Coach Tom Hodgson, who spent 35 years at the helm of the St. Thomas swimming and diving program, received a standing ovation from the St. Thomas crowd as he completed his final MIAC Championship meet of his career.
Hodgson announced last week that he plans to retire from the position in May.
“The job demands kind of intersected with the fact that I’m not a young man any more,” Hodgson said. “It was not an easy decision because of the fact that I have such a great relationship with these swimmers and divers. They’re just wonderful people, and it’s not going to be easy to leave them because they’re my kids. I love them.”
Hodgson’s swimming and diving career came full circle Saturday. He ended his collegiate coaching career where he began his collegiate swimming career: the University of Minnesota.
Before coming to St. Thomas, Hodgson started off his swimming career strong with four state championship titles in high school at Rochester before swimming for the University of Minnesota, consistently qualifying as a Big Ten finalist and setting school records.
In 1979, Hodgson was coaching swim teams and judging sailboat races at the White Bear Yacht Club when he saw an advertisement for the women’s swim coach position at St. Thomas.
“It was more just luck and circumstance than anything else,” he said.
When Hodgson took over the women’s team, it was only two years old as the university had just became a co-ed institution. Men’s coach Bill Waldorf retired the next year, and Hodgson acquired the men’s coaching position as well.
“We actually put the teams together that January as some kids went abroad and such, so we just combined the practices and kind of the whole notion of the family was born at that time, and we’ve been a co-ed team ever since,” Hodgson said.
The family atmosphere has been entrenched in the program ever since, and it is recognized and upheld beyond just the current team.
“We’re having the 80th reunion for the swimming teams soon, and I think the number of athletes who come back because of the family atmosphere Tom created will be huge,” Athletic Director Steve Fritz said.
Swimmer Hayley Trace has worked with Hodgson for four years as both an athlete and as a student employee. She put Hodgson’s emphasis on family atmosphere as one of his best coaching qualities.
“Tom’s greatest strength as a coach is bringing the team, as we call the family, together— always focusing on the goal of the season,” Trace said. “With swimming, there’s going to be a lot of hard days a lot of hard practices. In the middle of finals week, in the middle of a really tough week when everything seems to be collapsing, he’s just really good about being understanding and focusing on the overarching goal of just keeping a positive attitude all the way through.”
During his 35 years, Hodgson’s teams have produced more than 100 MIAC champions and 45 All-Americans. He has won conference coach of the year honors in seven seasons.
After the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex plans came to fruition, Hodgson said recruiting hit a high point with the promise of the building’s new pool. In 2010, one year before the Anderson Pool opened, the Tommie men won their first MIAC championship title in 56 years and followed it up two years later with a second title.
“I’m certainly immensely proud of the two men’s conference championships because they represent total team success and a real tangible success that everybody of the team could grab a hold of and know that they had a part in,” he said. “Even the kids who weren’t swimming in the championship tapered two weeks before and swam great and inspired the kids who went in to swim in championship, so everybody played a roll.”
Despite the success, Hodgson said there’s more to swimming than the hardware.
“I dont know if that is any more or less important than just all the little moments where a young man or woman would learn something really special from having been a part of the program and being a part of the sport,” Hodgson said.
After dedicating up to 100 hours some weeks to the swim and dive program and his position as the university’s aquatic director, Hodgson said his retirement is bittersweet.
“I’m very much looking forward to having time to tend to my fitness, to spend time with my wife, to do a million things that have been on hold for 35 years,” Hodgson said.
Despite some of retirement’s benefits, Hodgson said he will greatly miss the swimmers he grew so close with.
“I’ve often said to people that if you just be quiet, and if you just listen, that every 10 seconds, somebody in the pool is going to say something that’s really fun and entertaining and energetic,” Hodgson said. “We’ve always strived to foster a culture on the team of relaxed fun and friendship and fellowship and being a family, and that’s just a great atmosphere in which to coach.”
Briggs LeSavage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.