Tag Archives: Westport YMCA Water Rats

Stop (Or Start) The Presses: Staples Swimmers Sink Greenwich!

The Staples High School boys swim team is making quite a splash this winter.

But — at least in the local media — they haven’t even caused a ripple.

What a shame.

Last week, the Wreckers beat Greenwich.

The last time that happened was 1979 — nearly 40 years ago. And the time before that — Staples’ only other swimming win over the Cardinals — came in 1970. That day, the water in the small Westport YMCA pool was so murky, no one could see the turns.

The 2018 Staples High School swimming and diving team. (All photos by Andy McNab)

How good is Greenwich? Under coach Terry Lowe, they’ve won 34 state open championships, and 24 class LL (extra large school) crowns. They’ve also won captured a mind-boggling 46 FCIAC titles, over the past 47 seasons.

They make the Yankees and Celtics of the 20th century — or, more recently, the Patriots — look like the early New York Mets.

Coach Jeff Bonaccorso

Yet last week, Staples out-swam the Cards. In fact, they drowned them. The final score was 110-76.

It was quite a victory for the Wreckers. And for first-year coach Jeff Bonaccorso.

That’s right. This is his rookie season with this high school team.

He took over after Frisk Driscoll moved to Fairfield University. Of course, Bonaccorso is hardly a fish out of water. He’s aquatics director at the Westport Weston Family Y — and in the fall, coaches the Ridgefield High girls squad.

The Staples/Westport Y connection is strong. Many Wreckers grew up in the Water Rats program, directed by the legendary Ellen Johnston. Most continue to compete on both teams — even during the high school season.

Scott Adler

That’s true for Staples 2 captains, Josiah Tarrant and Scott Adler. They began swimming almost before they could walk. Pool water courses through their veins — and they race through their lanes faster than everyone else.

Still, both were a bit apprehensive when Driscoll left.

“I never thought we’d see another coach like Frisk,” Adler says. “But Jeff exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

The two men have very different styles. Driscoll always had a set lineup. Bonaccorso makes changes based on whoever the other team puts in the water. Plus, Adler says, “he’s super-competitive and a great motivator.”

Entering the season, the captains had high hopes. They finished 3rd at last year’s FCIACs — and graduated only a few, non-scoring seniors.

Still, admits Adler, despite their confidence they were “not sure about Greenwich and Ridgefield.”

Two weeks before the Cardinal meet, Staples met the Tigers — a team with 5 great swimmers, including 2 Olympic trial hopefuls. What Adler calls “the most exciting and closest dual meet of my life” — with an “insanely loud” home crowd — came down to the final relay.

Ridgefield won. But by placing 2nd and 3rd, the Wreckers amassed enough points to eke out a 94-92 victory.

Josiah Tarrant in action. He swims the 50 free, 100 butterfly, and anchors the 200 medley and free relays.

Then came Greenwich.

Again at home — with more packed, roaring fans, including the girls’ team — Staples took down the state’s most legendary swimming power.

How did they do it?

“Hard work,” says Tarrant. “I know it’s a cliche. But we’re in the pool from 5:30 to 7 in the morning before school, a few days a week. Then we’re in again, from 3 to 5 every day.”

Their rigorous practice schedule — and all the coaching, from Johnston, Driscoll and Bonaccorso — are paying off.

Josiah Tarrant

“Everyone thinks swimming is an individual sport,” Tarrant notes. “At the club level, it is. But on the high school pool deck, there’s so much camaraderie.

“It’s not just about the fastest guy. The 5th guy gets a point, and every point matters.

“We constantly push each other in practice. We always cheer for each other. These are my brothers.”

“It’s nice to see a direct connection between hard work and the end result,” Adler adds. “You really see it come to fruition.

But Tarrant and Adler are not basking in the glow of their press clippings. (Whoops — sorry. There weren’t any.)

“This is only the beginning,” Tarrant notes. “The championships are what really matter.”

The FCIAC meet is February 27-March 1 — at Greenwich. Hey, why not?!

Then come the state LL and open championships.

Scott Adler gets ready for the start of his backstroke race.

It won’t be easy upending Greenwich in the post-season. The Cardinals have a ton of swimmers — they brought 2 busloads to the dual meet — and numbers count.

But one thing is certain. When the record board that hangs over the Staples pool is updated in March, nearly every event will now include a 2018 swimmer.

You may not read about the Wreckers’ accomplishments elsewhere.

