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East Lyme's Stabach retires following 21 straight ECC girls' swimming titles

There have been plenty of noteworthy moments in Jack Stabach's career as the East Lyme High School girls' swimming coach, and then there's the one storyline that's truly the most exceptional.

Stabach, who has announced his retirement from coaching following 22 seasons as the girls' coach, led his teams to wins in the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship meet in every season the event has been held. That's 21 straight championships, only missing a title in 2020 when the meet was canceled due to COVID-19.

The Vikings won the first girls' championship meet in 2000 — swimming was previously featured as a co-ed sport — with then-senior Shannon Hargis winning a pair of individual events. And they forged the 2021 title behind double-winner Nikki Hahn, who went on to finish first in both events at the Class M state championship meet.

"A couple times we came close, believe me," Stabach said with a laugh. "I might tell them (about the winning streak) after the race but I don't tell them before. I don't want them to think, 'If we don't do well I'm going to mess things up.' I just tell them, 'You guys are ready. You worked hard. It's amazing what you're going to accomplish.'"

Stabach, who also coached the East Lyme boys for 15 seasons, will be inducted into the East Lyme Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday. Stabach, 73, won't be in attendance at the Hall of Fame ceremony, having previously planned a trip with his wife Lisa, who also recently retired. Stabach spoke Friday by telephone from the beach on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

"There's a lot of people that swam for me, so many kids in 22 years; that's a long time," Stabach said, reflecting. "So many kids I really cared about so much. I got a couple unbelievable letters over time.

"One time I was asking one of the guys, 'How's it going over at college?' He said, 'I hate it.' He was smart, a smart guy. I asked what was wrong. He said, 'It's simple. This guy makes us work really hard ... you made us WANT to work. He doesn't care for us like you did.' I was in tears afterward. What a cool thing to say."

Stabach often facilitated training trips for his swim teams, from Barbados to California. Sometimes, the teams would stay at a rented house.

"Everybody's got a job. Do the dishes. Somebody's got to cook with me. Cleaning up afterwards," he said. "I think a lot has to do with them getting to know the coach not just as a coach but as a human being. I got to know everybody. That's part of my success."

Stabach called his association with swimming "a dream come true."

He was originally an engineer but said he used to find himself looking up at the clock until he could get to the pool. He was first an assistant coach at Waterford High School in 1994 and was also an assistant at New London before taking over as head coach at St. Bernard for two seasons. He moved to East Lyme in 1999, the last year of the co-ed programs.

He eventually switched from engineering to serving as director of the East Lyme Aquatics and Fitness Center, from which he is retired.

Stabach twice led the East Lyme girls to a runner-up finish at the Class M state championship and was the Connecticut High School Coaches' Association Swimming Coach of the Year in 2007. He was the state coach of the year in boys' swimming in 2011 and the boys were state runners-up in 2013.

East Lyme's closest calls at the ECC championship meet? The Vikings edged Fitch 531-527 for their ninth straight title in 2008. In 2003, East Lyme won by 20.5 points and 2001 it took the crown by a 34-point margin.

Stabach said he was "amazed" to be included in East Lyme's Hall of Fame.

"I was shocked. I didn't think I'd get anything like that. All of the sudden I get a phone call. I hung up the phone and said, 'Oh, my God. This is unbelievable.' ... I'm going to miss it a lot."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

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