As journalists, especially in sports, we love to use terms like legend or icon.
In fact, we could be accused of using them too much.
But in the case of Dallastown’s Rich Howley, it’s true. He is an icon – and it’s not just me saying it about the man that spent more than 32 years as a teacher and coach, many while also serving as aquatic director.
Several others have chimed in since Howley decided to retire from both of his passions.
While he helped coach several sports, he was most known for swimming and the incredible success the Dallastown program has had under his watch.
He was the high school coach for all but a handful of those years at Dallastown, taking a break when his two sons were young – although he coached the age group program during that time.
Howley doesn’t measure success in terms of wins and losses, or best swim times, or even gold medals at various levels. To him, it’s all about the kids and providing a learning experience.
“I am probably the same in the classroom and the pool deck because it’s about the child,” he said. “I always looked it as the same. A true coach is a teacher. My classroom was right next to the pool, it’s been like my own world.”
He credited his wife, Kathy, and their kids for understanding how important coaching is to him.
The lives he touched over the years are countless.
One of those is Megan Tracey Zinn, one of the best to ever swim for Howley at Dallastown. Zinn, the daughter of former Wildcats' coach Steve Tracey, also helped Howley as an assistant coach for several years and is a teacher herself in the district.
“There are people that come and go in your life, and then there is Rich Howley. I am who I am because of him,” said Zinn. “He taught me how to believe in myself, chase dreams, and that hard work will always persevere.
“I am proud to say that coach made me the swimmer I was, and that my success was a direct result of his dedication to Dallastown. Rich has always been, and will always be, one the most influential people in my life.”
Well, that’s some heavy praise. But Zinn, one of several former swimmers under Howley that went into coaching, is far from the only one.
And there are plenty more that would say kind things about Howley. In many ways, it’s similar to when longtime swim coaches Dick Guyer (York Suburban) and Bill Sterner (South Western) retired from head coaching.
Howley credits Guyer, Sterner and Steve Tracey for helping him along the way. He then made sure to do the same for so many people, including Northeastern swimming coach Dan Schaeberle, another former Wildcat that teaches and coaches.
“He was motivating as can be,” Schaeberle said. “It was nice, because I could always go to him if I had any questions. I wasn’t coaching against him at all, I was coaching with him.”
Former Red Land High School coach Phyllis Beck coached Howley when he was in age group. When she retired from Red Land, Beck served a time as an assistant for Howley.
“The swimmers wanted to be a team. Not a bunch of individuals on a team, but a team,” she wrote in a message. “He was a great motivator. After hearing him give a pre-meet talk, I wanted to get in the pool and swim, not having done that in over 30 years.”
Wildcats senior Jake Stoner, who set a District 3 Class 3A 100 butterfly record, and went on to a fourth-place medal at the recent PIAA championships, said that he couldn’t thank Howley enough.
Full disclosure: I met Rich Howley in 1991 when then-Daily Record sports editor Steve Ziants asked if I would take ownership of covering high school swimming.
Howley became one of the people I relied on to teach me a sport I knew nothing about. Now, 26 years later, I am still writing about swimming, a sport that has given back to me in many ways.
In all the years, and the countless conversations I had with Howley, it was always about the kids. He could cite his champion swimmers, but could also list his academic All-Americans. To him, it’s about creating good citizens.
Howley informed the community of his decision to step down at the Dallastown swimming banquet. They gave him a standing ovation, followed by tears, of his swimmers, their parents, and his own.
Now that’s the kind of sendoff a legend deserves.
On Howley's impact