Avalon & Stone Harbor: A Tale of Two Lifeguard Teams
By Dave Bontempo
Matt Wolf and Gary Nagle, doubles row.
SHBP Kurt Kircher and Stephen Bosacco, doubles row.
Avalon and Stone Harbor’s beach patrols are linked by reciprocal beach-tag policy, yet they entered the lifeguard race circuit on different planes.
Stone Harbor enjoys the infusion of youth, while Avalon is relieved that life decisions impacting its older personnel did not disrupt its patrol. As the race circuit began, Stone Harbor benefited from a college athlete and a crop of new recruits, while Avalon is fortunate that two key members of its team, both in their 30s, were able to stay.
The Avalon Beach Patrol has experienced changes in its lineup, but at least it’s not jarring change.
Singles-rowing stalwart Erich Wolf realized a lofty professional goal in early July when he became principal at the Atlantic County Institute of Technology’s alternative high school. That arrangement could normally jeopardize a summer-lifeguard and race-circuit pursuit, but “we were able to work a schedule out around the lifeguard world and I am delighted about that,” says Wolf, the multiple South Jersey singles champion who will juggle an administrative schedule with his role on the patrol.
Erich’s brother Matt, offered the job of wrestling coach at Ursinus College, his alma mater, did not reach an agreement for the position. He passed for now on responsibilities that might have eventually took him from the patrol.
Like all beach-patrol competitors, the Wolf brothers would have moved on from the patrol, had it been necessary.
But for Erich Wolf, once latitude was given to his summer schedule, this became an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“It was great that ACIT allowed me to work in the summer, while maintaining my role in this,” he says. “This is something I really love and it was great to get started again right at Memorial Day. Now the big races are coming up and I’m looking forward to doing well in them.”
Matt Wolf, who led the Middle Township High School wrestling team to its best-ever 18-3 mark this past year, was given an offer he could, and did refuse. His Avalon condo and seniority benefits on the patrol figured into the number he needed to take the position at Ursinus, in Collegeville, Pa. It wasn’t met, at least this time, and Matt Wolf stays.
Brothers Erich and Matt Wolf.
The patrol presumably dodged a bullet and Murray Wolf, the patrol captain and father of Matt and Erich, thus merely tries to pilot the unit toward its customary summer climb.
“We have been in this position before, starting slowly,” he says. “We have a lot of work to do, but we are going to do it.”
His sons hit a familiar path, with Erich looking to round into the form that brought him South Jersey championships in 2011 and 2017. Erich likes hitting the water early, not long after sunrise, and putting in work before the heat of the day.
At night, he’s already notched a victory, winning the county championship amid rough ocean conditions. At the Beschen-Callahan races, however, the good start did not materialize, and, in a short event of about 3 minutes, the gap could not be made up.
Erich Wolf, singles row.
“You can’t make up three or four boat lengths in that race if you don’t have the start you want,” he says. “You have to give the other guys credit for doing well and getting the position they wanted.”
Matt Wolf, meanwhile, continues his practice of working with a doubles partner he coached in high school. For five years, it was Jake Enright, with whom he won a slew of races. For the second straight year, it will be Gary James Nagle, whom he coached in high school and who, coincidentally, wrestles at Ursinus. Wolf says Nagle brings additional strength and experience into their second year together.
“He was my coach for football, wrestling and track and field,” says Nagle, who also competes in the pole vault for the Ursinus track team. “As partners now, the relationship is really no different to me. We are both working for a goal. We both want to win.
“We were laughing about the fact that he could have coached me next year in college,” he adds. “It looks like the beach and Avalon won out.”
Another college athlete, Greg Osborne from the College of Charleston, symbolizes the annual contribution Stone Harbor often receives from the youth group. Stone Harbor has featured a number of top relay competitors in recent years and also showcased Villanova swim legend Hayley Edwards.
Osborne won the paddle board event at the Cape May County Championships. He stayed close enough during the ocean section and won the race by outsprinting his opponent on the beach. Osborne caught a wave coming in, saved some energy and expended it with the victorious sprint.
Stone Harbor captain Sandy Bosacco touts the exuberance of youth from the patrol.
“It’s nice to see the young people involved,” Bosacco says. “We are proud of their performances and how they have used the races to sharpen their overall lifeguarding skills.”
Bosacco highlights the variety of competitions added to Cape May County’s lifeguard races in recent years. They allow the involvement of more athletes beyond the classic singles row, doubles row and swim connected with classic events like the South Jerseys.
“The surf-dash relay is very popular,” he says. “It usually involves four of five competitors and it truly shows what we do on the patrol. The dashing out shows speed, aggression and athleticism that you would need to display in a rescue. I think it’s also fun for the spectators.”
The July 28 Kerr Memorials in Avalon and the Aug. 9 South Jerseys, in Longport, are two of the upcoming major events in which both patrols hope to do well.
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