When Peninsula High School freshman Gabe Davidson went to Craig Brown’s PE class, Brown thought he was just another student for the first couple days.
Then, on the third day or so, he glanced at the name again, and he asked Gabe, “Are you related to ... ?”
Yes, Davidson answered.
“Dan the Man says, ‘Hi,’ ” he added.
That was the nickname for Dan Davidson, Gabe’s father, who swam for a few of Brown’s Peninsula High School boys swimming teams in the 1980s.
Now, Brown is in his 33rd year as the head swimming coach at Peninsula, and he’s in his 36th year of teaching. He’s beginning to coach some of the kids of his former students and swimmers.
In an age of career carousels, where people bounce around from job to job like a child on a pogo stick, Brown has stayed in one place. He doesn’t see any reason to leave.
“The grass is always greener on the other side — at least that’s what people tell you,” Brown said. “But it can’t get any greener than this.”
Brown doesn’t have an official timeline for his retirement, but he said it could come in the next five years.
He doesn’t seem to be in any rush, though.
“This keeps me young, working with the high-school kids,” Brown said. “We’ve got great kids here.”
Brown joked that if a kid came into his P.E. class and told him he coached one of their grandparents, he’d know it would be time to retire.
The majority of the kids Brown coaches have no previous club-swimming experience, so many essentially start from scratch. While that may frustrate many coaches, Brown said he enjoys building a foundation of fundamentals for his swimmers, then watching them grow and develop.
“It’s fun working with kids who haven’t had a lot of swimming experience because you see so much improvement,” Brown said.
Gabe Davidson, from Brown’s account, is similar to his dad with his quiet and reserved nature and strong work ethic. He’s already proved to be a beneficiary of Brown’s coaching experience.
“He’s a really good coach,” Davidson said. “He gets the basics in and tells you what you need to do.”
Beyond seeing times drop, Brown’s main goal is to foster a culture of acceptance, hard work and personal growth.
“If I can have some positive impact, something that they can use during their life, then I was a success,” Brown said. “A lot of kids that have come through the program, they always talk about how they’ve become a better person; they’ve learned how to discipline themselves. That’s exciting for me, to be a part of their life and be a part that was a success for them.”
Brown said he knows not everyone will be an Olympic champion, but he hopes all his swimmers can take the lessons of hard work and commitment, and apply them positively to their lives.
In addition to the boys and girls swimming teams he coaches, Brown said he’s also proud of the aquatic P.E. program they’ve been able to build at Peninsula High.
“We’ve established probably the best aquatic program in the state of Washington,” he said. “We’ve been able to collaborate and develop a program that I think is top-notch in the state, if not the United States, as far as what we do and the skills the kids learn.”
The main emphasis is safety, given all the bodies of water that surround Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula. He said he wants the students to be able to enjoy the water, safely, for the rest of their lives.
Brown credits school administrators with fostering the aquatic program.
“We have a great staff,” he said. “The administration is probably the best that I’ve been associated with. They all get along with each other and help the students. (Principal) Tim Winter is outstanding with what he does.”
As for why he’s stayed at one place for more than 30 years, Brown said it boils down to the kids.
“The one thing I’ve noticed at Peninsula High School is that students accept each other,” Brown said. “Kids are nice here. Overall, they’re really nice to each other, and they respect each other, and they go out of their way to help each other.”