Year after year the Trinidad State softball team is in the hunt for an NJCAA Region IX Title. It’s a tradition built by 15-year Head Coach Steve Swazo. Winning is important to Swazo, but winning seems to be more of a positive by-product of the culture he has developed.
“I’m teaching these girls more about life, rather than the game of softball,” said Swazo. “Accountability, dedication, teamwork, time management,” these are Swazo’s keys to success.
The Trojans will take the field Saturday at Southside Park as a top seed and host of the Region IX Tournament with a 20-6 record in conference play. Swazo’s record since 2006 is now 405 wins against 321 losses.
Swazo travels the West each off-season, recruiting from traveling softball teams and a network of high school teams with similar philosophies.
“I try to get the best of the best that are willing to go to a community college,” said Swazo. “Grades are very important because they need to be eligible to play. Second is their athleticism…
“Basically, I’m fine tuning. I’m not the type of coach who is going to try and change somebody. I’m going to tweak a few things here there, make minor adjustments. If the student athletes buy in to my coaching philosophy, then they’re going to be successful. The ones that continually try to stay how they are and don’t want the instruction and the small tweaks, they’re probably going to struggle at the college level,” said Swazo.
The Trojan softball team has a reputation of integrity, community service and hard work.
This year, because of COVID they are together even more. Each athletic team at Trinidad State is considered a “family unit.” That means they don’t have to wear masks around each other, but it also means each member carries a burden for the rest. If one player, or coach, tests positive for COVID, everyone goes into quarantine.
Said Swazo, “If somebody gets COVID, that means we’re shut down for 14 days. And that means we don’t participate in the tournament. If we win region (the Region IX Tournament) and somebody comes down with COVID then we don’t get to participate in the District Tournament. So, not until the season is completely over am I going to feel safe. It’s very stressful. Right now, it’s day by day. Everything is day by day. Every team at every level, high school, college, whatever, everybody is in the same boat.”
Swazo graduated from Trinidad High School and got a taste for coaching that same year with a Little League baseball team. “I just enjoyed the game and I enjoyed giving back and that gave me my start.”
That was 39 years ago.
He left Trinidad in 1985 to pursue a career in broadcasting. During those 20 years, mostly in Nebraska, he had jobs in radio, telecommunications and newspaper, but he was also always a coach. He then got a degree in Physical Education with coaching endorsements.
After a divorce, he came back home to Trinidad in 2005 to help out his ill mother.
“When I moved back to Colorado. I was an assistant basketball coach and assistant baseball coach at Trinidad High School. Then there was an opening here at the college. I was the academic advisor for Upward Bound and the athletic director, Dan Nuschy, said, ‘We have just hired a new softball coach. Would you like to be that person’s assistant?’ So, I became the assistant coach in August of that year. And then in November that coach left and Mr. Nuschy said, ‘We’re just going to slide you into that position’ and I’ve been in that position ever since.
“Coaching baseball, which is guys, is a little bit different than coaching young ladies. As far as the temperament and emotions and things like that. But I felt it wasn’t much of a change, going from baseball. If someone were to ask me today, would I coach baseball again, I probably would say no. I enjoy what I do. This game is so much faster and quick. And my girls that I’ve had throughout the years are great student athletes. They can play with the best of them. I wouldn’t change a thing.
“I always jokingly say, I don’t work a day in my life. The last 15 years, I don’t consider this work. This is my passion, this is my joy, this is my love. I enjoy coaching. I enjoy mentoring. With coaching, we always say there are the three Cs. You coach, you counsel and you’re a cheerleader. Those three things, I continually do,” said Swazo.
“This last year, year and a half with COVID has been very difficult, very stressful. It’s a different dynamic, just trying to keep our girls safe. Compared to year’s past, students aren’t really allowed to be college students. Because we’re trying to keep them safe. That’s been stressful, but I wouldn’t change a thing. This team has battled through that, has accepted the challenges and done really well. COVID has taken away a lot from these young students. I’ll be glad when we get over that hump and let these kids be college kids again.”