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Sherman's Mel Swanson ready to step away from coaching

A 40-year ride is coming to an end for Mel Swanson.

The legendary girls basketball coach at Sherman High School is stepping down after this season. The end could come as early as Thursday, when the Wildcats play Panama in the first round of the Section VI playoffs. It could come a week or two after that. In theory, Sherman's final game might be the state championship game in Class D.

But it's coming.

While Swanson doesn't want to see his career end Thursday, he said it's appropriate to have his team play Panama at the end of the season.

"It's kind of strange," Swanson said. "I went to Panama High School. I was a student-teacher there, and I played basketball there."

Swanson won't just be coaching a playoff game Thursday. He'll be completing a circle that took four decades to draw.

The veteran coach has won nine Section VI championships over the years. He's piled up 607 wins in girls basketball, plus a few hundred others along the way for the boys team and the junior varsity teams for the boys and girls.

"My grandkids are starting to play," Swanson said about his main reason for retiring. "He's a seventh-grader, and I want to see him play. I've got other grandkids, too."

There were no second thoughts after the announcement earlier this year in which Swanson said it would be his final year on the bench.

"It's time," he said.

"Mel's been a legend," Allegany-Limestone coach Frank Martin said. "He's been coaching for a long time, and he's been great for the athletic program. He's a Section VI treasure. We'll miss him."

This has been an odd year for Swanson. He can't count the numbers of times he's been congratulated for a career that has put him third on the state record book in career wins in girls basketball. Swanson hasn't shaken the hand of every basketball fan in the Southern Tier, but it's probably close.

The longtime coach worries if it has taken a little time away from his usual pregame preparation.

"Sometimes it's hard to work between that and coaching the team," he said. "But it's been a good year. We've played as well as we could."

The most emotional night of the season probably came on Valentine's Day, the date of his last home game. The court at Sherman was renamed after Swanson in a special ceremony.

"I probably had 50 or 55 former players that came back for it," he said. "Some were from our first championship team in 1982-83. Others were from the late '80s and early '90s. It was a fun night."

Swanson says with a laugh that after 40 years on the job, he's coached some mothers and their daughters.

"There were a lot of comments about how nice it was to play for me," he said. "They say they learned about basketball and things about life, and I got to see what they've been able to do with their lives. That's really neat."

And whenever Swanson packs up the basketballs for the last time, he can look back on an extraordinary run at Sherman with no regrets.

"It's been great," he said. "The Sherman community has been great to coach in."

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