Never bet against Billy Swanson.
A kid who’d be stereotyped as coming from the wrong side of the tracks carries a 3.4 grade point average at Soddy-Daisy High School and has scored a 21 on the ACT. He plans to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and obtain an engineering degree, and the 220-pounder hopes to join the Mocs wrestling team.
There were those who thought he’d never get this far, and many marvel at the persistence that has allowed him to beat some pretty long odds.
“I never thought I’d be wearing pants from American Eagle,” Swanson said, “because I had been used to wearing somebody else’s jeans. I came from a low-income family. I hadn’t had money to go to the movies or the mall. I wore hand-me-down clothes or a pair of $10 jeans from Walmart.”
His parents divorced when he was 14, his dad leaving town with his brothers and sisters in tow, and Billy was left in the care of a mother who was drowning her remorse in alcohol.
“My mother remarried and he was an ex-con who was an alcoholic,” Swanson recalled. “I remember so many nights when they’d be drinking and then arguing and I stayed up till 2 or 3 in the morning to try and keep them from getting so loud that the neighbors called the cops. Once they went to sleep, then I’d get two or three hours of sleep before I got up and went to school.”
He had stayed with his mom because he felt his father had turned the rest of the family against her.
“My mom went from never being in trouble to getting arrested for public drunkenness, DUI and public disturbance,” Swanson said.
He wound up living with a friend’s family for almost a year and then moved in with wrestling teammate Campbell Lewis and his dad Gary more than two years ago.
“Gary has taught me a lot. He has been a wonderful father figure and mentor, and Campbell, although we sometimes butt heads, has been like a brother,” Swanson said. “I look at Campbell and his family as my own. They helped me in a time of need.
“When I moved in with them, I was mean. I had a short temper and Gary has helped me come a long way. And he has tried to help me catch up on the childhood I missed out on.”
The Campbells and the Trojans wrestling team became the family Swanson needed and wanted.
“I owe a lot to Coach [Steve] Henry and the Campbells. I owe a lot to my teammates,” he said. “There are times when one of us is down and the others pick us up. The bond in wrestling is so much larger than with teammates in any other sport because we have pushed through adversity together.”
Said Henry: “Billy’s a different kid. He’s a great kid with a wonderful heart. He has suffered some adversity and the Soddy-Daisy family was there to provide support. Everybody has taken a hand in raising Billy from the standpoint of doing the right things and being the right kind of individual.
“He has the ability to be a state champion, and it would be something well deserved if it was to happen. He has suffered a lot of adversity that a kid his age shouldn’t have to suffer.”
Swanson last saw his father three years ago. This past Christmas was his first without his mother, who was hit by a car and killed in Florida last summer.
“The last time I talked to her I yelled at her, which I usually never did,” Swanson recalled. “I got angry because she was drunk and she kept promising she was going to quit. Then my phone broke. She had called my sister in Atlanta and told her to tell me she was getting straight and she was working on getting my family back together. And then she was killed.
“One thing people forget is to watch the things you say to people, because you might never get to talk with them again.”
Christmas Day was tough. He did see one of his sisters, and he talked on the phone with his dad, with whom he has re-established a relationship (albeit long-distance).
“There have been some really good times at the Lewises and some really great days. Yet I might trade all of them to see my family together again,” Swanson said. “But, no, I wouldn’t say I’ve been cheated. You can’t control the hand you’re dealt. I have learned that the important thing is how you deal with what you’re dealt.”
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...