Three hundred wins. I thought for sure they would throw him in the pool. But when the final score crackled through the speaker on Tuesday afternoon, nobody celebrated.
I had a moment of doubt. Maybe I’d been misinformed.
I asked the man himself. This is your 300th win, right?
“I guess so,” Dave Hanson said with a chuckle. “I don’t know.”
It was, in fact, the 300th dual-meet win of Dave Hanson’s coaching career with the Hendricken swim team. He just wasn’t too impressed. His reaction was part humility and part a simple reflection of what really matters to the man who’s built Rhode Island’s greatest swimming dynasty.
Hanson drives his teams hard. They practice constantly. They push themselves to succeed. They’ve won 23 consecutive state championships. But even if every one of Hanson’s 300 wins was a loss, he wouldn’t feel much different about his career.
“To me, success is nice, but I’m more proud of the fact that they grow up to be good young men,” Hanson said. “I look at my roster of kids and where they are today and what they’re doing – that’s what it’s all about.”
Hanson spent 30 years as a teacher in Cranston. He started coaching swimming with Jimmy Lynch at Cranston West in the 1970’s. The Falcons won five state championships in six years.
Hanson has been at Hendricken for 36 years. His teams have won 26 state championships in that span, including the current streak of 23.
The accolades have rolled in for Hanson and the Hawks over the years, but there may not be a better emblem of his years of dedication than Tuesday’s win.
“This shows how long he’s put his heart and soul into Hendricken swimming,” said Andrew Bartolini, a former Hawk.
Bartolini is now a senior at Notre Dame, majoring in civil engineering. Since graduating from Hendricken, he’s maintained a connection with the swimming program. He runs a web site for the team and whenever he’s home, he swings by the pool to help out.
Home for winter break, Bartolini was there Tuesday. As soon as the meet ended, he posted the news to the Hendricken swimming Facebook page, where the congratulations quickly rolled in.
“It’s one of those that’s hard to get just because of the sheer time and dedication,” Bartolini said. “When you only swim 10 dual meets a year, to get to 300 takes a lot of commitment from both him and the team.”
Bartolini’s story mirrors that of many former Hawks. He wasn’t a star, but he bought into Hanson’s plan and helped the team keep its championship streak alive.
He also learned a lot.
“He’s been a role model ever since I joined the swim team,” Bartolini said. “He’s a great mentor. When you think of what you want a coach to be, he embodies that. He pushes you when you need to be pushed and he’ll support you when you need to be supported. Just the values and ethics and the way he’s gone about it – it’s spectacular.”
Everybody at Hendricken figured Hanson would get to 300 last week, when the Hawks opened the season against North Kingstown. Hendricken hadn’t lost a dual-meet since the 2005-2006 season, so it was a safe assumption. But the Skippers edged the Hawks, winning the last event to grab a narrow victory.
On Tuesday against La Salle, the Hawks wasted no time. They took first and second in each of the first six events and cruised to a 75-19 victory.
When it was over, Hanson received a few congratulatory handshakes, but it was mostly business as usual. He spoke to the team about what was up next and then went into the McDermott Pool office to call in the score.
He likes this team’s potential. They’re not the strongest group he’s ever had, but they’re working hard. After last week’s loss, they practiced like maniacs.
Whether they have enough to win another championship remains to be seen, but if they don’t, it won’t be for lack of effort. The same core values that have paved the way for 300 wins and 26 state championships will be instilled every day for the next two months.
Hanson knows they will last much longer. That more than the wins is the real impact.
“I ran into a parent of a kid who was a captain in 1995,” Hanson said. “The father said ‘Coach, I want to thank you. My son wasn’t the best swimmer in the world. But what he learned about dedication and hard work paid off.’”
Hanson will hear more stories like that this weekend, when Hendricken hosts its annual alumni meet. Every year, 20 or 25 former Hawks come back to swim against the current team.
It’ll be a chance to reflect – and to celebrate. Hanson said that getting to 300 wins just means he’s old. It means much more, of course, and nobody knows it more than those alumni who will be back at the pool this weekend.
They’ll salute him, praise him for all he meant to them.
And maybe, finally, someone will throw him in the pool.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.