There has always been something uncanny, even magical about the unadulterated joy that makes its way out of the chlorinated municipal watering hole off Mulberry Street in the Village of New Paltz.
At first, the Moriello Pool was situated where the lower parking lot is now. Then it moved up in the world to the crest of the eastern hill. But regardless of where its concrete and filter lie, or in which corner the flagpole proudly rests, it has been a summer home to generations of New Paltz families and the breeding ground for the Seahawk Summer Recreational swim team.
This years’ Seahawk team, dressed in battle regalia including blue-and-green latex caps, worn Lycra bathing suits and tee-shirts bearing the retro logo of two swimming stick figures dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, claimed their 50th straight dual meet title last Wednesday night against the Zena Sundevils. It was a valiantly contested match of aquatic fortitude in which the Seahawks came out on top by a margin of 331 to 280. Their last dual meet loss was in 2010.
Granted, New Paltz has a much larger team than most of the smaller towns that represent the Dutchess/Ulster Swim Organization (DUSO) summer swim league, but they also have a lot of history and heart that make the victory more of a celebration of tradition and community than of the number of points scored.
Glenn Lapolt, the head coach of the Seahawks, along with his better half, Mel Gruver-Lapolt, concurred. “I attached no real significance to the number 50. However, the streak of victories speaks a lot to what we have put together here in town. Year in and year out, we have put a tremendous product on the table. It is far more than a swim team. It all starts with the New Paltz Seahawks, continues with the Hawks Swim Club and then onto New Paltz High School varsity swimming. This is not just another sports program. This is a culture. It’s a family.”
Mel Gruver-Lapolt, a veteran coach of the Seahawks and the New Paltz varsity boys, added to what her husband and co-coach had to say: “The string of victories has overall been because we have a very talented swim community in New Paltz. Honestly, a couple of meets came down to the fact that we got lucky and squeaked out a win…but overall I believe it’s because we have a town that loves swimming.”
And that’s the intangible part of the magic that exudes from the Moriello Pool. Sure, New Paltz has some fast swimmers, but it also has a culture that just supports swimming at every level. Gruver-Lapolt touched on the community aspect of the win. “What made last night’s meet special to me was watching everyone involved in the meet: kids and parents, the lifeguards [who are often Seahawks or Seahawk alumni themselves] cheering on the kids, especially for the little kids’ relays at the end.” Gruver-Lapolt said that she always makes it a point to stand back for a few moments and just soak in the almost-carnival atmosphere of the entire thing. “I scan the entire pool area and take it all in… the kids, the races, the spectators and the parents and family members all doing a job to help make the meet run smoothly, watching everyone come together on a Wednesday night for their kids and to be a part of something that has become a summer staple in New Paltz. It brings tears to my eyes every time, and I am so honored to be able to be a part of it for so many years.”
Kevin Saunders, a Seahawks alumnus, meet official and board member, said that for him, the 50th win meant a lot. “It was amazing. My parents were on the board when I was a kid. I swam for Glenn [Lapolt], I coached for a season and was around the team for the eight years that I worked at the pool.” He said that it was just one of those things that was a constant in his life, throughout childhood, that somehow remained the same when he had his own children and they were old enough to join the team. “I came back in 2010 when my son joined the team, and the feeling was the same. It was mostly new names and faces, but it was still family. Seahawks is a special something words just can’t explain.”
There are the battle scars of Sharpie markers on kids’ arms and sunscreen that accidentally got rubbed into eyes. There are kids’ lips turned blue or red by ring pops and cherry pits underfoot. There is always the cry of lost goggles, a towel, a tee-shirt and swim suit. There is a sense of intensity as the relays finish off a close meet and the cheering of young kids as if their next meal depends on the win. There are the guards loading up garbage cans and putting lane lines away, parents packing tents and folding chairs, and pictures being snapped as the sun begins to set in the west — and just for a night, each child feels a part of something a little bigger than him — or herself.
Yes, there are the top point-scorers, most of whom swim all year ‘round to hone their aquacraft. But there are also those kids — new to the area, maybe, or new to swimming in general — who just want to be part of the summer fabric, engaged in something fun and healthy, and who are trying to get off the block without a belly-flop or their goggles falling off and get to the other end of the pool into the warm embrace of a proud parent or grandparent. In a town recreational sport, every child should count and does count. At least that’s how this Seahawk alumnus and parent sees it. Congratulations, Seahawks. And as Coach Glenn would say, “Stay classy.”