MOUNT VERNON — Dave Cleave’s philosophy is simple, and it didn’t take the longtime Skagit County swimming coach long to explain it Saturday afternoon at the Skagit Valley Family YMCA.
Cleave said when someone is old enough to be sitting in a rocking chair, he or she should have plenty of memories to share.
“You’ve got to have stories to tell,” Cleave said. “And nobody’s going to believe the stories I have.”
Some of those stories were on display Saturday, as the YMCA hosted a celebration of Cleave’s half-century of coaching. Dozens of former swimmers, assistant coaches and friends gathered to tell stories, share memories — and raise money to name a swimming lane after Cleave at a new YMCA facility.
Cleave swam for Mount Vernon High School until his graduation in 1956. After swimming competitively in college, he started coaching in Vancouver, Washington, before returning to Skagit County in 1966. He coached many local teams, both associated with the YMCA and with local high schools, including Mount Vernon, Sedro-Woolley and Burlington-Edison.
Former Burlington-Edison swimmer Michael Simmons said Cleave had a way of supporting and encouraging his swimmers, even after their prep careers had ended.
“One of the best things in your life is knowing coach Cleave is rooting for you,” Simmons said.
Cleave’s attention to detail was on display in more than the stories the speakers told; one table displayed medals he hand-made for his swimmers. Each one was made of a spray-painted can lid with a ribbon, painted with a word to describe the swimmer. One said ‘Intimidator;’ another said ‘Best sprinter.’
The event included an auction of items donated by Dr. Jim Bauman, a sports and human performance psychologist who worked with the U.S. Olympic swimming program from 2000-16. It raised approximately $94,000 to name a lane for Cleave at the new YMCA. The total needed is $100,000.
“I learned so much from Dave for those three years,” said Jerry Gardner, Jr. “But those years have grown to 25 years. He’s not just a mentor, he’s a friend.”
The YMCA plans to break ground this year on the new facility, which is scheduled to open in 2019.
Renata Maybruck, the campaign director for the YMCA, said she enjoyed seeing how many people Cleave has impacted over the years.
“We tried to reach out to as many as we could,” she said. “Everyone has a Dave Cleave story.”