For nearly six decades, hundreds of prep cross-country runners have converged in Duluth’s Enger Park each fall for the Swain Invitational.
The meet is named in honor of John Swain, who coached and taught at Duluth Central High School for 35 years. The first Swain Invitational was held in 1951; in the News-Tribune file photo above, Swain (far left) poses with the champions of the 1969 event. From left, they are Tim Heisel of Hopkins (A race winner), Ed Holtz of Minneapolis Southwest (B race winner) and Tim Oliver of Proctor (sophomore race winner).
Swain started coaching at Morgan Park in 1927, moved to Central the next year and founded the city’s first cross-country program. His teams won four state titles, including the first state meet in 1943. He also coached basketball, track and golf.
In 1967, Swain talked to the News Tribune about how the race took his name:
Swain intended to name it the Central Invitational, but as he put it, “Some of my coaching friends from Minneapolis had a different name in mind. They told me, ‘You can’t wait until a man dies to name something after him.’ ” The name Swain was accepted and now is a common byword around Minnesota prep cross country circles.
Swain retired in 1963, but continued to attend his namesake meet for many years to watch the runners and hand out awards. He died in September 1988 at age 93.