CUMBERLAND – Dan O’Brien has several memories of retired Cumberland High swim coach Bruce Calvert.
His first three years for the Clippers, O’Brien recalled a person that was not only dedicated to his craft, but a person that knew how to motivate with his unique style of dealing with student-athletes.
“You could go out and drop ten seconds and he would still have something to tell you that would improve it,” he said. “I guess some people would say that he had a negative outlook on your swim, but in a way it motivated us to try harder and drop our times more.”
There was another fond memory that the senior standout, a fifth-place finisher in the 100-yard backstroke at this year’s state championship, had of his former coach and it had nothing to do with a swimming pool or opposing teams.
“My sophomore year my grandfather passed away and he showed up and just motivated me more than anyone that was there,” he said. “He told me to dedicate the rest of the season to my grandfather because he had been at every meet…That was probably my best season. I probably dropped the most time there.”
At the Lusitania Club Monday night, O’Brien, current head coach Heidi Josephson and other members of this year’s team honored the compassionate and motivating mentor for his outstanding dedication to Cumberland swimming at their annual season-ending awards banquet.
This past July, Calvert retired from a 41-year career as the school’s Aquatic Director and swim coach where he produced six All-Americans, numerous all-staters and a combined 18 state titles and two New England crowns for boy and girls.
“There are so many people in town and throughout the state that have been touched by his good work,” Josephson said. “We all just wanted an opportunity to celebrate him.”
Calvert, who was planning on attending the banquet to see his former swimmers, was a little surprised by the honor. He admits it was those student-athletes and the thousands of others that he’s coached over the last four decades that have made his cherished time at CHS go by rapidly.
“One year ran into the next year and the next year and the next year,” he said. “It’s just kept going. Before you know it, it was the end of the line. A lot of these kids over the years I taught them how to swim when they were like six years old during our summer program at school and a lot of them turned out to be pretty good swimmers. Having known most of these kids over the years and seeing them develop, it kept me going. I just wanted to see how well they were doing.”
Josephson, a 1985 graduate of CHS, was one of those youths that caught the eye of Calvert.
“He took me on when I was about six years old at his summer program which was by invitation-only,” Josephson said. “I was swimming with people like (All-Americans) Kurt Langborg, Steve McCafferty… just incredible names in the history of Cumberland swimming. He coached me in the summers through a lot of my age group.”
Josephson was a swimmer in high school at a time when the sport was not offered for girls in R.I. She swam her freshman year for the boys’ program, but then dabbled in other sports such as basketball, field hockey and track before finally coming back to her passion as a senior.
It turned out to be the right decision. Through Calvert’s guidance, she earned an athletic scholarship to Lehigh University.
“Bruce welcomed me back,” she said. “He whipped me back into shape and helped me get into a very good university.”
Calvert, who compiled an amazing 277-93 (.749) record in Division I since the 1969-70 season, quickly became a composing figure to local swimmers in the area, according to Josephson. Under Calvert’s leadership, the Clippers won the first four of eight boys titles in succession from 1976-80. The Lady Clippers won the first five championships of the inaugural girls’ varsity program from 1991-96 and 10 titles overall.
“Bruce used to come down to Sher-Le-Mon (swim club) and some of the big, summer championship meets and he would kind of survey the surroundings,” Josephson said. “I kind of likened it to a pro scout coming to you. That’s how the kids felt when they heard that he was there.”
One of the most celebrated swimmers that Calvert coached in his long career was Olympic gold medalist Mike Barrowman, who won the 200-meter breaststroke in Barcelona in 1992. He also set a world record in the event at the 1989 USA Swimming Long Course National Championships.
Calvert coached Barrowman for two years at his summer program when the future Olympic champion was a youth.
“Mike had moved to Cumberland when he was in the eighth grade. I coached him for like two summers. Unfortunately, the family moved to Virginia,” Calvert said. “He used to come five days a week. I can remember it like it was yesterday when I first saw him swim. I said, ‘This kid is going places,’ and he was like 12 years old. You could see at that time that he was going to be quite the swimmer.”
Josephson indicated that it’s Calvert’s tireless work ethic that sets him apart from most of his peers.
“I think first and foremost, he’s dedicated to the kids. He always was,” she said. “If that meant doing extra, that’s what he did. He was filming me swimming when I was six. He was filming the high school in the 1970s before that became a regular part of really good instruction. In this area, he was doing some of those things. He was a constant learner and studier of swimming and I think that helped all of us because whatever we learned he would bring back and give to the team. And he’s very passionate about swimming.”
Emily Thompson, a senior who transferred to Cumberland from Mount St. Charles in the tenth grade, credits Calvert for most of her success. This past season, she capped off her career by placing sixth in the 100-yard butterfly in the state championships and fourth in the New England meet.
“He’s honestly one of the best coaches I have ever had,” she said. “He really invested in coming to practices over the summer at 7 a.m. Not a lot of coaches do that because of the time. He’s been here for (41) years. He’s been the only coach at Cumberland, except for Heidi. He is truly amazing.”
Calvert admits it was a little different this season not going to a place he called home every winter.
“It was kind of tough,” he said. “I’d be sitting at home and looking at the clock in the afternoon and say, ‘Well, we would probably be doing this in practice now.’ As the days and the weeks went on, it kind of drifted away. It kind of drifted away from me, but it’s taken a while. It’s been eight months.”
Calvert spent his spare time this season occasionally lending his expertise to Josephson and also working as an official at meets.
He commended his former athlete on her first season for the Clippers.
“I think she did very well,” he said. “They say coaching is a part-time job, but it’s a full-time job. One of the questions I had for her at the state meet when it was all done was how do you feel. She said, ‘Exhausted.’ I used to feel the same way.”