Once every few decades, the South Jersey Lifeguard Championships are updated.
The event started in 1924 with only a doubles row. Atlantic City’s Harry Yates and Jack Woodworth won it. Atlantic City’s Ed Solitaire won the first swim in 1945.
Nearly 30 years later, the powers that be decided to add a singles row. Margate’s Toby Buttle, brother of former New York Jets star linebacker and Mainland Regional High School graduate Greg Buttle, won the inaugural race in 1973.
It’s time for another change.
It’s time to add women’s races to the event.
“I think that’s a great idea,” said Ocean City Beach Patrol swimmer Maggie Wallace, who finished third while racing against the guys in Friday’s 79th edition of the race at Longport. “Women don’t get enough opportunitities to compete.”
Including swimming, rowing and runs, there were 37 competitions on the South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association’s racing schedule this summer. It featured four female-only events in which competitors from the 15 patrols in the association are eligible. The Longport Women’s Invitational is held in mid-July, followed by the Ocean City Beach Patrol Women’s Invitational, held Aug. 2 this year due to inclement weather July 26, and the Bill Howarth Women’s Lifeguard Invitational in Ventnor, which was held Wednesday.
The fourth is the Cape May Point Women’s Lifeguard Challenge, which is an individual triathlon-style event featuring a beach run, paddleboard and swim.
“It would be difficult to create another race because there are so many races right now,” South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association President Bill Handley, of Upper Township, said Friday. “There are times when we have two or three races in a week. But (a South Jersey championship for women) is something that needs to be discussed. It’s a valid concept that should be given consideration.”
One scenario would be to designate one of the current three races as the women’s South Jersey Championships, perhaps on a rotating basis.
Wallace came up with a better idea.
“They should just add some women’s races to the men’s races here,” she said.
The South Jersey champinships could take a page from the Cape May County Lifeguard Championships, which added two female events — swim and paddleboard races — while also requiring each five-person surf dash relay team to have a female member.
I’d suggest adding a women’s doubles row, swim and singles row to the South Jerseys. Simply start the race at 5:45 or 6 p.m. instead of 6:30.
It would have been great Friday night to see if twins Amanda and Kristine Auble, of Margate, could maintain their dominance in the doubles row. It would have been exciting to watch a singles row showdown between Sea Isle City’s Natalie Alleva and Avalon’s Reilly Bonner.
It would have been especially intriguing to see how Wallace would have done against Wildwood Crest’s Adrienne Bilello and other women’s swimmers instead of having to compete with Friday’s champion Joey Tepper, of Longport, Margate’s Joe Rogers and the other men.
Tepper won the race in 14 minutes, 22.10 seconds, followed by Rogers in 15:34.37 and Wallace in 15:48.47. The 2018 Press Girls Swimmer of the Year from Ocean City High School was attempting to become the first woman to win a South Jersey title.
“There are ups and downs to racing against men, especially in this race,” said Wallace, who is headed to Indiana University. “The guys get all amped up by the crowd, and their (testosterone) kicks in, which is something I can’t do.”
The South Jersey Lifeguard Championships is one of the area’s most unique and popular sports events.
Barefoot spectators lined up 10 deep along the shoreline at the 33rd Avenue beach in Longport on Friday evening to cheer for their favorite patrol.
The roars were louder than the crashing waves when Longport singles rower Mike McGrath crossed the finish line and celebrated his win — which clinched his beach patrol’s third straight team title — by leaping from his seat and throwing his oars into the water in lifeguard racing’s version of a “drop-the-mic” moment.
“We would love the chance to compete in front of big crowds like this,” Wallace said.
Female lifeguards should have the chance to drop the mic, too.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.
Contact: 609-272-7201 DWeinberg@pressofac.com Twitter @PressACWeinberg