PORTLAND — For the past 52 years, ever since he began swimming competitively at what was then called the Portland Boys Club, Lee Crocker has never strayed far from the smell of chlorine.

A 1970 graduate of Portland High who swam on three straight unbeaten Bulldog squads, including the 1968 New England champions, Crocker went on to a long career in education that included stints as head coach at Portland and Deering, 15 years as an official, 11 years as director of the state meet and six years on the Maine Principals’ Association swim committee, four as chair.

Now, having retired in June after five years as principal of Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland, Crocker is back on the pool deck. He’s beginning his third term as head coach of Portland High, the program he led from 1980 to 1985 and 1990 to 1995.

“One of my bucket list things to do once I retired was to get back into coaching,” he said. “I really enjoyed it and I missed it.”

Crocker’s high school coach was Harold Paulson, whose name graces the Riverton Pool where the Bulldogs practice. From 1941 to 1970, Portland won 20 Class A state titles.

The Bulldogs are not a threat to bring home a championship this year. They have 14 girls and 15 boys and a handful of swimmers who qualified for the state meets last February.

“We don’t have the numbers that I’m hoping to have, but the kids are great,” Crocker said. “They’re working hard and they’ve got a great attitude.

“Sometimes you can have teams with a lot of talent and it’s a pain in the butt because they don’t really respond very well. But this group of kids, they come in every day with a positive attitude and they work hard.”

Crocker has a twin brother, Lloyd, also with long ties to Maine swimming but who currently concentrates on his duties as principal of Loranger Middle School in Old Orchard Beach. Crocker’s daughter, Ashley, is a senior who swims for Windham High — Portland’s opponent on Friday.

“I kid her from time to time,” said Crocker, 60. “‘You’d better watch out, Ashley, when the Portland Bulldogs show up.’ But Windham’s got, I think, 43 girls out for swimming.”

Several of his swimmers, including senior co-captain David Bliss, had Crocker as a middle school principal at Lyman Moore.

“He seems like he knows a lot about what he’s talking about,” Bliss said. “I know he’s been involved in (swimming) for a long time.”

Even though he occasionally jokes about a connection, Crocker is not related to Portland native Ian Crocker, the Olympic gold medalist.

As a longtime educator, Crocker understands the importance of incremental steps and gradual improvement. As a longtime swimmer, he understands how the same old sets can make for grueling practices.

So he tries to make it fun. Change things up. Each Portland swimmer is expected to swim butterfly, breast stroke and backstroke as well as freestyle.

“Every day it’s something different,” Bliss said, “which is good.”

“I want them to be as versatile as possible,” Crocker said. “My goal is that every swimmer gets to swim most of the events before the end of the season. Give them exposure even though they may only swim a particular set of events when it comes to championship time.”

At the beginning of the season, Crocker listed two goals for his team.

1. Have fun.

2. Improve.

“My experience has been that most of the kids who compete in swimming are good kids who usually do well in the classroom,” he said. “You have to have a real strong work ethic to do the sport, just because of the nature of it. So I’ve had just positive experiences for the most part with teams I’ve coached.”

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at [email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH