The South Jersey Lifeguard Championships seems to get a little bigger every year. The tradition gets older and the stories more numerous.
Probably some newer stories will emerge starting at 6:30 p.m. today at the 74th annual event at the Decatur Avenue beach in Margate, in front of Lucy the Elephant.
The races are the 1½-mile doubles row, the ¾-mile swim and the ¼-mile singles row.
Many of the beach patrol athletes are teenagers or in their early 20s, and several young guards have had a big impact in other races this season.
Kevin Gill of the Upper Township Beach Patrol is a 16-year-old rookie lifeguard who has consistently finished third in the big swims at other races this summer.
Ahead of him so far are Brigantine rookie Shane McKenzie, 19, and Margate's Pat Flynn, 18.
Ocean City's Anthony Czar is a 17-year-old rookie guard who placed fourth in the swim at both the Atlantic City Lifeguard Classic and the Dutch Hoffman Memorials in Wildwood.
Avalon's Jake Enright and Ventnor's Matt Given are both 21-year-old, fifth-year guards, but will be in their first South Jersey Championships today. Both row doubles for patrols that are contenders.
Upper Township has always been an underdog patrol, but Gill's swimming led Upper to its first team title at the Beschen-Callahan Memorials this summer.
"I'm really excited. This is the biggest one of the year," said Gill, an Upper Township resident and a rising junior at Ocean City High School.
"The other races have really been fun, and I'm sure the biggest one will be just as exciting. I'm a little nervous, but not too much. I'll try to go out and race as hard as I can."
Enright thrust himself into the South Jersey picture this year as he and partner Matt Wolf won the Avalon patrol doubles race.
That earned them the spot as Avalon's doubles crew.
Now he's in a key position for a patrol that finished third last week in the Margate Beach Patrol World War II Memorials.
Enright and Wolf didn't place in the top five at the Margate Memorials, but they were second to Ventnor's Given and David Funk at the Kerr Memorials in Avalon on Sunday.
"I can't even describe what it's like to be in the South Jersey Championships," said Enright of Dennis Township. "I'm really excited. No one really expected us to win the city doubles race.
"We had a bad start at Margate and got swamped by water. But we were really close to Ventnor (at the Kerr Memorials), about a boat-length behind."
Czar, The Press Boys Swimmer of the Year at Egg Harbor Township High School, is brand new this summer to ocean swimming. He's a key figure today because Ocean City is a contender that could do well in the rows. O.C. won the team title in 2011, and placed third behind winner Margate and runner-up Ventnor last summer.
"I'm pretty excited," said Czar, who will swim for the New Jersey Institute of Technology in college. "Most of the (swim) races have been pretty close. Swimming in the ocean is a lot different than pool swimming. It's still pretty new to me. I think I'm pretty well prepared if it's a rough ocean."
The 6-foot-7 Given rows bow with David Funk, who won the South Jersey doubles race last year with Mike Tripician. Though he's still lifeguarding, Tripician has retired from racing.
"I'm really excited and honored to row for Ventnor," said Given, an Absecon resident. "I'll try to uphold our tradition of doing well in the South Jersey's."
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