P.J. Whelihan’s in Washington Township with those three to share some laughs and talk about the sport they each love, Parker was greeted by others who wanted to share this time with him – Scott Sweeten, the former girls coach at Cherry Hill West, Haddon Township coach Maura McDermott, Moorestown girls coach John Battersby, Sam Tropiano, the former athletic director and current baseball coach at Bishop Eustace as well parents and former swimmers of his. All came out to honor the man who has given so much to, not only Catholic and Eustace, but to scholastic swimming in general during his career on deck.
Parker, who coached the girl’s team at Camden Catholic, where he won four state titles in seven years, and both teams at Bishop Eustace for the past 19 years, winning the boys title in 2007, was clearly humbled by the turnout.
“As much as I would like to win a girls championship at Bishop Eustace, the outpouring of affection at the meet and the friends and parents here ….,” he began. “Championships are great, but they fade (from memory) in time, but this means so much more. This is something that will stay with me forever. Brian and JR (Rakowski) didn’t have to be at the meet. Scott and Maura and John and Sam didn’t have to be here. This is something I get to keep with me forever.”
Nolan, in his 31st year at Gloucester Catholic and just two wins shy of 400 combined boys and girls, said he first met Parker in 1980. Nolan was coaching at Peachwood Swim Club and Parker showed up to watch one his meets and talk to him about coaching at Woodbine, where Parker belonged.
“I did end up going to Woodbine but not to coach,” Parker said. “I took the job as manager and stayed there a long time, 31 years.”
Over that time they formed a friendship based on mutual respect and love for their sport. Nolan said once Parker had announced this would be his last year, he wanted to schedule this meet. He wanted to get as many of Parker’s contemporaries together to pay their respects to a man who has earned it many times over.
“Mike has probably seen more swim meets than anyone,” Nolan said. “He just enjoys swimming. He’d go to a meet just to see a certain team or swimmer. He keeps us all informed and I’m sure we’re still going to see him at meets.”
Rakowski, who would never turn down an opportunity to swim Bishop Eustace, usually right before the playoffs to get another power point meet in before the deadline, commented on how prepared Parker always seems to be.
“He always did his homework,” Rakowski said. “And he was always about the children and focused on both individual and team success.”
Yet, for all the wins and state titles and individual successes of his swimmers over the years, Parker can’t help but feel fortunate for having had the opportunity to coach.
“I know how lucky I’ve been,” he said.
Maybe so, but certainly not as lucky as all those swimmers who had the opportunity to swim for Parker at Camden Catholic and Bishop Eustace over the years.