OCBP reunion makes the years melt away and stories flow
It's that time again. It rolls around every summer when the dog days descend upon us and those of us who live on the barrier islands actually have to turn our air-conditioners on.
Break out the stories and try and fit into those old bathing trunks because the Ocean City Beach Patrol is having its annual lifeguard reunion this Saturday night at Stumpo's in Somers Point.
This is a lot like a college homecoming of sorts. And suddenly the thinning hair and extra weight melt away into a night of great storytelling and camaraderie born from my tenure as a lifeguard in Ocean City, aptly named America's Greatest Family Resort.
A major reason Ocean City continues to be such a great summer place is the work of the OCBP, which hasn't had a drowning on a guarded beach in its illustrious 109-year history. That streak was in jeopardy this summer when a 21-year-old Russian woman apparently had a seizure on the Eighth Street Beach. But the OCBP administered CPR, and although it was touch and go for awhile, the woman survived.
That's the real reason lifeguards do what they do.
But what a wonderful way to spend a summer, this job is.
And the ties that bind from lifeguarding last forever, no matter what beach patrol you work for. That's why former Ocean City lifeguard Fred Miller, who has become a local historian not only for the OCBP but for Ocean City itself, came up with the term: "Lifeguards for Life."
So pardon us as we reflect on summers gone by on Saturday night. The stories, of course, grow with time. Those of us who worked in the '70s in Ocean City remember a kinder, gentler kind of summer replete with lifeguards living in affordable housing and being able to save some money for college.
The nightlife was a lot easier financially and otherwise, with seven beers for a dollar being offered at places like the legendary Anchorage, and with great music down the street at Tony Mart's and Bayshores.
Be careful Betson, you are aging yourself.
Everybody will be young again this Saturday at the OCBP reunion, which includes the annual Hall of Fame induction, another reason why the night is so special.
This year former swimmer Paul Sweeney and rower Mark Baum will be inducted in the OCBP Hall of Fame, a place that is very special for those of the OCBP persuasion.
No beach patrol has won more championships in South Jersey lifeguarding than the OCBP. The athletes drawn to the beaches of Ocean City have enhanced this tradition. During my tenure I worked under Capt. George T. Lafferty, who was a character himself. Affectionately labeled "The Old Man" by his own patrol, Lafferty was stern but fair. You could always smell him coming by the fragrance of his cigar, which was a lot like the cigar smoked by Boston Celtic legend Red Auerbach.
Lafferty loved to win lifeguard races and particularly loved to be surrounded by a stable full of great college swimmers. One of the best was Steve "Syd" Cassidy out of North Carolina State who, to this day, remains the best ocean swimmer in the annals of South Jersey lifeguarding. As Cassidy would win another race he would flip over on his back and put his arm on a wave like a fin. I swear he was part swimmer, part dolphin in those days. Cassidy now coaches swimming at a private school in southern Florida, but he will be back Saturday night for another round of lifeguard storytelling.
Signaling the end of the 2012 summer season, the South Jersey Lifeguard Championships will commence on the 34th street beach in Ocean City on Friday, Aug. 10.
“The races are really cool, it’s a really big South Jersey culture thing."