By Fred Miller
The Ocean City Beach Patrol’s tradition of winning intercity rowing and swimming races has its roots in the Olympic Games. Long before the local lifeguards won either a Cape May County or South Jersey championship, OCBP Hall of Famer John B. Kelly Sr. was wearing three Olympic gold medals.
Kelly, competing in Antwerp, Belgium on August 18, 1920, won two Olympic sculling races. He narrowly beat Jack Beresford of Great Britain in the singles sculls, and, in partnership with his cousin Paul Costello, easily defeated the Italian crew in the double sculls.
Kelly, competing in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France, won another gold medal in the doubles rowing with Costello.
With the support and encouragement of John B. Kelly, Lifeguard Augustus Goetz rowed in the pair-oared shell with coxswain in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, Holland.
Four years later, Kelly encouraged Charles Kieffer, a championship rower on the Ocean City Beach Patrol, to compete in the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. With Kelly’s support, Kieffer won a gold medal on August 12, 1932. His event – the pair-oared shell with coxswain – had never before been won by an American crew. Kieffer, rowing in the bow, Joseph Schauers, rowing in the stern, and Edward Jennings coxswain, came through with a fine performance to beat Poland by a length and a half.
Lifeguard Archie Harris was one of the best high school athletes in the country in 1936. On June 6, 1936, after winning the state championship in the shot put and the discus at Montclair, Coach Von E. Henroid took him to the train going to Philadelphia. Ray L. Fite, OCHS athletic director, met Harris at the Philadelphia station and drove him to Franklin Field to compete in the Olympic tryouts. That afternoon, Harris won the shot put and placed second in the discus which won him the right to compete in Boston on June 27, 1936 with the top athletes going to Berlin, Germany to compete in the Olympic Games. Harris missed going the Germany by inches in both the shot and discuss.
It was Harris’ last chance to compete in the Olympics since war caused the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 games.
Jack Kelly Jr. won the OCBP and South Jersey rowing championships in 1944, then rowed in four Olympics – 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960. The OCBP Hall of Famer is the last American to win a medal in the singles scull.
In 1988, rowing in the men’s eight in Seoul, South Korea, John Pescatore became the fourth member of the OCBP to win an Olympic medal. He was in the American boat that finished behind West Germany and the Soviet Union.
Four years later, Pescatore rowed with Peter Sharis in the men’s pair without coxswain at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. They made the finals, but Great Britain, Germany and Slovenia crossed the finish line ahead of them.
Pierre Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic movement, in 1908 said, “The importance of these Olympiads is not so much to win as to take part.” Ocean City lifeguards agree. Tom Aretz was an Olympic swimmer in 1968 and 1972, and Peter Wright was on the USA swim team in the 1996 Olympics.
Bruce Wigo, OCBP Hall of Famer and CEO of the international Swimming Hall of Fame, attended the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games to watch his son, Wolf, compete on the USA water polo team.
Steven “Sid” Cassidy, OCBP Hall of Famer, was instrumental in getting the 10K Marathon Swim as an Olympic event. He started the race at the inaugural swim in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, and he was a referee at the 10K Marathon Swim at the Olympic Games in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. This summer Cassidy will be the head referee in the Rio de Janeiro.
Renee Tomlin, OCBP rookie 2006, is training to be on the U. S. Olympic triathlon team.
Friday, August 5, the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A global television audience of up to four billion viewers is expected to witness the beginning of the Games, which trace their roots to 776 BC.