But this year’s team has written a new chapter in the history books.

(For more on the Staples swim team, click here.)

The Staples girls swimming and diving team provided great support at the Greenwich meet.

Bob Knoebel’s Dreamer

For 29 years, Bob Knoebel was a revered Westport YMCA Water Rats swim coach and aquatics director. The 1971 Staples High School graduate now enjoys a 2nd career in Idaho, as an equally well-respected fishing guide.

Bob is also the godfather of a young man named Enrique. In the wake of President Trump’s decision to end DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for 800,000 people — he sent along these thoughts:

If you grew up in Westport, you were accustomed to your mom driving you to soccer or swimming practice, making sure you were at your games or meets on time.

Your parents were at every game. They cheered — or better yet, acted as volunteer coaches or officials.

Bob Knoebel

They also made sure you had everything you needed to succeed in school — the proper supplies, a dedicated place to study — and had regular contact with your teachers.

You took music lessons, dance lessons, swimming lessons or became an Eagle Scout. Your parents were probably college educated, and helped you navigate the college process.

Even if you didn’t realize it, they were looking over your shoulder — just to make sure. Lucky you, lucky me for being fortunate enough to grow up in Westport and graduate from Staples.

Imagine for a moment your parents don’t speak English. They have less than a high school education. You live in a trailer.

At 9 years old you missed a soccer game because you had to act as an interpreter/negotiator for your dad when he bought a goat from a local rancher, or needed you to go to the junkyard to do the same for parts for the family truck.

Your most important role in the family is what you can provide in terms of financial support.

To top it off, your mom doesn’t drive.

Imagine if you lived in fear that ICE might show up at your home to deport your mom or dad. Imagine the relief you would feel if you were offered a level of protection that the Obama-era program known as DACA provided you.

You could do the things your schoolmates take for granted, like get a driver’s license or summer job.

I am the “padrino” (godfather) for Enrique, a DACA-protected 17-year-old who is a high school senior here in Idaho.

He has more grit than you came imagine, because of challenges like these. He has completed 5 AP courses, and is taking 3 more this year. He started a tutoring program at the middle school to help other 1st-generation college  hopefuls, and recruited friends to help.

Enrique is a top student.

Enrique works after school, interning at an engineering firm. He plays saxophone in the band, and belongs to the National Honor Society and Key Club.

Trout Unlimited chose him last summer to attend a national leadership conference in Montana.

Bob Knoebel and Enrique.

He is the first Hispanic player on his high school lacrosse team, and was the top-scoring underclassman last year.

Enrique wants to go to college. Not because he hopes to change the world, but for a more humble reason: to help his family.

He’s counting on a scholarship to a private university, because he does not qualify for in-state tuition at Idaho schools.

He never complains, gets stressed or worries about his future, because he believes in the goodness of America and the promises it offers to those who work hard.

He’s not worried that the Trump administration has announced an end to DACA. He believes that Congress will act with compassion when deciding his fture, and that of 800,000 others.

In a senior class of just over 200, there are 14 other DACA-protected students alone.

It’s a world away from Staples.

But it’s Enrique’s reality. He is making the best of it.

Among many other things, Enrique is a star lacrosse player.

Teens Swim 15.5 Miles, Raise $9,000. And What Did You Do Last Sunday?

The easiest way to cross Long Island Sound is on the Bridgeport-Port Jeff ferry.

You can also sail, motorboat or yacht across on your own.

It’s a lot tougher to actually swim those 15 1/2 or so miles yourself.

It’s especially difficult to do it faster than anyone else.

But that’s what a team of 6 Westport YMCA Water Rat swimmers did last Sunday. And they finished in just 6 hours and 20 minutes — beating 150 competitors by a wide margin.

It was hardly a day at the beach. Before taking the Swim Across the Sound plunge, they secured $9,000 in pledges for St. Vincent’s Medical Center.

Congratulations to the intrepid, strong and very fast group of 16-year-olds: Scott Adler, John McNab, Richard Nolan, Josiah Tarrant, Austin Twiss and Charlie West. All except Richard swim for Staples High School.

From left: Austin Twiss, Charlie West, Scott Adler, John McNab, Richard Nolan and Josiah Tarrant.

 

Fun fact: Swim Across the Sound director Liz Fry is a former Staples High School swimmer.

(Fast forward to the 10:00 mark below, for an interview with the Water Rat swimmers.)