WATERVILLE — Years ago, when he was Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell attended a Boston Celtics game against the Miami Heat in Miami. After, Mitchell was invited to meet Celtics great Bob Cousy. At first, Cousy didn’t recognize Mitchell or his name. The Senator knew how to break the ice.

“I’m the Swisher’s brother,” Mitchell said, and Cousy’s face brightened.

“You’re the Swisher’s brother? Come here and give me a big hug,” Mitchell recalled Cousy saying. “He’s telling me how great the Swisher is, as if I didn’t know.”

Mitchell told that story on Saturday afternoon at Colby College. It was just one of the stories told while the Colby community celebrated what everybody who has ever met John “Swisher” Mitchell knows. How great he is.

Dozens of alumni, friends, and family came out to honor Swisher. The occasion was his recent 90th birthday, but it also was to announce the creation of the John “Swisher” Mitchell Assistant Coach for Men’s Basketball at Colby, the first endowed assistant coaching position in the New England Small College Athletic Conference. In five weeks, close to $1 million was raised for the endowment.

“I got a lot of emails about you over the last few weeks,” Chad Higgins, who spearheaded this effort, said to Swisher. Those emails all echoed the same sentiment. Swisher taught decades of Colby basketball players how to be a good husband, a good father, and a good friend. “Thank you for being that example to all the people in this room.”

Swisher and Prinella Mitchell were married for 63 years, before her death almost two years ago. Her memory was honored as much as Swisher’s on Saturday.

“She will always be a part of that endowed chair,” former Colby basketball coach Dick Whitmore said.

Swisher coached at Colby for 44 years, until his retirement in 2011, most of that time as an assistant to Whitmore. When Whitmore arrived at Colby in 1970, Swisher was thrust upon him by then athletic director John Winkin. Now, Whitmore calls his friendship with Swisher the great relationship of his adult life.

There was the ECAC championship game at Williams College on March 11, 1993. The Mules and their fans were outrageously outnumbered by Williams supporters in the Williams gym. A fan sat behind Colby’s bench and banged a drum. All game long, he banged the drum. As the Mules overcame a nine-point deficit with five minutes to play to win the title, the drumbeat wore on Swisher’s nerves. With the game over, and the teams shaking hands, Whitmore heard a disturbance behind him. He turned to see Swisher, wagging his finger in the face of the defeated drummer.

“We’re talking about true passion,” Whitmore said.

Swisher was a Waterville icon long before he started coaching freshman sports at Colby in 1968. He was the point guard on the Waterville High basketball team that won the New England championship in 1944. As former players arrived for Saturday’s birthday party, Swisher held court. Player after player, friend after friend, lined up to spend a minute or two chatting with him.

“Do you still shoot,” Swisher asked Mac Simpson, a former Colby guard known for his outside shot when he was a Mule.

“I still do, a little bit,” Simpson said.

There’s the passion that’s exhaled in the face of an annoying drummer, and there’s the perception that comes with experience. Not long after graduating from Colby, Jay Johnson was an assistant coach working alongside Swisher and Whitmore. The Mules were in Hartford, Connecticut for a conference playoff game at Trinity. The bus was scheduled to leave the hotel for the gym at 4. At 3:55, Mitchell was not on the bus. Whitmore, always wound tight on game days, told Johnson, go to his room and help him find his glasses. Johnson found Swisher, sitting on the bed. Swisher opened his hand to reveal his glasses.

“He needs to calm down,” Mitchell told Johnson. The point made, they went to the bus.

Colby President David Greene stressed what an honor it is to be given a named chair in the academic world.

“That sentiment that you have today will live on forever in this basketball program,” Greene said. “The story of Swish will be told for generations.”

Like Whitmore, Swisher’s name was already on the basketball court at Colby’s Wadsworth Gymnasium. The John “Swisher” Mitchell Assistant Coach for Men’s Basketball at Colby chair is a reminder that his soul will always be there, too.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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