Marquette Catholic freshman girls’ basketball coach Van Swingler takes winning the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Hometown Champion Award in stride.
“The experience was humbling,” Swingler said. “I was flattered to be mentioned in something like this. It shows that there’s a lot of people out there who feel a certain way about you.”
Swingler won the award for his work with the North County Youth Association, a youth sports organization he founded. The coach will accept a plaque for the award today in Pasadena, Calif., at the NAACP Image Awards. Swingler was nominated for the award by a member of his home community of Florissant, Mo. Swingler started the NCYA six years ago.
“I thought there was a need for something like this in Florissant,” he said on the beginnings. “I thought kids needed a place to stay together and bond.”
The program offers instruction and competition for youth age 4-15 in a variety of sports: football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, track and cheerleading. Youth of all ethnicities from all over the area participate. Some of the competition is offered by NCYA, but the organization cooperates with other youth sports leagues at times.
When he created the organization, Swingler contacted Black Jack, Mo., Mayor Norman McCourt, who worked with him on securing a building for signups and administrative work. He also reached out to youth coaches who offered their time and secured athletic sites for training and competition. Since the program’s beginning, the award-winning coach has seen the fruits of his labor pay off.
“I worked with the first group of kids we had,” he said. “They were in the eighth grade at the time and 12 of the 17 went to college. I also get a lot of positive feedback from parents and when the kids in our program get to high school, they often want to come back to the program as coaches. I’ve seen a real change in these kids’ attitudes and behavioral patterns.”
Swingler, who is employed in the private sector by Republic Services, started coaching 15 years ago. He’s coached mostly youth basketball and football, but he also worked as an offensive coordinator and freshman football coach at Riverview Gardens High School.
Marquette varsity girls’ basketball coach Meagan Hanlon said Swingler’s experience has definitely helped her program.
“He knows a lot about basketball and he’s been coaching a long time,” Hanlon said. “He’s such a nice guy who’s easy to work with and it’s a great accomplishment for him to receive this award.”
Swingler started coaching with the Explorers this season. He said the experience has helped him develop as a coach.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve coached mostly boys and this has helped me develop more patience than I thought I had.”
Swingler said he believes the NCYA can expand and grow. He would like to bring sponsors on board and build private gymnasiums so more sports can be offered in house.
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