GRUMPY GRAMPS – THANK YOU COACH HIGGINS
By William of CrossDove Writers
Recently I saw the news that one of the favorite former members of the high school teaching and coaching staffs at Austin High School in Austin, Minnesota had passed away. My heart has encouraged me to share a memory or two about my dealings with ‘Bud’ Higgins.
Back in the fall of 1971, just a couple of weeks before the beginning of a new school year (my sophomore year), my family moved from my childhood home in Lincoln, Nebraska to the home of the Hormel Company in Austin, Minnesota.
While I do not recall many of the teacher’s I may have had in those three years of high school, I do have some very solid memories and stories about a few and one of those was the high school swim coach ‘Bud’ Higgins.
You have to remember I was still a bit short and rather scrawny when I began my adventures at Austin High School, and when you add that to being a newcomer in a new school where I knew pretty much nobody except Charlie Wright (and that was because his folks had something to do with my Dad coming to Austin to pastor their church and they told him I needed a friend) – well let’s just say I remember many of those days as a near nightmare.
Then midway through that scary first semester two other members of my Dad’s church stepped in as Ray Westcott, Principal of the high school, requested that I make myself present after school one day at the office of Art Haas, the school’s athletic director.
It was the idea of Mr. Westcott and Mr. Haas that they could help me get to know kids by having me student manage one of the athletic teams and they had a team needing one – the swim team!!
It was beyond me to even consider saying no to two of the most admired men in the school district (or at least I thought they were, especially ‘Sugar Ray’ Westcott). So, I agreed to take on the responsibility and made the appointment to meet up with Coach ‘Bud’ Higgins – one of the top swim coaches in the state of Minnesota.
Coach Higgins was quick to try and make me feel comfortable as he gave me a quick rundown of what I would be doing as student manager, much of which was what most would call the grunt work of making fresh towels available to the swimmers while picking up the used (and sometimes nasty) ones when they were done with them and had tossed aside.
One question I had for Coach Higgins was this – “would I be required at any time to be in the pool?”. I remember he thought that to be an interesting question, but did say mostly likely never, that is unless I were to get tossed in after a big victory.
Of course, he wanted to know why I asked, so I politely told him – “I was unbelievably scared of being in water and had no clue on how to swim in any water above my shoulders.” Coach Higgins took a moment, then broke into a bit of a laugh and asked me why I wanted to be the student manager then.
After I explained to him that I was new to the school and that Mr. Haas and Mr. Westcott thought it would be a good way for me to get to know some new kids in my new town. At that point Coach Higgins smiled and agreed that he would not tell anyone as long as I was able to scatter and make myself scarce if and when they began to throw anyone into the pool, so with that I agreed to be the student manager of the ‘B’ swim team with Coach Winegar.
Coach Higgins was a coach everyone appreciated, as did I. But when I hear his name come up, I always think back on two instances or stories for which I remember him the most.
It always amazed me how Coach Higgins would walk up and back along the side of the pool during practice with his stopwatch in hand while barking out advice, critiques or encouragement to those in the pool while always knowing where he was at and without even looking he always seemed to know where the flag pool would be toward either end of the pool to stop and lean against when they were done.
This one time toward the middle of the season, a couple of the upperclassmen (and I will not say names because I only remember one for sure) decided to pull a prank and removed one of the poles. As Coach Higgins came to that end of the pool and went to lean against the pole without looking – well let’s just say he showed some excellent balance to have kept him from falling into the pool. That was one of those days when I found the Coach did not always have a sense of humor during practice and needless to say – those guys did pay a price for the prank, but I will not say how.
It was the one and only time I served as student manager of the swim team and even now I can only remember a few names from that team without looking back into a yearbook. Beyond Coach Higgins, these are the guys who made an impression on me back then – guys like Dave Ten Eyck, Mark Keefe, Pat Nelson, Lee McDaniel and Scott Fisher.
Lucky for me, only once during that season do I remember the team was going to throw coaches and managers into the pool and that was after a big home win against Owatonna at the first meet at the new pool at Ellis Junior High, now known as the ‘Bud’ Higgins pool. When they began looking for coaches and manager’s I remember Coach Higgins giving me a look that said, ‘get moving and make yourself scarce for a few minutes’. Thanks Coach!
As the Austin community, the students who had or knew Mr. Higgins as a teacher and/or coach look back on their own memories of Coach Higgins – I say thanks to a man who had just a brief encounter with me in my walk in life, but left me with a heart full of thanks and appreciation.
To my classmate, Mark Higgins, and the Higgins family – know you are all in my thoughts, prayers and blessings.
With that – hugs, prayers, blessings and happy thoughts from Grumpy Gramps.
(Copyright@2019, CrossDove Writers – no part of this posting may be printed, copied or used without written permission by CrossDove Writers and Grumpy Gramps.)