This story was originally published in the July 28th issue of The Walpole Times.
|Walpole Barracudas and Walpole High Coach Cheryl Cavanaugh (left) keeps track of the score in a recent win over Dedham. Wicked Local photo by Keith Lewis.|
WALPOLE, Mass. - - In 1974 - when Richard Nixon still occupied the Oval Office and Muhammad Ali was preparing for The Rumble In The Jungle - Cheryl Cavanaugh started coaching swimming in Walpole.
37 years later, she’s still going strong.
Cavanaugh, 54, has coached Walpole’s age group team since 1974, started Walpole High’s girls and boys swim teams in 1989, and spends 11 months out of the year teaching boys and girls from 3 to 18 how to swim.
Cavanaugh was WHS’ Coach of the Year in 2010, and was inducted into Walpole’s Hall of Fame earlier this year.
“Sometimes, I feel like Grandmother Swim Team,” said Cavanaugh, with a chuckle.
In a cramped office at the old Walpole town pool, walls adorned with countless photos of her swimmers and loving thank-you messages, Cavanaugh held court on a recent scorching Friday afternoon.
Swimmers and lifeguards of all ages constantly popped their heads into her office: asking her questions, cracking a joke, or commiserating about the heat. Cavanaugh, extremely tan and sporting a swimmer’s signature chlorine-frizzed blonde hair, doled out one-liners and sage advice in equal doses.
“I’ve been swimming since I was seven years old, when I joined the Walpole age group team. I don’t know what I’d do without it, I’ve been doing it forever and it’s just part of my life,” said Cavanaugh, who is a Walpole lifer and WHS graduate.
Cavanaugh coaches the Barracudas (the age group team) in the summer while also serving as the town’s Aquatics Director. In the fall, she’ll coach the girl’s high school team. The Barracudas then have a second season that goes from October to March. April is her one and only month off, and she spends it in Florida.
Perhaps most of all, Cavanaugh deserves credit for thriving in a sport up against some fierce competition and obstacles.
Walpole does not have a regulation swimming pool, so the high school team is forced to carpool to Blue Hills Regional School in Canton, where they hold practices and meets. Swimming also takes place in the fall athletic season, meaning Cavanaugh has to wrest her swimmers away from WHS’ über-popular field hockey and soccer teams.
“I have some great swimmers that play field hockey or soccer instead. It’s unfortunate that it’s not my sport, but we wish them luck,” said Cavanaugh.
Despite all this, the team features anywhere from 22 to 30 girls, and has won back-to-back Bay State titles in addition to being three-time Herget champs.
“When one of my girls make state or sectional cutoff times, you know, when they reach their goals, that’s where I feel the most achievement and pride,” said Cavanaugh.
Cavanaugh has high hopes for her team this fall, as they have a history of success and will feature 12 seniors. Standing in their way is chief foil and archrival Framingham, who has spoiled the team’s postseason runs repeatedly.
For the future, Cavanaugh wants to continue coaching all of her teams, and hopes for improved swimming facilities.
“I dream about a pool at WHS. I ask the A.D. all the time – “Is this the year you’re gonna put my pool in?” He laughs, but I keep hoping,” said Cavanaugh.