New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Local basketball coaching legend John Swogger has died.
Swogger, 77, died Christmas day in the emergency room of Altoona Regional Hospital after being stricken at his Bellwood, Pa., home.
Born in Ellwood City, Swogger went on to play for the legendary L. Butler Hennon at Wampum High School. He was a senior on the 1950-51 Wampum team that lost to Irwin 71-70 in the WPIAL finals at Pitt Field House. Butler Hennon’s son, Don, was a rising star on that team.
“I was in fourth grade and walking up the street with a big ice cream cone,” he told the New Castle News in 1990 prior to his induction into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame. “Butler Hennon pulled up beside me in his car and asked me if I wanted to ride up to the playground with him. When you were growing up in Wampum during that time, all the kids old enough to walk played basketball. And all the kids knew Butler Hennon.
“Just as I was getting into his car, my ice cream cone fell. He reached into his pocket, pulled out some change and waited while I went and bought another ice cream cone.
“From that moment on,” Swogger added, “I knew I wanted to play basketball for that man.”
Also a standout in baseball, Swogger went on to Geneva College, where he earned dual success on both the basketball and baseball teams.
Swogger signed a professional baseball contract with a rookie league team in the Cleveland organization in 1957, but returned after a year when he received an offer from Hennon to return to Wampum as assistant basketball coach.
“If I have one regret, I guess it would be not pursuing that baseball career,” Swogger added. “But I guess I traded one dream for another. Wampum won two state championships while I was there, so that in itself is an experience I could never forget.
While at Wampum, Swogger also served as head baseball coach, where he had another unforgettable experience — coaching the Allen brothers, Richie, Harold and Ron — all of whom went on to professional baseball careers.
He became head coach at Mercer High in 1960 and he won 23 games or more in five of his seven years, along with a pair of PIAA championships.
He coached at Altoona High from 1968-80, compiling an impressive 242-79 record and winning nine District 6 championships. He was known for his exciting, fast-breaking style that packed the Jaffa Mosque and Altoona Fieldhouse and developed former San Antonio Spurs guard Johnny Moore, the first of four players from Altoona to make the NBA (1979-97).
Swogger stunned sports fans with his retirement at the age of 45 in 1980, just two victories from No. 400 for his career. He retired with a career record of 398-111 and continued to remain involved with the game, working with young players at various recreation facilities until the day before his death.