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Lifeguard pipeline runs through H.S. swim teams - Ocean City Sentinel: News

Lifeguard pipeline runs through H.S. swim teams

Coaches: swim training prepares them to be better guards on SJ beach patrols

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Posted: Wednesday, January 11, 2017 9:15 am

OCEAN CITY – That high school athlete chasing a championship in a local pool during the winter may well be the same young man or woman racing into the surf during the summer to save a swimmer in distress.

The skills they are honing in the pool come into play on the beach and in the ocean.

High school swim teams are virtual pipelines for lifeguards on the beaches in Cape May and Atlantic counties. 

A good number of the young men and women featured in the Sentinel’s sports section in swim meets man the stands in Ocean City, Upper Township, Avalon, Ventnor, Longport, Margate, Sea Isle City and the other beaches in these counties.

The same goes for the coaches.

Shane McGrath, lieutenant on the Avalon Beach Patrol, is the coach of the Ocean City High School boys swim team.

He and two of his counterparts, Mark Jamieson and Brian Booth, both senior lieutenants on the Ocean City Beach Patrol, are part of what McGrath calls a feeding ground for South Jersey lifeguards.

Booth is head coach of the Mainland Regional High School boys swim team, which won a state championship last season and is hoping to repeat this season. (His boys broke three national swim records last week; see related story in the sports section.)

Jamieson is head coach of both the boys and girls swim teams at Egg Harbor Township High School. His girls team won a South Jersey title last February and should contend for another one this February.

Not only will people on the beach see Booth, Jamieson and McGrath making sure the guards are doing their duty to protect bathers, they will see the coaches’ protégés and benefit from the training the guards got during the high school swim season.

“Lifeguarding isn’t just a job for us, it’s a lifestyle,” McGrath explains, including staying in shape and “being at our best.

“A lot of my guys (on the Ocean City swim team) are going to Ocean City Beach Patrol, but I’m fine with that,” McGrath said. “I love training them. Every once in a while I might get a guy to come to Avalon.”

He has gotten a few Ocean City High School girls to guard in Avalon.

Aly Chain, a tri-captain on the girls state championship swim team last season, is on the Avalon Beach Patrol, as was her older sister, Rachel. Both are collegiate swimmers.

“They did a great job,” McGrath said, “and competed for us in the out-of-town races.”

Like high school swimmers in the winter, lifeguards have meets during the summer to test their skills against members of their own beach patrols and against the best swimmers, rowers, rescue board paddlers and surf-dashers from other patrols from Brigantine down to Cape May Point.

“A lot of those (swim team) kids are part of all these shore beach patrols,” Jamieson said. “The South Jersey Chiefs Association has such as good record of success because we have such great watermen both in the pool and in the ocean. A lot of the kids that you saw here … not only do a great job in the pool, you’ll see them the next time there’s waves out there. 

 “It makes the shore of south Jersey that much safer and a great place to come visit,” Jamieson said. “And seeing these kids from 14 to 16 as the future of the beach patrols, along with the kids on it present day, we’re all one big family. 

“We’re in a good spot as beach patrols … whether you’re in Ventnor, Ocean City, Atlantic City. You know these kids can get out there to the victim fast if they need to,” Jamieson said.

“As an Ocean City lifeguard, you always want to try to get all of my top kids be Ocean City lifeguards,” Booth said. “It’s a reflection of our program. Knowing that our program is on a tremendous upswing right now it would be great to have these kids on (the OCBP) also. 

“The other positive is that they are good solid kids. They’re really nice kids,” Booth said. “It’s always fun to work with someone that you’re going to get along with and have a good time with.”

That rapport is evident as the teams compete against each other, whether it’s Ocean City versus Egg Harbor Township or Mainland Regional versus Atlantic City. Many of the competitors are exchanging high fives and smiling and chatting with their opponents after races.

“A lot of them practice with each other,” Booth explained. “With the club teams in our area, our (high school team’s) success runs with the success of the club teams. These kids swim year round and they know each other from being at different meets throughout the year. They see each other around.

“I have some kids who are on the Ocean City Beach Patrol, I have some on the Longport Beach Patrol, and it brings a little fun into practice,” Booth said.

“It’s fun to compete, but the camaraderie in this sport is like no other,” Jamieson said. “A rivalry is only in time. You know that your rival is your race; it is not a bitterness toward that person (in the next lane).

“It’s great to see everybody compete and have a great time with it,” added Jamieson, who is an Ocean City High School graduate who competed for the Red Raider swim team.


From pool to rescue


The swim team training, McGrath said, “goes right into if you’re making a rescue, how fast can you respond. How quickly can you get out into the water. How strong you are in the water. It definitely plays a big factor. It’s a win-win situation for coaching and for lifeguarding.”

“As a part of the Ocean City Beach Patrol, we embrace anything they do here (in the pool) because it is going to make them better life-savers,” Jamieson said. “So the idea of competition, especially in the water, the faster you can get to that victim, the more you can recognize things, the better off we’ll all be with people like that in the beach safety environment.” 

“Any time you’re going to have to run out and rescue someone, a little kid or an older person, you get that little adrenaline boost,” Booth explained. “It’s like before a race, you get that little adrenaline boost and you want to get there your fastest, whether it’s back to the wall (in a race) or to the person (in distress in the water).”

The coaches note that the desire to be a lifeguard also helps recruit swimmers for the swim teams.

To get a shot at being a lifeguard, some contenders go out for the swim teams to get better training for their lifeguard tests, which means being better prepared as lifeguards.

“We also end up a lot of times with kids who may not necessarily be thinking to themselves that they … want to go out for the swim team, but their goal is, ‘I want to be a lifeguard and this could be my opportunity to get my swimming stronger,’” Booth said.

“We’ve had kids who swim for a year, make beach patrol, and then don’t come back out (for the team) because mission was accomplished and they have their cool summer job,” Booth said.

“It helps knowing that the beach patrol is a way to get more guys coming out for the team,” McGrath added. “Not just training for the meets, but also training hoping to get a spot as a lifeguard on any patrol that they choose.

“This is a great (way) to train for a lifeguarding opportunity.”




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