BETHANY, W.Va. – Bethany College has named 1982 graduate Mark Swiger as its new head men’s and women’s cross country coach, announced Thursday by athletic director Joe Kurey.
Swiger, who will also serve as an assistant for Bethany’s track and field programs under head coach Andy Upton, takes over for John McGowan, who will remain with the school as the head men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach and a professor in the school’s Physical Education department.
“This is an outstanding addition to the athletic department for two reasons,” said Kurey. “First, it gives John McGowan the opportunity to solely focus on the swimming and diving programs, instead of trying to balance working with four different teams.
“Secondly, to add a coach with Mark Swiger’s accomplishments to our staff can only mean great things for the cross country and track programs,” said Kurey. “His reputation as an outstanding coach not only regionally, but also nationally, should help propel our programs to another level.”
Swiger’s last coaching position was at Division II Wheeling Jesuit University, where he served as the head coach for the men’s and women’s cross country and track and field programs from 1990-2003. He started the school’s cross country program in 1990 and would later organize the university’s first track and field program in 1994.
What followed was one success story after another at Wheeling Jesuit, where his cross country teams posted a record of 207-18 (92.0 winning percentage) against conference schools and the combined records of the cross country and track and field teams were 290-41 (87.6) from 1990-2002. Under Swiger’s guidance, the Cardinals won a total of 21 West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC) team titles and he coached more than 100 student-athletes who earned All-WVIAC honors.
His teams also excelled on the national level, as Swiger mentored three NCAA national champions, 22 All-Americans and his teams placed as high as fifth at the NCAA Division II National Championships.
Swiger’s teams were just as recognized for their work in the classroom, as he coached more than 30 Academic All-Americans and his teams pulled in over a dozen All-Academic honors.
For his outstanding work, Swiger also piled up the awards. He was named the WVIAC Coach of the Year 17 times and was a finalist for the national Coach of the Year in 1993 and 1994. After he stepped down as the Wheeling Jesuit coach, Swiger received the NCAA Division II Cross Country Coaches Association Distinguished Service Award in the fall of 2003.
Contributing in the community is also a focal point for Swiger. In addition to serving as a past Chairman for the USA Track and Field/Three Rivers Association, he is a current member of numerous wellness and educational organizations in the Ohio Valley.
Swiger’s cross country coaching career began at Cameron High School in West Virginia in 1984, when he initiated the boys’ and girls’ cross country programs and later, started the girls’ track team. He coached there until 1989, before taking a year off from coaching prior to starting the cross country programs at Wheeling Jesuit. His first two years at Jesuit also saw Swiger coach the boys’ track and field teams at John Marshall High School, where he led the programs to a pair of OVAC and WVSSAC Region I championships in his two years.
Swiger has more than just an outstanding coaching background. He was exceptional on the track and cross country course at Bethany during his undergraduate days under head coach Dave Wottle, who won the gold medal and set a new world record in the 800-meter run at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He was a key member of four teams that qualified for NCAA Cross Country championships, including the 1980 team that won the NCAA Regional title. One year prior to that, Swiger was the individual runner-up at the NCAA South/Southeast Regional race to qualify individually for the national championship meet.
In 1996, Swiger was inducted into the Bethany College Athletic Hall of Fame and his new position will give him a chance to not only give back to his alma mater but also try to give more student-athletes the same feeling he enjoyed during his competitive days.
“Bethany has always been held close to my heart wherever I’ve gone and it will be an honor to serve the institution as it has served me over the years,” said Swiger. “My alumni teammates and I look back fondly at our achievements at Bethany as athletes some 25 years ago. Every time a student-athlete of mine since then has won an NCAA title, been an All-American or qualified for the national meet, I know they have that same great feeling we did back in the 70s and 80s.
“Getting a chance to return will hopefully give me the opportunity to help the student-athletes here enjoy those same feelings,” said Swiger. “I believe Bethany is positioned academically, geographically and athletically to pull off similar achievements as when I competed, as well as produce the same great accomplishments we did at Wheeling Jesuit, John Marshall and Cameron.”
Although it will come from a different perspective than he is used to, Swiger is excited to be teaming with Upton to work with the track program.
“Coach Upton is one the hungriest young coaches that I’ve met in recent years and is determined to build his program,” said Swiger. “This is the first time since some early assistant coaching jobs that I am in a support role in track, but I will be working in my specialty, training mainly the endurance athletes. I can’t think of a more out-going, mission-driven coach than (Coach Upton) for which I look forward to supporting. He has welcomed me and it will be wonderful helping him do for track and field at our school as I plan on doing as the head cross country coach.”
When it comes to the goals he is setting for his program, Swiger wants to make sure the right type of student-athletes are joining. From there, he wants to build up the programs so they are competing on the regional and national levels, while also ensuring the athletes stay focused on their main reason for being in school.
“The challenge most presently paramount in my mind is recruiting as many quality young men and women as we can because that is crucial for the success of both the cross country and track and field programs,” said Swiger. “Another important goal is to blend the cross country program into the track and field program in a more seamless fashion. That is, training the endurance athletes for 12 months consistently and focusing on their short- and long-term goals at Bethany.
“Next, we want to return to the NCAA Championship meets and represent the athletic department, the College and the PAC at the regional and national levels,” said Swiger. “However, as outstanding as reaching those goals are, they are superficial to the greater goal of raising young men and women to be productive citizens and to take their tasks seriously in whatever they decide to do. What I take pride in most is how successful my athletes are after they leave my program and I’m looking forward to working with the outstanding student-athletes Bethany has to offer.”
Currently a social studies teacher at John Marshall High School, Swiger resides in Wheeling with his wife of 22 years, Dawn, and their two children, Mandi (18) and Shane (16). Mandi, currently a freshman at Bethany, just completed her first year on the women’s basketball team and will be competing on the women’s track and field team this spring.