Swimming is second nature to most boys in East Hampton, but it took some time before the school had enough interest to successfully launch a varsity swim team. After five seasons of minimal participation and independent meets, the Bonackers will finally get a chance to compete against other schools in League II this season.
The boys independent swim team has typically attracted as few as two swimmers in past seasons, but its numbers grew to 13 last year under coach and East Hampton YMCA aquatic director Tom Cohill. A school is only required to have eight swimmers on a varsity team, he explained, but the jump in participation caught Cohill by surprise last season and he wasn’t able to file the paperwork in time to advance to the next level.
One year later, the Bonackers have a new coach, an even bigger roster of swimmers and they’re training for their varsity debut. “They’re working hard,” head coach Jeff Thompson said, noting that the team is practicing six days per week, including Saturdays at 6 a.m. The guys swim upwards of 5,000 yards during each 1.5-hour session at the YMCA each day, he said.
A first-year special education teacher at East Hampton and local lifeguard in the summer months, Thompson is a natural fit for the job. He coached Section V swimming at his former school upstate in Livonia and got to know some members of his team at the beach over the summer.
Thompson said his roster includes 17 swimmers, which is four more than last year’s monumental leap in participation and enough bodies to compete in every event. The team has 10 athletes returning from last season and a handful of new additions, he said.
Though Thompson is still looking at the team and deciding where to place everyone, he is confident that it will be competitive. He said the guys are in very good shape for a first year varsity team, adding, “I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do.”
Unlike the swimmers in landlocked Livonia, Thompson said East Hampton has the advantage of being a beach community where the kids are already comfortable in the water. He said the area is an “absolute advantage” and it has some of the best lifeguards, competitive swimmers and surfers.
He said surfers make up the majority of the Bonackers, which is why they are in such good shape and so comfortable in the water. “The biggest challenge is taking surfers and turning them into competitive swimmers,” Thompson said. The guys have a feel for the water, but paddling a surfboard and swimming races are two different animals, he explained.
East Hampton’s swimmers competed in independent meets last year, but that is also different. The guys swam to achieve their best times in previous seasons, but varsity meets will pit them against other swimmers in head-to-head races. The Bonackers will be keeping score for the first time.
Because of greater interest and participation, the Lady Bonackers made the transition to varsity a few years ahead of the boys team. In its third season this fall, East Hampton finished respectably at third place in League III and sent its first female swimmer, eighth-grader Marina Preiss to states in two events.
The girls team had no shortage of spectators at home meets this fall and the boys attracted some fanfare as an independent team, so it’s likely the bleachers will be full at poolside for this first varsity season.
All of the athletes unanimously voted Matt Kalbacher the best swimmer on the team last season and the junior returns as a captain this year. Alec Gonzalez leads the Bonackers as senior captain and five other seniors, including Garner Minetree, Mike Marsch, Chris Cinque, Chico Koch and Yves Bourel are swimming.
The Bonackers’ schedule gets very busy very fast this month. They were scheduled to swim at Sayville/Bayport in their season opener at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday and they will visit Hauppauge at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. On Monday, January 11, East Hampton will visit Brentwood at 4:30 p.m. and the team will host Harborfields for its home opener at the YMCA the following day, Tuesday, January 12, at 4:30 p.m.
A series of four home meets will follow before the team finishes the season at West Islip on Thursday, January 28.