By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Each summer, lifeguards from beach patrols along the Jersey Shore showcase their tremendous athletic skills in rowing and swimming championships.
Tom McCann Sr., a retired captain of the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol, envisions South Jersey lifeguards comprising a potential pool of athletes to represent the United States in another prestigious competition – the summer Olympics.
“Our goal is to have the South Jersey guards in the Olympics,” McCann said in an interview Saturday. “They don’t have to be lifeguards. But I think they’ll be predominantly lifeguards, both male and female.”
Hoping to create a program to develop future Olympians, McCann and other alumni from beach patrols in Cape May and Atlantic counties have formed a new group called South Jersey Coastal Rowing to promote the sport.
“Our ultimate goal is to get this sport in the Olympics. Our guards from South Jersey would compete to get into the Olympics,” said McCann, a board member of South Jersey Coastal Rowing.
Rowing is one of the oldest sports in the summer Olympics, making its debut in the 1900 games in Paris. Over the years, rowing has evolved in the Olympics for men and women. There were seven different types of sweep rowing events and sculling in the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
McCann and other members of South Jersey Coastal Rowing want the Olympic Games to add coastal rowing as an official event. They are hopeful coastal rowing could debut in the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
The sport, which is performed in open water, such as the ocean or bay, would include singles, doubles and quad boats in male, female and mixed boat categories.
Coastal rowing bridges the gap between open-water and flat-water rowing, such as what high school and college teams do.
Tom Feaster, a South Jersey Coastal Rowing board member and retired lieutenant with the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol, coached three Stewards Foundation coastal crews for the United States at last year’s World Championships in Portugal. One of the crews was the silver medalist in the Mixed Youth Doubles Event.
As they work toward achieving their Olympic goal, the members of South Jersey Coastal Rowing hope to establish the Jersey Shore as a hub for developing rowing talent – or as McCann puts it, to build a “farm system.”
At the same time, they want to tap into the rich history of rowing in South Jersey and provide rowers with a new sport to enjoy for recreation and competition.
South Jersey Coastal Rowing is planning to start clinics this summer to teach children and older kids how to row.
Details are still being worked out while South Jersey Coastal Rowing holds a series of fundraisers to allow the organization to buy a starter boat. McCann said the group eventually wants to buy two boats for single rowers and another two boats for doubles rowing.
The single-seater boats cost in the neighborhood of $6,000 each and the doubles are about $10,000 apiece, he noted.
The group is looking to the South Jersey community for financial support and involvement in the program.
The initial fundraiser, held Feb. 26 at Gregory’s Restaurant & Bar in Somers Point, generated about $7,000 in donations, McCann said.
In addition to starting the youth rowing clinics this summer, South Jersey Coastal Rowing is planning to have a spectator-friendly race that would combine rowing and action on the beach. Details are still being worked out.
The inaugural board of directors and officers for South Jersey Coastal Rowing include:
- Dan Garbutt, President. Garbutt is the head women’s rowing coach at Old Dominion University and a former member of the Ocean City Beach Patrol.
- Dave Funk, Vice President. Funk is the co-captain of the Ventnor City Beach Patrol.
- Tom Feaster, Secretary. Feaster is a retired director of the U.S. Rowing Association and a retired lieutenant with the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol.
- Tom McCann, Co-Treasurer. McCann is a retired captain of the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol.
- Dan Adams, Co-Treasurer. Adams is the Margate City Fire Chief and former Chief of the Longport Beach Patrol.
- John Swift will serve as counsel for South Jersey Coastal Rowing. Swift is a former Margate City Commissioner and Beach Patrol alumnus.
The entire South Jersey Coastal Rowing Task Force included:
- Tom McCann
- Dan Adams
- Dan Garbutt
- Dave Funk
- John Swift
- Tom Feaster
- Joseph Grimes, Ocean City Beach Patrol alumnus
- Joseph Guenther, retired chief of Brigantine Beach Patrol