LONGPORT — The hometown crowd cheered “Longport! Longport!” several times at the 78th annual South Jersey Lifeguard Championships on Friday at the 31st Avenue beach.
Especially at the end.
Longport got a win from John Tepper in the half-mile swim and two second-place finishes in the rows to score a clearcut victory for its second straight South Jersey team championship. Mike McGrath and Sean Duffey were second in the doubles row, and McGrath returned to finish second in the singles row.
Until last year, Longport had never won the S.J. title.
“To win it two times in a row says a lot about our competitors and patrol,” said Dan Adams, the Longport Beach Patrol chief. “It was a great night and a great race. My hat’s off to everyone.”
Longport scored 13 points, and Ventnor got a win in the doubles row from David Funk and Mike Holland to finish second overall with eight points. Avalon also scored eight points, but Ventnor earned second place due to a higher finish in the doubles row, the South Jersey Chiefs Association tiebreaker. Avalon’s Erich Wolf won the singles row by 10 seconds.
It was first time a patrol has won the South Jersey team championship two consecutive years since Ventnor won for the second time in 2007.
The 6-foot-5 Tepper, wearing a yellow Rowan University swim cap, jumped up first in the surf at the end of the swim and ran to the finish line 4 yards ahead of second-place Conall Loughlin of Sea Isle City. The Longport fans went wild.
“It’s awesome to win. There are so many people here,” said Tepper, 21, a rising senior for the Rowan men’s swim team. “On the way out, I took the lead about halfway between the singles flag and the swim flag (a third of the way into the race). I turned (at the flag) and didn’t see anyone until Conall at the end. I swam hard to stay ahead. It was a close one.”
Ventnor’s Funk and Holland were battling with Longport’s McGrath and Duffey at the end of the doubles row. The Ventnor boat latched onto a wave to win by 10 seconds in 14 minutes, 15 seconds.
Funk, 39, won his 10th South Jersey rowing title (six in doubles and four in singles). He tied Margate’s Chuck Gowdy, who got his 10th win last year. Gowdy and rowing partner Chris Graves were going for a season sweep of doubles wins this year but took fifth.
“All season long, Mike and I have been training for the second Friday in August,” said Funk. “We put a good piece together and minimized our mistakes and capitalized on our opportunities. Mike is a phenomenal athlete, and his work ethic is second to none.”
Holland, 30, is the grandson of the late Dr. John Holland, a pioneer in southern New Jersey rowing. Mike Holland is a former Villanova University linebacker. The win was his first South Jersey title.
“It’s not easy, but it’s simple when you row with Dave. You listen to him, and you pull hard,” said Holland. “We rowed through the other races to be ready for this one.”
McGrath and Duffey scored four points for Longport and started the patrol on its way to the team title.
“It feels awesome to win the title again,” said Duffey, 34. “We knew John Tepper was going to step up, and we had to put together a good race.”
Avalon’s Wolf rowed to the lead and held off McGrath in the surf to win the singles. Fans from Avalon celebrated. Longport fans, knowing the patrol had clinched the team title, also celebrated.
“It’s never easy,” said Wolf, 31. “I had to give it everything. My plan was to put the pedal to the medal and not hold anything back. I train 364 days a year for this.”