Then-Bangor head swim coach Phil Emery watches as the Rams compete against Mount Desert Island in a meet at Husson University in Bangor, Jan. 22, 2010. Credit: Bridget Brown / BDN

Story by Robby MacDonald

Phil Emery, the esteemed retired coach of Bangor High School boys swimming and diving, was named the 2023 recipient of the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association’s Life Membership Award.

The recognition, one of the highest awards given to a member of the association, honors members for significant and distinguished service to the association and to aquatic sports over an extensive period of time.

Emery, who retired in 2015 after 46 years of coaching the Bangor Rams, is the only 2023 recipient of the award and becomes the 23rd Life Membership Award honoree in the association’s history.

“I am quite humbled and very honored. It is a plus for Bangor High School and for Bangor swimming,” Emery said.

It is the third recognition awarded to Emery by the group. In 1992, Emery received the Outstanding Service Award and in 2013 the Hall of Fame Award.

He is the first Maine high school coach to receive three awards from the association. Harold Paulsen, Portland High’s legendary coach, in 1978 received the Outstanding Service Award and in 1994 the Hall of Fame Award. The Hall of Fame Award is on display at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Emery’s Bangor teams won 26 Maine Principals’ Association state championships and in 1975  a New England Interscholastic title. Under his leadership the Rams collected 337 wins, only 39 losses and one tie.

In 1970-71, Emery’s affiliation with the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association began. He attended his first group convention in 1985 and attended every year thereafter until COVID.

The Maine Sports Hall of Fame and the Maine Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame inductee credits former Bangor superintendent of schools Dr. Arthur Pierce with first supporting his interest in attending the national convention.

Emery recalled Dr. Pierce’s response to his request to attend.

“He said, ‘Anytime we can have someone involved at the national level it is good for that person and for the Bangor School Department.’”

The 1964 Bangor graduate acknowledged the benefits and the opportunities afforded him by his many years of active participation in the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association.

“The opportunity to attend the conventions and to be involved in [the association] broadened my horizons in every way possible. It allowed me a professional growing experience and to be around coaches from different backgrounds. It has been an incredible journey.”

His coaching achievements at Bangor High and his association connection led to an invitation in 2005 to present at the World Swim Swim Clinic in Ft. Lauderdale. He also presented at clinics in Michigan and Ohio.

Additionally, Emery has interacted with world class coaches, swimmers and divers. Perhaps his most memorable experience came in 2009 when he was officiating the NCAA Division 1 Championship at Texas A&M University and met President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush on the pool deck.

The President and First Lady awarded medals following one of the meet’s opening races.

“When I went to meet them I was walking and talking with [NBC swim analyst] Rowdy Gaines,” Emery said. “Rowdy was going crazy because a President of the United States had never presented an award at the meet.”

Emery remains active in the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association, serving as the Zone 1 Director (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island), a position he has held since 2001.

Emery’s formal receipt of the award will be held in March of 2023 at the group’s annual convention during the NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee.