“JUST TAKE THE SHOT, SON!” Over the past seven seasons, Hebron Academy’s boys’ soccer players have often heard this command from the sidelines of Allen Field. They don’t worry about it though, because that last word – son – is the one they hear the most from the coach. They know they are an extension of his family.
When it comes to Head Coach Kurt Swanbeck and passion, it is simple: family and then soccer. Family and soccer are very different things, in theory, but over time, they have blended together to create a man who loves coaching "the world’s beautiful game," and he treats his players as extensions of his family. It probably helps that his oldest son, Tyler, happens to be on the team this year as well.
Swanbeck started playing soccer while growing up in Franklin, MA, under legendary coach Fran Bositis. His abilities brought him to the doorstep of Columbia University, where he flourished as both a player and then a coach. Just this past weekend, Columbia inducted the 1979 men’s soccer team into their Athletic Hall of Fame. 1979 was the fall when soccer started to become more than just a sport to Swanbeck. The Columbia Lions reached the Final Four of the NCAA tournament in the fall that year. Who do you think put the turkey in the oven for the team’s Thanksgiving dinner? Swanbeck celebrated holidays as if he were with his own family, because his teams became his family. In 1983, while he was an assistant coach, the Lions were back in the Final Four and lost to the University of Indiana in a classic national championship four-overtime thriller. (The 1983 team was previously inducted into Columbia’s Hall of Fame). Swanbeck was once again charged with turkey duties.
“Those holidays really created the beginning of the gray area between family and team,” Swanbeck commented. “It meant so much to be working together toward a goal. Knowing that we were all away from our individual families during Thanksgiving made it easier to do the work for the big meal. My teammates and players treated me like the Team Mom.”
During the fall of 1988, Swanbeck left Columbia for good when he accepted his first Head Coaching position at Clark University in Worcester, MA. If family and soccer had not fully blended themselves together in his mind, they would during his third year there. Clark hired an assistant softball coach right out of Bates, Lynne and she quickly caught Kurt’s eye during the spring practices. The Head Coach left before the season started, so Lynne was asked to take over the Cougars’ softball program. She and Kurt hit it off, and their discussions over coaching philosophies led to family conversations, and they now have three wonderful sons who make up their own team.
Lynne has been Kurt’s rock at home, and she has also always opened her door to his players, making his teams over the past two and a half decades truly extensions of their family. When they moved to Rome, GA in the summer of 1993 so that Swanbeck could take over the Berry College program, it did not take long for his players to feel comfortable swinging by the house. Kurt and Lynne were married in May of 1994 and in the fall of 1999, they welcomed Tyler into the world. It became an even more normal part of their lives to have their other “sons” over to the house just because they wanted to play with Tyler.
At Hebron, Tyler now stands tall as a leader on his father’s team, but Kurt’s players still come over to the house to spend time with the family. After a recent game, there were five boys in the Swanbecks’ living room hanging out with Lynne, Tyler, Kurt and younger sons, Trevor and Tobias until the boys needed to return to their dorm for check-in. Tobias is a tough nut to crack in FIFA on the Wii, and Trevor can now be seen around practices kicking a ball whenever possible and soaking it all in. Such is the life of the son of a coach, and these new brothers that Kurt’s biological sons interact with daily are further proof of the passion that he has for blending team and family into one.
Assistant Coach Casey Ftorek has been the one constant with Swanbeck on the sideline at Hebron Academy over the past seven seasons. Ftorek and Swanbeck moved to Hebron during the same summer, and when asked about what it is like to coach with Kurt, Ftorek stated, “Kurt's approach to coaching is holistic, which means his primary focus is fostering growth in each individual on the team as a person and a player, tactics are often secondary. He capitalizes on every teaching moment on the field, whether it is a life lesson or a soccer lesson, with the same level of concern. It has been a tremendously successful coaching philosophy, and I imagine that is what being a father is truly about.”
After a 10-year stint at Berry College, Swanbeck moved to West Point to become the Head Coach at Army in the fall of 2002. Trevor was born on post, and after the third year, the Swanbecks moved into a family home away from the campus. The life of a Division I college coach took Kurt away from his family more than he enjoyed, and the 2009 season would be his last. He took over a couple of ODP teams while he started applying for the next job. One night, Lynne reported to Kurt that one of the boys asked, “Why isn’t dad home...he is never around.” This was a gut-wrenching moment for Kurt, and he went back in his mind to his own childhood.
Kurt’s father died when Kurt was just four years old. Kurt did not have the father figure at home growing up, and he was not going to let this happen to his own boys. An opening appeared at Hebron Academy, and just like that, Kurt and Lynne packed up Tyler and Trevor and moved to the woods of Maine. Lynne gave birth to Tobias in the fall of 2010, just weeks after they moved into Sturtevant Dorm. They lived in Sturtevant for two years before they moved across campus into a home that has a constant stream of players in and out, constantly challenging Tobias to a video game, and feeling at home under a roof that Lynne and Kurt have created with open arms and often a warm snack or a full meal.
The 2016 Lumberjack family is off to its best start in Kurt’s seven years. After a 5-0 win over New Hampton on October 26th, they have scored 56 goals and boast a 10-0 record for the season so far. This year’s team is just as much an extension of family for Swanbeck as the 1979 team, but it is a little more special with Tyler on the team as a junior.
In speaking of his role now as Tyler’s coach, Swanbeck stated, "the most gratifying element of coaching Tyler is watching him experience the incredible diversity in his friendships and the camaraderie that comes with playing for Hebron. Watching him create such bonds with his teammates on the field and in the classroom, the laughing on bus rides, or the the exchange of emotions in victory and defeat makes me so proud as a parent.” Kurt related Tyler’s experiences at Hebron to his own career as a player when he said, “What I experienced in college, I see my son and his team experiencing here in prep school. I couldn't be more thankful and humbled at the opportunity to build this for him and for his younger brothers to follow.”
The Lumberjacks are off and running, and Swanbeck’s passions for the game, and his love of bringing people together to create something special have truly melded together for an incredible seventh season. Whatever is next on the horizon for Hebron, the boys will do it together, as a family.