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Jack Swift, Tomahawk icon and legend

By: Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
[email protected]

When it comes to newspaper writing the “Jack of all trades” is definitely the master. Jack Swift is still showcasing his talents to the people of Johnson County and has done so for over 30 years.
He currently writes a weekly feature, “This and That,” for The Tomahawk and serves as the town’s historian.
I met Jack and his wife, Mary, for the first time on Friday. They invited me into their home where we talked about sports, church and family. I even had a chance to pray with Jack before departing to cover the high school basketball game. It seemed like I had known him forever.
Jack was hired full time at The Tomahawk in 1983. He recalled how it all took place.
“I was working for the Blue Ridge Shoe Company,” said Swift. Darrell McCloud owned the newspaper at the time and asked me to come work for him. I wasn’t hired necessarily to do sports, just to help out where needed. It wasn’t long before I was writing sports. I just kept on doing it until my retirement.”
Swift noted there were many things he couldn’t remember during his time there, but the ones he could recall were special.
“You wrote about one, the 1988 football team,” said Swift. “Those boys could sure play some football. I remember Bo Henson was tough to bring down. And Jim Crowder, their coach, was a good man. You brought back a lot of memories. It was like I was there. That’s what sports writing is all about. I always tried to portray the games to our people that weren’t there and make them feel like they were there. You have to have a passion for what you write about. I see that in what you are doing.”
Jack’s encouraging words made me stop for a moment to realize that I was talking to a legend, an icon who was an outstanding citizen, great Christian man and somebody highly respected. “Gentleman Jack” appeared to always have a kind word for those around him. He praised Angie Gambill, current Tomahawk editor and one of his co-workers.
“About everyone I worked with is gone except for Angie,” said Swift. She and her husband Gary are such wonderful people. They both mean a lot to me. I enjoyed my time there with everyone and there were times I probably didn’t enjoy it. The deadlines weren’t fun but it was all interesting.”
Jack credited former baseball coach Darin Chaplain for helping build the current baseball field and Bob Kirksey for the softball complex.”
“Those men worked hard to get all that done,” said Swift. “Then others have come in and made it that much nicer. I’m glad that baseball and softball are now getting emphasized. They deserve to be covered just like football and basketball is.”
Swift said the one thing he would love to see is another Johnson County resident make it to the majors. He spoke highly of former big league pitcher, Clyde “Hardrock” Shoun.
“I knew Hardrock and he was quite a character,” said Swift. “He pitched a no-hitter one time in the majors. I remember he came back here and played some sandlot ball after his career was over. I recall him playing against Dewey, Shady Valley and Taylorsville when he was with Mountain City. He was interesting and fun to be around.”
Swift spoke of retired coach Steve Arnold and currently Little Milligan School principal, J.R. Campbell.
“I go to church with Steve at First Christian and he’s a good man and a good coach,” said Swift. “I always felt that way about J.R too. He was a likeable man and a good coach. There are others but I always appreciated those two.”
Swift has made his home in Mountain City for all of his life except for the two years while serving in the military. He agreed that it’s a wonderful place to live.
“I’ve been here my whole life and enjoyed every minute of it,” added Swift. “It’s home for me and Mary.”
Swift looks forward to helping complete Johnson County’s History, Volume 3 in the near future. I jokingly asked if he ever thought about coming back and writing sports.
“From my viewpoint I had a good career,” smiled Swift. “The sports is in good hands now. You got to know when it’s time to retire and I did. I didn’t expect it to last for 30 years.”