Sports Columnist

John Knebels

Jerry McCaffrey doesn’t speak in riddles.

So when the 19-year Father Judge swimming coach asks his athletes if they would rather win a race with a poor time or finish sixth while simultaneously smashing their own personal record, he isn’t presenting them with a parable.

“Swimming is one of the more unique sports around,” said McCaffrey. “You don’t compete with the swimmers around you as much as you do with your own self. You want to keep improving your time. That’s when you see how the hard work is paying off.”

No matter how much diligence his Crusaders employ during the course of the season, it won’t be enough to dethrone two-decade monopolists La Salle College High School as Catholic League champs.

But winning the league title isn’t always the main goal of every coach and every program. Getting the most out of each participant athletically while simultaneously enjoying the many intangible experiences of high school sports sometimes supersedes the ultimate triumph of earning a championship plaque.

Take, for instance, the Stroudsburg Winter Swim Classic held at East Stroudsburg University Jan. 3.

Joining Father Judge at the event were Catholic League squads from Little Flower, Archbishop Wood and Roman Catholic. After a long day of swimming on Saturday, the parties from Father Judge and Little Flower met for Mass in a large conference room later that evening.

Oblate Father Bob Mulligan, the former principal at Father Judge and a 1974 school alum, celebrated the Mass, which was unable to include Archbishop Wood because of size limitations. Roman Catholic’s group, participating in the meet for the first time, had elected to travel home in the afternoon.

“There is something very special about schools that get together and get to know one another,” said McCaffrey. “That’s what makes everything so memorable. Years later, kids come back from college and they will talk about how much they enjoyed the experience.”

McCaffrey probably enjoyed it the most, and for several reasons.

A 1976 Father Judge grad, McCaffrey proudly pointed out that Little Flower coaches Sean Clothier and Kyle Kenny swam for McCaffrey at Judge, as had Roman Catholic coach Mike Womelsdorf. Wood coach Charlie Stillwell was a 1976 Wood grad who competed against McCaffrey in high school.

Talk about keeping in touch …

“It’s amazing when you think about it,” said McCaffrey. “People end up being best friends because of things like this. They remain in each other’s lives and always have so much to talk about.”

Father Judge’s swim team, which this season has been led by senior Nick Moore, junior Mike Lawley and freshman Jake Harner, dominated the boys’ events. The Crusaders accrued an outlandish 354 points, which was more than twice the combined yield of the second- and third-place teams.

Roman finished with 70 points while Wood’s boys scored 39.

In the girls’ meet, Archbishop Wood was outstanding. The Vikings’ scored 274 points to win easily. Taylor Kane starred by capturing three inspanidual gold medals; teammates Alexandra Fitzgerald, Grace Cochrane and Alyse Davis also placed first.

“A lot of swimmers from the Catholic League swam very well,” said McCaffrey. “All in all, it was just a really great weekend.”

John Knebels can be reached at