Two of a kind: Despite different allegiances, Swansson and Sikich share similar coaching philosophies
Despite their distinct differences, head coaches Mark Sikich and Scott Swansson are seemingly two peas from the same pod.
Sikich, Park's longtime gymnastics coach and assistant football coach, bleeds Wolfpack green. Swansson, who has coached three sports at Woodbury High School for nearly three decades, bleeds Royals blue. However, the two men have more in common than one might think.
Sikich and Swansson may coach and teach in rival schools, but they share a mutual respect for each other, believe in hard work and dedication and put the kids in their programs above anything else -- including wins and losses -- even though they've both still managed to lead highly successful programs.
This winter, Sikich and Swansson are reigning Minnesota State Coach of the Year award winners in their respective sports, gymnastics and basketball.
"We're really pretty much the same person inside, except he bleeds blue and I bleed green," said Sikich, who said he's known Swansson for decades and the two have a pretty good friendship. "Everything else is identical in regards to what we look for in our kids, the pride we take in our programs, what we value and how we go about what we do."
Sikich earned last year's Coach of the Year honor in his 30th year as a coach in District 833 and 20th year as head coach of the Park gymnastics team. Swansson, who has coached in the district 29 years, won the award in his 12th season leading Woodbury's boys basketball team. They were each presented the awards at the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association banquet held in St. Paul this past fall.
"It was a lot of fun to see Mark there," said Swansson. "I have a lot of respect for what he does. I know how hard he works at it. It's always gratifying to be in that position. It was the culmination of a career full of good work."
Sikich, a physical education teacher, has coached multiple sports at Park for 30 years. He grew up in Hibbing and is a 1983 graduate of Concordia University where he was a standout football and tennis player. After graduating college, Sikich honed his coaching skills at Concordia University, DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis and at St. Paul Central High School. He joined the coaching staff at Park when Paula Swansson -- Scott Swansson's wife -- left her spot as an assistant gymnastics coach.
"That's pretty unbelievable when you think about it," Sikich said. "Mike Amidon, who is a living legend in gymnastics in the state of Minnesota, hired me for the position after Paula stepped down. We sat down for a meeting and lo and behold he decided to give me a shot and the rest is history."
Last year's honor was the third Coach of the Year award for Sikich. He is also a member of the Minnesota Girls Gymnastics Coaches Association Hall of Fame as well as being a Concordia University -- St. Paul Athletic Hall of Fame member. Sikich said what he tries to get across to kids is that they are entitled to an opportunity, but that's all their entitled to -- the rest is up to them. He said he also preaches there are no shortcuts in sports -- or in life.
"Bottom line is you hope to have an effect on the kids in a positive way," Sikich said. "You try to teach them about work ethic, character and right and wrong. It's about dedication, goal setting and helping kids achieve their dreams. You're going to get out of something what you put into it. That's what you want the kids to understand. I was born and raised on the iron range and we brought our lunch pail to work every day."
Scott Swansson was an assistant coach under Woodbury coaching legend Del Schiffler for 17 years. Last winter, Swansson won his third section championship and reached the state tournament for the third time in his 12 years as head coach. Woodbury also reached the state tournament in 2006 and 2007 under Swansson, who has compiled a 196-136 record in his tenure as Royals head coach.
In all, Swansson has coached at Woodbury High School for 28 years. In addition to coaching basketball, he has also been a longtime assistant football and baseball coach for the Royals. A native of Willmar and a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College, Swansson said he will take his 96th team photo at Woodbury this winter.
"The wins and losses are a big thing, but the lessons we try to teach about being a good citizen, a good person in the community, a leader and a hard worker are more important," Swansson said. "Teaching those tools the kids are going to need when they grow up, those are the type of lessons we try to get across."
Sikich said he holds Swansson in a high regard for how he goes about his business.
"Coaches respect one another for what they do, because most of us have the same intentions in mind -- to help raise and develop young men and women who will become great people and great citizens," Sikich said. "There's kind of a small circle of us coaches, no matter what sport you coach."
Swansson said there are a number of coaches between Woodbury, Park and East Ridge who are able to put rivalries aside and who have a lot of respect for each other.
"You want to beat them, but you're still good friends," Swansson said. "I know Mark really puts in a lot of time with those girls and really works hard with them. I know he has a passion about coaching and doing things right, competing and getting the best out of his team."
Both Sikich and Swansson have had numerous former student-athletes go on to be coaches. For example, Swansson was current Woodbury head football coach Andy Hill's coach. Sikich has two former Park gymnasts on his staff -- Krissie Thrush and Lindsey Raymond. Also, Woodbury's gymnastics coach Julie Dornseif, was a Park graduate. Sikich said one of the most important things he tries to teach coaches is that "coaching is not about the coach." He said coaching is about the history of the program and all the kids and coaches who put in the time and effort to build something.
"It's an honor to be a coach and to work with kids," Sikich said. "It's a job you don't take lightly because of the influence you can have with the kids. When I was growing up I had such great coaches that were mentors to me and instilled a work ethic in me that I think I still have today. I've tried to pass that on."
Swansson said he believes great programs, great coaches and great athletes are made in the offseason.
"Everyone just sees you during the season, but we do so much over the summer and in the offseason. I know Mark does that too," Swansson said. "Not everyone sees that. But, if you want to have a good program there's a lot of things that need to get done in the summer, spring and fall that can go unnoticed. It's important to have the commitment to do that."
With all the time and effort that goes into it, why do coaches like Sikich and Swansson do it?
"It's certainly not for the money," Swansson said. "I like to compete and I like to be around the kids. I don't know what else I'd do, Oprah isn't on anymore, so I don't even know what's on TV. After school there's supposed to be a practice. That's all I know."
After back-to-back state meet appearances, Sikich is currently getting his gymnastics team at Park ready for another run. Off a 24-6 season last year and a state tournament berth, Swansson is and his Royals hit the hardwood for the first time this week.
Since the end of the season last year, both Sikich and Swansson have toiled through meetings, camps, clinics, fundraisers and practices in order to put it all together this winter. The two men hope the payoff in the gym will be satisfying - not just for themselves, but more so for the athletes under their wing.
"It's a lot of work, but these sacrifices and this type of commitment will carry over to the rest of their lives," Swansson said. "Not every kid gets a chance to learn that. Those are the things that are the most important things we coaches do."