What will Chuck Elrick—the legendary Hopkins swim and water polo coach—do with all of the rubber duckies when he retires?
“I have no idea,” laughs Elrick as he surveys the plethora of toy ducks that fill a large bookcase in his office. “I guess I’ll have to go cabinet shopping for the house.”
The tradition began after Elrick sold rubber duckies in a Hopkins fundraiser. Years later, one of his former swim students mailed him a rubber duckie with a swim cap on its head as a thank you for his mentorship. Ever since, ducks have continued to show up in his mailbox, each with a unique look, from places all over the world.
The tokens of appreciation don’t stop there. Beside his desk, a few feet away from a window that overlooks the inside of the Bud Erich Pool Facility—which Elrick worked directly with architects to design in 1986—dozens of school stickers from colleges and universities where students have gone on to swim or play water polo line the wall.
“I get so excited when they send one I don’t have,” says Elrick proudly. “It’s really incredible to see them continue what they started here.”
What Elrick himself started here 39 years ago cannot be understated. He arrived with a bold vision for bringing a winning culture to the Hopkins pool, and he was willing to do anything it took to see that vision through. Having recently reached 1,000 wins between the two sports he leads, Elrick is retiring at the end of this season with both programs thriving.
“I’ve just shown up and done what I’ve loved every day,” says Elrick as he considers what it will be like to pack up nearly four decades worth of keepsakes in his office.
“Any success I’ve had is due to the successes of my students. They are the ones who put in the hard work.”
Coach Elrick Arrives
It wasn’t all stickers and ducks when Elrick showed up at Hopkins. He boasted an unconventional approach that wasn’t an easy sell at first. At the start of the 1983–84 season, with the program still over a decade away from implementing a water polo team, Elrick replaced beloved swim coach Bud Erich, who was retiring after a lengthy tenure. As Elrick remembers it, Bud had a warm and friendly demeanor that made him a popular figure around campus.
“He was everyone’s buddy. That wasn’t going to be my coaching style,” says Elrick.
Elrick describes that style as rigid, stern, and one that came with high expectations. Although compassionate as they come away from the pool, Elrick wouldn’t let his sweet side show to his students, and even went so far as manufacturing moments of anger.
“There was this one thing I’d do every season. If we weren’t at our best, I would pretend to get really worked up during practice and I’d act so angry that I’d eventually break my clipboard and throw my stopwatch against the wall. That really got their attention.”
Although it took some time for students to adjust to a new personality—especially on those annual Clipboard Days—Elrick says Hopkins swimmers began to expect more from themselves too. The culture became one of accountability from athlete to athlete. That mentality began to translate into victories in the pool, and in a few seasons, the Hopkins swim team established itself as a dominant force in its league. The program hasn’t looked back since.
Even today, especially at water polo matches, Elrick’s voice booms over anyone else’s as he fires up his players. Elrick is quick to point out that it isn’t anger you’re hearing as he yells. It’s passion.
“I think sometimes I exert more energy than my players do in the game,” laughs Elrick. “I’m sweating at the end of the game, but I just can’t help it.”
Just over a year ago, Elrick discovered new earbuds that allow swimmers to safely listen to commands in the water as a coach speaks into a microphone. A generous Hopkins alum donated them to his office. “Yelling at full volume is no longer necessary, I guess. Just in time for retirement,” jokes Elrick.
The Drama of Win 1,000
On November 4, 2021, Elrick reached his improbable milestone. Win number
one thousand was achieved in dramatic fashion as the Hopkins Boys Water Polo team defeated Hydra Water Polo Club 12–11 in overtime.
The milestone was fitting as Elrick was responsible for establishing the water polo program at Hopkins in 1996. The program has since grown exponentially.
As the home crowd leapt to its feet when the final goal was scored, Elrick took in the moment in the place where it all began. He didn’t have much time to reminisce, however, because the Hopkins team immediately threw him into the pool to celebrate.
While Elrick remembers all of his milestones fondly—like his 100th win on February 17, 1990, or win number 400 during a season when his daughter Elizabeth swam and played water polo—what he truly cherishes are the relationships he’s built with players and coaches through the years.
“Hopkins has given me the opportunity to do something that I truly love doing,” says Elrick. “The School and this community have been such strong supporters of these programs.”
The Small Moments Worth Cherishing
It may be hard for most members of the Hopkins community to imagine not
seeing Elrick around the Athletic Center or popping into Heath for a short lunch break. It’s even harder to imagine for Elrick himself.
“I haven’t had much time to reflect yet. But recently we won another tight game that was back and forth the entire time. It was thrilling. I turned to one of my assistants and said, ‘This is what I’m going to miss.’”
Occasionally, with a rubber duckie or a sticker in hand, or just to say hello, a former student will arrive in Elrick’s office. As he thinks about those visits and what they have meant to him through the years, his tough and stern demeanor disappears and his eyes begin to water.
“I’m glad that maybe something I taught them translated into something later in life for them. I’m grateful.”
This article appears in the Winter 2021–2022 issue of VIEWS