The story was written by Rob McCurdy and printed in the Marion Star on March 21, 2020
There were many sides to Greg Swepston and all of them were good.
Marty Riggs is a retired educator and former athletic director now living in Marion, but that’s not how he met Sweppy. Riggs works as an usher at Huntington Park for the Columbus Clippers, and three years ago a stranger who was to sit in his section struck up a conversation.
“He immediately introduced himself to me and asked where I lived,” Riggs said. “I told him Marion, Ohio, and he immediately said, ‘You are now known as Marty Marion to me and whoever I bring to a game at the stadium.'”
The two quickly bonded over baseball, which they both loved, and became good friends with Sweppy always sitting in Riggs’ section and Riggs sneaking him Cracker Jack or peanuts.
That was Greg Swepston, a gregarious people person where often strangers became friends.
When Dave Gorenflo was in eighth grade in the 1960s at Eber Baker Middle School downtown, Swepston was a young, single, teacher, and coach who would often get dinner a block away at Murphy’s lunch counter.
One day Swepston gave Gorenflo money to get him a meal. When he returned, Sweppy frantically went through the bag looking for a straw.
“I immediately ran back to Murphy’s to get a straw,” Gorenflo said.
A few weeks later, Swepston asked him to make another food run for him, and Gorenflo made sure he picked up a straw.
“When I delivered supper, he took the lid off his Coke and began drinking,” Gorenflo said. “I said, ‘Coach, there is a straw in the bag,’ to which he responded, ‘Straws are for sissies.’ I still rarely use a straw, and my son will tell you it’s because straws are for sissies.”
That was Greg Swepston, forever playful, lighthearted, and fun, setting up a joke that wouldn’t pay off for days.
When Harding grad Dave White was in college, he came home in November of 1969 as his father was nearing the end of his life. White went to the hospital to sit with him and offer his mother some rest.
“Alone with my dad, I was having a rough time,” White said. “He was restless and irritable. I sat down in the darkroom to feel sorry for myself. I looked up to see a figure walk into the room. It was Coach Swepston. He stated that he couldn’t sleep and thought I might need company. It was 2 in the morning.”
That was Greg Swepston, kind, empathetic, always thinking of others, and always there when needed most.
Sadly for those who knew him and loved him, Sweppy is gone. The former Marion City Schools teacher, coach, administrator, athletic director, and unofficial advocate for all things Harding, Marion, and Marion County died this week after a year-long battle with cancer. He was just days shy of his 82nd birthday.
At least we think he was going to be 82. He might have been much, much older.
Swepston was the AD at Marion Harding from 1983 through 1993, shepherding the Presidents’ athletic programs through the breakup of the Buckeye Conference and into the Ohio Heartland Conference.
As a member of the OHC, the league’s ADs often got together for business at a different restaurant. Turns out Ashland’s Ev DeVaul was Sweppy’s kindred spirit as he would pull the waitress aside and tell her it was Swepston’s birthday so they would get a free dessert. Sweppy dutifully played along every time.
When 1969 Harding grad Bob Cyders ran into Swepston in Ashland, he told his former teacher and coach that he looked good, to which DeVaul quipped, “Yeah, he must be 134 years old.”
Swepston was born in Columbus on March 26, 1938. He graduated from Aquinas College High School in 1956, where his gym teacher was none other than George Steinbrenner.
He worked multiple jobs as a student at Ohio State, and when he graduated, his first gig was as a teacher and coach in Marion City Schools. Just as friends became family for Swepston, Marion became his hometown.
That’s obvious by the number of boards, associations, committees, and task-forces Swepston was a part of over the decades. However, there was one in which he became synonymous and that was the annual Charity-Celebrity Golf Outing, which is a fundraiser for the Marion County Youth Foundation.
“Each summer as celebrity director for the Charity-Celebrity Golf Tournament, he would work on a time and place for me to interview the long list of celebrities he had been able to get to attend the event,” former Marion Star sports writer Bob Putman said. “I have been told the word of mouth from one celebrity to another led to them attending, and it was because of Swep.”
Sweppy knew people, lots of people. More so, he had a way of making connections many struggle to make.
“Greg Swepston was one of the finest coaches and administrators I ever worked with,” former Harding Principal John Steward said. “He had a special talent in his wit and how he worked with people. He understood how to get the best out of his athletes and was highly respected as a coach.”
Swepston was the high school baseball head coach in the late 1960s and early 1970s and spent two years as the head boys basketball coach. Prior to that, he coached at all the sub-varsity levels, including football.
“I will always remember the consistent authentic praise we received. It was a demonstration of the instinct he had for bringing out the best in each of his athletes,” Cyders said.
To say Swepston was a players’ coach was an understatement. Back when he was coaching baseball, Harding had no buses, so that meant players rode in cars to games.
One day, Sweppy bought a new car and the team was admiring it.
“All-Ohio pitcher Harry Fry, who would be drafted by the Cleveland Indians right out of high school, said ‘Coach, can I ride with you this year?’ Without skipping a beat Coach Swepston retorted, ‘If you make the team Fry,'” Gorenflo said.
Even though his career took him away from coaching, sports were central to his life. He worked as a talent scout for the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Six for decades, so baseball was his first love. Or was it?
Ohio State football and basketball were centerpieces for him as well.
For six of the last eight New Year’s Eves, WMRN’s Jeff Ruth and his son Bryan would have dinner with Swepston and his brother Barry wherever the Buckeyes were playing their bowl game.
“He would never, ever let us spend a dime on anything,” Ruth said. “He would always lead the restaurant in chants of OH-IO and loved his beloved Buckeyes.”
That love went back to his youth when Heisman Trophy winner Hopalong Cassidy was starring for Ohio State. That’s why Swepston always wore No. 40 when he was a standout prep baseball player who also played semipro ball.
Dave Webster was with Sweppy for Ohio State’s first football game after the death of Cassidy this fall. A reporter looking for a Cassidy angle asked Webster if he thought Swepston would be a good person to talk to.
“I told him that with Greg he hit the jackpot,” Webster said. “He spoke with Greg for a good 10-15 minutes, and in the fourth quarter came to our seats to get some more video footage.”
Just as important to Swepston was Harding High School athletics. Long retired from the school, he never removed himself from its sports. He spoke every year at the basketball banquet and was ever-present at all kinds of games, still making connections to current athletes. He was a charter member of the Harding Hall of Fame committee and was inducted into the hall in 2004.
“He particularly would provide us with stat sheets and game summaries for basketball games with underlining, highlighting on a card stock paper the day after the games,” current Harding AD Sean Kearns said. “When he dropped them off to the athletic office, he would always accompany the report with a moon pie, ho-ho, or other pastry.”
That was Greg Swepston, as good a man as Marion’s ever seen.