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Long-time swim coach Phil Brougher to be honored

Long-time swim coach Phil Brougher will be honored with an 80th birthday party on Saturday. (Photo provided)
Long-time swim coach Phil Brougher will be honored with an 80th birthday party on Saturday. (Photo provided)

Matt Mann was the OU swimming coach in the 1950s. He saw Phil Brougher swimming for Northwest Classen and, so the story goes, told a friend that Brougher was the worst high school swimmer he’d ever seen.

But Mann saw something in Brougher and asked him to work a camp. Later, Mann told Brougher he had one empty bed left in the OU dorm and Brougher could have it. Brougher went to OU, joined the swim team, redshirted his second year and by his third season made all-American.

Brougher became a swim coach and still is coaching. Saturday at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, from 2-5 p.m., an 80th birthday party will be held for “Coach Grandpa.” Brougher turns 80 on Friday.

About 180 have RSVP’d to attend, including a swimmer from Atlanta coached by Brougher when she was a youth, a coach from Houston who has mentored U.S. national swimmers and Brougher’s college roommate. All to say thanks to a man who dedicated his life to helping kids, with the swimming pool as a tool.

“It’s exciting, but it’s humbling that they care enough to come back,” Brougher said. “I just feel like I’m being myself. All I did was show ‘em love and they showed me love back. If you love your kids, they’ll love you back and perform for you. That’s what happened.”

Brougher grew up in Oklahoma City and attended Northwest Classen when it opened in 1955. In 1956, his family helped start the Oklahoma City Swim Club, which became the renowned Kerr-McGee Swim Club. After graduating OU with an accounting degree, Brougher went to work for a petroleum company and coaching part-time.

In 1965, Brougher enrolled as a graduate student at TCU and founded the Horned Frog swimming programs. Brougher eventually coached high school swimming in San Angelo, Texas, then moved to Tulsa and started the Hurricane Swim Club. Brougher went back to accounting but kept working as a part-time swim coach, for the Jenks Trojan Aquatic Club and Tulsa Washington High School.

In 2009, Brougher and his wife moved to Oklahoma City, and he began coaching with the Chesapeake Swim Club, and today he remains a coach with the King Marlin Swim Club.

“I look forward to going to the pool every day, look forward to seeing the kids every day,” Brougher said. “Swimming is just a means to a scholarship or fun and improvement and self-esteem. Our job as a coach is getting kids prepared for life, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. Get discipline, get the kids to do what needs to be done. That’s what I’ve tried to teach ‘em. Seemed to help a lot.”

A couple of years ago, Brougher received an email from a boy who had quit the swim team.

“I’m sorry I haven’t reached out since I quit swimming. I was honestly ashamed and didn’t want to face you after I quit. All I know is you were right when you told me that I was making a mistake if I quit. I was pretty down in the dumps for a couple of years and embarrassed with myself, so I didn’t have the courage to come to the lighthouse and sell all my teammates and you … I’m doing a lot better now and got a 4.0 this semester in school, as well as in my classes over the summer. I still remember the advice you gave me about not letting myself have a bad day, and I still always open the car door and doors for ladies.

“I miss you so much Grandpa. You were by far the greatest positive impact on my swimming career and the best mentor I could ask for. Is it OK if I swing by the lighthouse during practice tonight to chat with you for a bit?”

And now people can swing by St. Luke’s on Saturday afternoon to chat with a coach who has positively impacted kids for more than half a century.

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›