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San Angelo Lifestyles

Coaching Champions

Aug 28, 2019 05:25PM
written by kayla weinkauf | photos provided by the hagues and wyim 


What comes to mind when you think of playing in the pool? Is it how refreshing the water feels against your skin on a hot day? Perhaps it’s children’s delighted squeals and splashes. Or maybe it’s the way the water smells—like summer and sunshine. Me? I think of the beloved character Dory from the movie Finding Nemo. “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming,” she sings.


 

Competing keeps me fit and involved in the sport. It keeps me in tune with what my students are going through.”  ~ Coach Hague
  

When I asked Coach David Hague about the pool, he didn’t quote Dory. However, as we discussed his lifelong love of water—I discovered he lives by a just keep swimming philosophy.

 
“I’ve been competing in U.S. Masters swim meets since 1980. My good friend Steve and I have probably swum 13,000 miles together over the course of our 35-year friendship. When I compete in a meet, I usually rank in the Top 10 in my age group. Competing keeps me fit and involved in the sport. I learn a lot about swimming by doing it myself—and not just coaching others. I still get anxious before a meet—and need to take time to get my body and mind ready to train and compete. It keeps me in tune with what my students are going through.”



 

 
Coach Hague is well-versed in connecting with his students and their experiences. He’s served as Central High’s Head Swim Coach for 41 years. Although Hague grew up swimming in Cranston, Rhode Island, he didn’t know he’d become a coach.


“My mother got my siblings and I involved in swimming. When I was nine, she signed me up to compete in this little swim meet and I won a trophy. I thought, ‘Hey, I’m pretty good!’ It felt cool to succeed. That’s when I fell in love with swimming.”

 
Hague competed on his high school swim team until he graduated in 1972. After finishing undergrad at Keene State College in New Hampshire, he coached a middle school swim team while completing his master’s degree.

  
“I enjoyed coaching, but realized I had a lot to learn about working with kids.” Little did he know, a move to the south would give him plenty of opportunities to learn. 

 
“There weren’t many jobs on the East Coast in the late 70’s. My sister lived in Odessa at the time and she talked me into moving to Texas.” Hague made Texas his home in 1977. He wasn’t sure what the future held in his new state, but he remained open to possibilities and taking chances.



 

 
“I was the fitness director at the Odessa YMCA for a year. I worked with a few kids and eventually got to know the swim coaches in that area. When they heard the coach in San Angelo was leaving, they encouraged me to apply for the job.”

 
After he successfully interviewed and was hired, he admits getting started was challenging. “I coached my first high school swimmers in 1978. There were only 12 on the team and the program was in pretty rough shape. I remember the seniors said, ‘You’re our third coach in three years!’ I was 24 and a little naïve about coaching and teaching. I learned just as much from them as they did from me—we taught each other. And 41 years later, I’m still learning and excited about coaching.” 


Coach Hague spent a large part of his career working alongside his wife of 30 years, Val Kerr-Hague. She served as the Assistant Coach for 22 years before retiring in December 2018.

  
As his own retirement approaches, Hague feels relaxed and confident about the program’s future. Matt McLaughlin, his current assistant coach and eventual predecessor, is not only an experienced coach—he’s also one of Hague’s former students.



 Head Coach Dave Hague & Assistant Coach Matt McLaughlin


  
“Matt is an incredible swimmer. He still holds two school swimming records. It’s been a very good year working together. He knows all 160 kids in our swim program—from our after-school swimmers all the way up to high school. The future is bright and in good hands with him.”

 
As we continued to chat, I felt deeper respect and admiration for my past coaches. There’s a ton of thankless labor that goes on behind the scenes. 

 
“Being a coach is more than training a great athlete. It’s a lot of little things we say and do every day. You have to know when they need a compliment and encouragement—as opposed to when they need more discipline and a stern talking to. I didn’t know how to balance that at first. But now I think of it as planting a seed—something I say to them may motivate them to better themselves.”


 The girls team won eight of the last nine championships, and the boys team won nine championships.


Asked what keeps him motivated, Hague referred to the sign in his office: ‘A coach will impact more young people in a year than the average person does in a lifetime.’ 


“Sometimes we’re their doctor, their parent, or their counselor—not just their coach. We try to relate life lessons to what we do in the pool so that our kids can be successful in all areas of their lives, not just while they’re at swim practice or competing in meets.”

 
Hague said the will to win is useless without the willingness to prepare. And his teams certainly know how to prepare. As long-standing district champs, the girls team won eight of the last nine championships, and the boys team won nine championships in a row.


 

 


“Competitive swimming’s not easy. There’s a lot of hard work involved, and you don’t see the reward every day. You only get to swim fast 2-3 times a year at a big meet. For some that can be frustrating, and they give up on the sport. But for those that are willing to stick with it—there’s a payoff in the end. Coach McLaughlin and I always tell our kids, ‘If you work hard—good things happen.’ We expect them to be on time for practice, set goals, and have a strong work ethic. All life skills—not just swimming skills.”

 
Hague also talks with his swimmers about excelling academically, being honest, avoiding drugs, tobacco, and alcohol, and the importance of serving and helping other people. “I believe that’s why we’re here on Earth, to help each other.”



 

He said the decision to swim competitively can be life-changing because, “You’re making friends and creating bonds that will last a lifetime. Our kids get along well, help each other, and hang out together by choice. They have movie nights and team dinners. They’re a family.”

 
He credits the San Angelo community for creating an environment where both he and his swimmers felt fully supported.  “The people and the laid-back attitude make San Angelo feel like a hometown—instead of the hustle and bustle of a city. Everyone that visits San Angelo loves it because the people are so nice and friendly. Our town is unique and comfortable. It’s been a great place to live, coach, and raise our family. I even tell my parents and my swimmers, ‘I didn’t know anything about San Angelo when I came here 41 years ago—but I count my blessings that I’m still here. I plan to stay forever.’”


 

At the most recent Swim Banquet, 120 invited guests gathered to celebrate the achievements of the athletes and celebrate Coach Hague’s career and upcoming retirement. “That was a special night. To my surprise, 100 extra former students showed up. It just goes to show that you don’t know how many lives you’ve touched over the years. The most rewarding part of my job is watching kids continue to improve as swimmers and grow as a people. So many kids that I’ve worked with grew up to be successful parents, doctors, and lawyers. It’s neat to run into them and see the great people they’ve grown into and all the ways they’re helping make our community better. 



 

As coaches, we get to help students through their tough times and encourage them on their
path to success. Coaching turned out to be my gift—and I’m so fortunate that I’ve worked here for 41 years. I feel like everybody has a gift. A lot of people don’t know what their gift is yet.
But once you discover it, pursue it and make the best of it. Do what you love. I did—and I have no regrets.” † 
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