Homewood-Flossmoor High School teacher Tim Caldwell’s 38-year teaching career has included having students qualify for state competition 49 out of the 50 seasons he’s coached swimming and water polo.
Photos of teams and elite swimmers at H-F are plastered on walls and cabinets in the swim coaches’ office and he can point out students by name.
By day, Caldwell is a physical education teacher. He’s taught everything but dance. The past 20 years he’s taken freshmen through the swimming regimen and taught Life Saving for future lifeguards. After school he becomes the coach.
Caldwell’s teaching career started with 11 years in Indiana followed by 27 years at H-F, his alma mater. His first assignment was boys head swim coach. He did that for 11 years. Nine years ago, he became the boys assistant swim coach. He doubled his efforts and was girls swim coach for 23 years.
When the Illinois High School Association qualified water polo as a sport, Caldwell organized H-F’s boys water polo team and over time took six teams to state tournaments.
“Swimming’s different from water polo,” he said. “Swimmers are more individually motivated. It comes from within; how far can you push or challenge yourself. It’s about being driven and swimming past the point of pain.
“Water polo is a team sport. Water polo is much more cerebral on the one hand, and much more physical on the other hand. There’s a ton of thinking that goes on in water polo,” Caldwell said.
As a coach, he’s used different techniques to motivate his swimmers.
During his career, H-F has produced some standouts who went on to be collegiate swimmers.
On a recent Saturday, Caldwell left home at 5:30 a.m. to be with his water polo team. The day included six matches. He got home at 5:45 p.m. He doesn’t regret the time he gives to students at H-F, but he knows he’s missed plenty of birthdays, anniversaries and get-togethers because of his schedule.
Caldwell continues his Thursday night softball games with his pals at the Park Forest Park District. In retirement he’ll settle into a slower paced routine.
An avid motorcyclist, Caldwell plans to enjoy his new Harley-Davidson, a retirement present from his wife, Terri.
This summer he’ll enjoy the chlorine smell from his own backyard pool teaching his grandchildren to swim. Once school’s out, he and Terri will travel with friends around Lake Superior.
This story first appeared in the May 2016 edition of the Chronicle.