It may have been the coldest day on the Vineyard in five years, but the warmest place to be on Monday afternoon was the pool inside the new YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard in Oak Bluffs. The heated aquatics center was an echo chamber of energy as the Vineyard high school swim team took to the blocks for the first home meet in 40 years.
Many considered it a historic moment as the first swimmers hit the pool for the first event — 25-yard freestyle — against the Blue Hills Technical School from Canton.
“Oh my god, this is so exciting,” longtime swim instructor Michael Wooley said as he paused briefly from setting up for the meet.
“This is monumental, this is huge,” parent Lisa Nivala agreed. Her daughter Kaija is a junior on the team. “I’m glad it could happen before [Kaija’s] graduation . . . and they can finally compete. Hopefully there’ll be more meets next year,” she said.
Because this was a first meet, there were, of course, kinks to work out. Purple and black team swimsuits were still being handed out minutes before the meet began. Nervous, novice fingers adjusted goggles over caps. Volunteers scrambled to learn how to operate a computerized timer involving touch boards at the end of the pool. Vineyarders received their race assignments after warm-ups.
“Me?” said one swimmer after learning he had to swim the 200-yard medley relay. “He has to do 18 flip turns?” another exclaimed.
Somehow the minor chaos was all part of the fun.
Only two members of 33 on the Vineyard team have ever competed before. The YMCA Mako swim club coach Leslie Craven cheered swimmers on and kept them focused in their lanes while high school coach Robin Tuck pumped up swimmers outside the pool for their individual races.
“They did far better than they ever imagined they could and blew us away,” Ms. Tuck said after the meet. “Their times were fantastic. It was a great group of kids, especially going from knowing nothing, it was outstanding.”
Due to the technical difficulties, race times could not be recorded. Ms. Tuck said overall Blue Hills did slightly better than the Vineyard. But there was no discouragement on this day, only upbeat expressions.
“Blue Hills might have gotten them by a little, but they were a really low-key team and let us have a few breaks,” Ms. Tuck said. “We won a handful of races. It was fun, a good tester. People were really happy to see what they could do.”
A few Vineyarders couldn’t finish their races and the occasional belly flop was seen on both teams, but here again all the little flaws were overshadowed by the mood of the big day. Parents and onlookers peered in through large windows from the lobby and a small crowd on the bleachers cheered swimmers on through the final stretch. It was very much a community event.
“We’ve just been waiting for this for so long,” team yoga, conditioning instructor and parent Claire Parkhurst said. “It’s just fantastic, they’ve progressed so far.”
And as for the kids: “They were loving it and are looking forward to their next meet,” Ms. Tuck said.