For Skeeter Swift, there was magic with every step he took throughout his basketball career. It was as if the flamboyant, dazzling hard court sensation was meant to be where he was at each respective level of his hoops career.
At George Washington High (Alexandria) in the mid 1960s, Swift, who was stunningly quick and agile for a 6-foot-3 inch, 230-pound ballhandler, earned all-met selection in both his junior and senior seasons. As a senior in 1965, he led the Presidents to the Northern District title with a finals game upset win over Wakefield. In that contest — Swift's final career outing against a Northern Region foe — he connected on 8-of-12 shots from the field and five-of-seven from the foul line to lead G.W. past the Warriors in double overtime, 67-66. The title game was played in front of a frenzied, packed crowd of 3,400 fans at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington.
When Swift fouled out in the second overtime of the finals game versus Wakefield, he was given a standing ovation from the crowd. Also, three Wakefield players left their team bench to go over to congratulate the night's star player. That was all quite a contrast from earlier in the evening when the opposing fans had been calling him names.
Lloyd Groves, in an Alexandria Gazette March 13, 1965 column of that game, wrote, "Fans taunted Skeeter practically from the moment he appeared on the court, calling him fat boy, pudgy and a few other names we won't go into. When he was introduced prior to the Wakefield game a chorus of boos rolled down from the Warriors' stands as the announcement blared forth, `No. 41, Skeeter Swift.'"
Following the game, Groves quoted Swift as saying, "They don't bother me when they boo and yell, it just makes me play that much harder."
Swift averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds while leading the Presidents in assists that senior season. Two of his team's great victories that year came over Washington-Lee, a program which two years earlier had won its second consecutive Virginia state title. G.W., prior to 1965, had lost seven straight to the Generals.
Former area writer Carl Sells once had praising words regarding Swift's senior season heroics.
"Swift did everything and did it well for GW," Sell, who later in his career would become the Sports Information Director at George Mason University. ..."Swift is one of the most colorful players to perform on area high school courts. Despite his size, Skeeter easily outdribbled, outfaked, outpassed, outrebounded most of his opponents. He was almost unstoppable in one-on-one situations."
SWIFT PLAYED three varsity seasons at G.W. His junior season, he led the Presidents (20-3) to the league title and state semifinals. Coaches selected him MVP of the Northern District. Along with his first All-Met selection, he was also named to the all-state team and was also named All-American.
In his senior season he was the lone unanimous selection to the All-Northern District team. Of the region-winning Presidents and their standout player, Groves wrote, "This Presidents ball club had class, offensive ability, defensive ability, coaching — and Skeeter Swift. No other team in the league could make those statements, because no other team had Swift.
"Swift is a showman, tossing the ball behind his back, and when a foul is called against him, he gives it the, `Who me,?' bit," Groves continued. " ...Although Skeeter is a showoff, he's the boy that makes the Prexies tick."
G.W. coach Clay Estes knew what he had in the spectacular Swift, a confident, showman on the court who also had the faith of his teammates.
"He's the type the kids look to, to get the job done," said Estes. "They depend on Skeeter an awful lot. Old Skeeter has done more things for me, as a basketball player, than any kid I've ever had. He can beat you so many ways, more than anybody in the district."
Swift finished his varsity career with 966 points.
On top of being an outstanding basketball player, Swift also was a star football player where he played quarterback, defensive back and kicker for the Presidents.
FOLLOWING HIS STORYBOOK career at G.W., Swift went on to star collegiately at East Tennessee State University where he became a three-time All-Ohio Valley Conference selection and conference player of the year in 1968. Some of the Bucs' biggest wins during Swift's college career included a victory over state rival Tennessee his freshmen year; a 1968 second round NCAA tournament triumph over Florida State, 79-72, in the MidEast Regional to put the Bucs into the Sweet 16; and a win at Cameron Indoor Stadium over No. 2 ranked Duke his senior season. During that game, Swift taunted the Blue Devil fans.
"I had two free throws at the end and walked off the court right after I let the second one go because I knew it was going in," Swift told a reporter years later.
Swift, as a college senior, averaged 21.7 points and was named All-American. His career average at East Tennessee State was 18 points per game and his career high came his senior year when he sank Western Kentucky with a 41-point effort. For his collegiate career, Swift, who was a tremendous perimeter shooter, tallied 1,367 points, fourth on the school's all-time scoring list. Years later, in 1990, Swift's jersey number 54 would officially be retired at East Tennessee State, marking just the second time one of the basketball program's players had received such an honor.
Just as he had been characterized at G.W., Swift was looked upon as a cocky player during his college days.
"I was a hotdog," Skeeter was quoted as saying in a 1990 story by a Tennessee writer named Steve Bawden,. "I'd tell people that I could beat 'em then I'd go out and do it. I'd walk up to the guy guarding me right before tipoff and say something like, 'Hea buddy, you're in for a long night.'"
Swift, who grew up in Alexandria and played lots of street ball in Washington, D.C., against the likes of former NBA star Dave Bing, once said that's where he learned all his on-court talking.
"I learned to play on the streets of Washington, D.C., against guys like Dave Bing," he said. "They'd talk to you on the court, so that's how I played. When I came to [East Tennessee State], they weren't ready for that."
WHEN SWIFT GRADUATED from East Tennessee State in 1969, he had numerous pro sports suitors. He was the number one draft choice of the New Orleans Bucs of the old American Basketball Association (ABA), and he was also a third round pick of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks. On top of that, the Dallas Cowboys chose Swift, who had been an All-American high school football star at G.W., in the 12th round of the NFL draft.
He chose to go the ABA route with New Orleans where he was given a no-cut clause in his contract.
And, as Swift had done throughout both his high school and collegiate basketball careers, he excelled as a pro in the ABA. In his first season (1970), Swift averaged over nine points per game for New Orleans in 66 games played. Throughout the remainder of his pro career, he jumped to several ABA teams. He had stints with both the Memphis Pros (12 points per game) and Pittsburgh Condors (13.7 points) in 1971, spent a full season with the Condors (13.4) in '72, then went on to play for the Dallas Chaparrals (11.9) in '73 before playing his final season with the San Antonio Spurs in 1974.
For his five-year ABA career, Swift scored over 3,000 career points and averaged 11.6 points per game. Swift, who played against such great players as Julius Erving, Artis Gilmore and George `Ice Man' Gervin, is one of the top free throw shooters in ABA history. He once said he enjoyed playing in San Antonio the most and rooted for the Spurs in recent years when they were winning NBA titles behind such stars as David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
"I'm tickled to death to say that I've played there," Swift was once quoted in a story by writer Wes Holtclaw in the Elizabethton Star. "Because of Robinson, Duncan and what they've done. They're a class act and have a lot of great people in that franchise."
Swift's history in Alexandria sports lore will forever be remembered.
"He's an impressive figure in Alexandria history and the most important figure to come out of George Washington High School," said Alexandria sports historian Greg Paspatis. "He was a legendary figure."
Skeeter Swift is 13 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.