Anacortes baseball and softball have a few constants.
The purple and white uniforms. The crack of the bat and the cheer of the crowds. And Tom and Pat Swapp.
Tom just finished his 40th season of coaching the Anacortes High School softball team. His son Pat has been coaching the high school baseball team since 2007, though he took a few years off.
Softball offers so many people the chance to be great, Tom said. Players don’t have to be natural athletes right out of the gate. Instead, they can keep working to become a great hitter or a great fielder. Or both.
That’s what keeps Tom coming back year after year to coach.
“These kids have worked so hard,” he said.
Both Swapps have been involved in Anacortes sports for much longer, though.
Both grew up here and graduated as ball players from AHS.
“I am very attached to the color purple, and that happened at an early age,” Tom said.
Pat said he feels that connection to the baseball team, too. It’s strong when you played for a school and then get to lead its next generation of athletes, he said.
“Some of the best coaches are guys that coach at their alma maters,” Pat said. “You’re never gonna feel about another school like you do about the place you went to school.”
Over the decades
Tom was born in Anacortes and started playing baseball at age 5 or 6. He later starred on the AHS baseball team until he graduated in 1965. He played college baseball for a few years before transitioning to competitive softball.
After he received several degrees, he came back to teach at Anacortes Middle School starting in 1975. He was an assistant coach for the high school baseball team.
At the time, there was no girls team. In 1979, AHS added a slow pitch softball team, and Tom took the helm.
That’s where he stayed.
Through four decades and the switch from slow pitch to its current fast pitch, Swapp has been there. He has seen the kids of his former players show up on his team, though he hasn’t seen any players’ grandchildren yet.
The sport has definitely changed over the decades, he said. The switch to fast-pitch softball changed a lot of things.
In the early 1990s, about 50 girls would turn out to play each year. Now, that’s down to 25 or 30. But those players usually come with polished skills.
“The players have most of their softball skills really developed by the time they get to high school,” Tom said.
That’s not unique to Anacortes, he said. Teams across the country are seeing more athletes focus on honing their skills in one sport instead of several.
“These are good athletes that start to excel earlier in their childhoods,” he said.
A 15-year-old trying softball for the first time faces a huge challenge against the girls who have been playing for more than a decade. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t play, though.
“Beginners can play high school ball,” Tom said.
They can learn the sport on the junior varsity team and earn their way to varsity.
Pat sees that with the boys team, too.
“Everything is just better,” he said, of the level of play and the high school sport in general.
Like father, like son
Through the changes year to year, Tom has stayed devoted to softball and passed that love of the sport to his son.
“I’ve always loved baseball and softball,” Pat said.
Pat started playing when he was 5 or 6 and was always on a team growing up, even if just with friends in the backyard.
Their mutual attachment to the sports actually kept them from seeing each other work due to schedule conflicts.
Due to his coaching, Tom couldn’t often see Pat play, but Tom’s earlier participation in competitive softball had made an impression on young Pat.
Tom started playing competitive softball in college, and it continued when he graduated with a team made up of many high school coaches from around the region. It was a top level team, Tom said.
“It was dead serious,” he said.
Each weekend, they traveled to tournaments, often with all their kids in tow. They traveled as far as Las Vegas and Oklahoma for tournaments, and Pat recalls the weekends as some of the best of his childhood.
“Those were the best weekends I could have had,” he said.
The group of kids would hang out all weekend, eating hot dogs, running to retrieve foul balls and cheering on their dads.
Pat said seeing Tom out there with his teammates made him want to be a part of that, too. The close-knit nature on the team made him want to create the environment for players.
“I credit a lot of my becoming a coach to his softball team,” Pat said.
Pat played baseball for AHS and after he graduated in 1990, he played at Green River Community College. He transferred to Northwest Nazarene College and earned one degree before earning his teaching degree at Western Washington University. Next, he started teaching and coaching baseball in Mount Vernon.
In 2006, he started teaching in Anacortes.
He started teaching seventh-grade block classes (like language arts and history, just like his dad did). Tom retired from teaching in 2010, but Pat still teaches at AMS.
Pat started coaching the high school baseball team in 2007 and continued until 2013. He stepped down for a few years to spend more time with his young children Ty (now 12), Tatum (now 11) and Brady (now 8). He came back to coaching in 2016.
His wife Kelsey coaches the AHS volleyball team, and Pat said they both realized how much they missed coaching. The time away also allowed him to realize just how much fun he has leading the team.
“I’ve enjoyed it more since being back,” Pat said.