PRICE HILL – Certain memories are untouched by time. The details remain rooted in harmony, and the colors shine like a 19th-century van Gogh.
John Book vividly remembers the July summer night, in 1984, when he walked from an office within Elder High School after what he believed to be an interview (in reality, he was the only applicant) for the school’s next varsity swimming head coach job. Book, just 22 years old at the time, four years removed from graduating Elder, was ready to pounce like a young colt in the starting block.
“Walking out of there … you’d have thought I just got the head job at Stanford,” remembered Book, who stepped down as head coach earlier this year after 31 seasons with the Panthers.
Elder was Book’s “first and only head coaching job,” he reminisced. As a student, Book was a four-year swimmer for the Panthers, he said “I was sort of fair to okay” but he managed a trip to the state meet on a relay as a senior, before heading off to the University of Cincinnati, where he studied business and swam two seasons for the Bearcats.
Book and his wife of 30 years, Kari, met swimming together at UC, Book said. “She’s been a godsend. For four months a year, I’ve missed a lot of stuff … I’m lucky to have a great wife who’s a former swimmer and understands (how demanding the sport is).”
For many reasons, swimming has always been an important chapter in Book’s life. He recalled his first venture into water when he was nine years old at Phillips Swim Club.
“I got to Elder and I didn’t think I’d even make the high school team,” Book said. “I didn’t realize at the time they pretty much took everybody who could stay afloat. I loved my four years there. The opportunity arose to come back and coach … I thought to be the swim coach at Elder was the greatest thing ever.”
He’s seen generations, and helped mold them all in the water, into better swimmers and men. It’s a rewarding job with tangible results.
“I always tell the kids, swimming sort of mirrors life,” Book said. “Whatever job you end up in, you have to work it as a craft. You have to keep working that craft constantly.”
Today, Book’s still enamored with the job. So much so, he couldn’t completely walk away from coaching.
One of Book’s former swimmers, Brad Ohmer, will take over as head coach (his first high school job), and Book will stay on as an assistant. Ohmer, a 1988 Elder grad, said Book “worked hard for us and in return we worked hard for him.”
Ohmer said his favorite memory of Book was the ride up to the state meet his senior year. “He (Book) was elated, not for himself, but for us … he reminded us to take a deep breath and soak it in, he said ‘Make sure you enjoy the moment, and don’t get so soaked up that you forget what got you here and where you are,’” Ohmer recalled.
Over time, Book saw something in Ohmer that resonated.
“What got Brad on my radar is he coaches Delhi Swim Club. I’m friends with him on Facebook and I remember last summer, he was posting stuff about how well the swimmers did after every meet … his enthusiasm, that sort of planted a seed in my head, maybe he could coach Elder,” Book said.
Looking back, Book has no qualms calling his 31 years a “dream come true.”
He remembers what he told a reporter years ago, “Elder swimming, we’re a blue-collar team in a white-collar sport.”
Book’s a realistic coach. He wanted his swimmers to set goals and work as hard as possible to achieve them.
“That’s just as exciting to me as a kid going to a state meet,” he said.