Mike Diveris, by all accounts, was the founding father of the Town of Southampton Lifeguards, so it was only fitting that the town’s lifeguard competition, now known as the Battle of Southampton, was named after him.
Diveris, 72, who died of a fatal heart attack on June 17, had served in many roles, one of them being a town lifeguard for 30-plus years. Suffolk County didn’t have a mandatory ocean test for lifeguards until 1970, a year after Diveris became an ocean guard. Diveris, along with fellow guard Brian Connolly, according to his brother John Diveris, became the town’s first two guards to pass the grueling county test, administered by another lifeguard legend, Joe Dooley.
From that point on, Diveris basically modernized everything within the town’s ocean rescue group, his brother, a 40-year lifeguard himself, said last week about his younger brother.
“He would organize a women’s team and bring them to competitions. At that time, it was like women can’t do this, but he would make sure they got in, so he was ahead of his time in that regard,” John Diveris said. “He was a mentor and all around a pretty good guy. He loved lifeguarding. He was basically a teacher, coach. All of us—myself, he and his daughter [Leigh]—we were all lifeguards and he started it and he started a lot of things that we still do for the Town of Southampton.
“It’s quite an honor is all I can tell you,” he added about the annual inter-beach competition being named after his brother. “It’s hard to imagine that people can remember, but some people do, and I think it is fitting. Without being conceded or anything he was a good guy, a solid guy. Just proud to be his brother.”
In addition to being a lifeguard, Diveris taught at Hampton Bays Elementary School from 1971 to 2001 as a first- and fourth-grade teacher, and then in the high school’s social studies department. He was a dedicated football coach, and led the Hampton Bays varsity team to a league championship in 1987. The school district flew its flag at half mast honoring its longtime teacher and coach on June 20.
Diveris also coached some years at the neighboring Westhampton Beach School District, but at that time he and Paul Bass had already been close friends from working together as town lifeguards. Even though Diveris was a football coach and Bass was a wrestling coach, Bass said Diveris taught him how to build a program and still used his wisdom through to when he retired just this year.
“So much of what we do now is because of Mike, as far as lifeguarding goes,” he explained. “Really, before that, there were no prerequisites—if you can swim, you’re a lifeguard. He came in, in 1969, and he basically standardized everything. What Joe Dooley did for Suffolk, Mike did for Southampton Town.”
Bass said Diveris was one of the most generous people he ever knew. He would literally give the shirt off his back.
“Anybody who was a close friend of his probably has a hat or T-shirt from him,” Bass said. “If anyone said something like, ‘Hey, Mike, that’s a really cool shirt you got there.’ He would turn around and say, ‘Oh, you really think so? Here, have it.’ I’ve got three golf clubs from him.”
In a further move to honor Diveris, Southampton Town and its lifeguards are donating a bench with a plaque honoring its founding father, which will be installed at Ponquogue Beach.
“I think it’s very deserving. I think it’s awesome for us to honor really a community icon,” Bass said.