On the sports page, in an article about the Tenafly High School swim team, the paper proffers opinions about the character of the swimming pool that we do our laps in every day.
They happen to be right in everything that they say about the pool, especially the "quirks."
Anyhow, we can't figure out why a neighborhood so wealthy has no High School swimming pool and needs to use the JCC facility at off-hours. Neither can the sports writer at the local paper.
BY DARREN COOPER
TENAFLY — Visitors to the JCC of the Palisades are directed to follow the yellow footsteps to the swimming pool.
The footsteps take one past the basketball courts, down hallways with shops on either side and past smiling pictures of the JCC hierarchy. Twisting and turning, swimmers and their fans finally arrive at one of the most unique venues for a high school sporting event, at an even more unique time.
It is 7 o’clock on a Sunday night at the JCC. The place is empty except for dance classes in the ballroom. In the pool, it’s a Tenafly home swim meet.
"For us, swimming at night, swimming at all hours of the day is what we are used to," said Tenafly senior John Bendes. "This is actually the earliest we come."
Tenafly, like many other North Jersey swimming programs, struggles to find pool time. Bendes is correct when he says Sunday at 7 is early; the team usually practices from 9-10:30 p.m.
"We just roll with it," said Marilyn Brown, the mother of Tenafly freshman Jessie Brown. "I think you have to give kudos to the team, who makes an extra special effort to get here and then get home at 11 p.m. and sometimes do homework."
The facility has a few quirks. The locker rooms are being renovated, so teams have to change in shifts in the family room. It’s generally either too hot or too cold in the pool. (On this Sunday night despite the chill outside, all of the ceiling fans were on.) There are no touch pads, and no shoes allowed on the deck.
The most unique feature is the large balcony that hangs over one side of the pool. It’s the perfect observation spot for fans, but not very large.
Karen Ayvaliotis has had three children swim at Tenafly. She arrives at 5:50 p.m. to ensure a prime seat near the finish line. She carries six chairs up the steps.
"This is the highlight of my week," Ayvaliotis said with a smile. "I’m serious. This is better than watching a professional game."
She is surrounded by other parents who arrive early, keep track of the score (there is no scoreboard, so parents are left to figure out the score on their own), and cheer for the Tigers.
"We have a great time up here," said Michael Bloom. "My daughter is a senior now. I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing."
Down below, Tigers coach Kara DeBlasio is posting the lineup and chiding a couple of girls to get in the water. They aren’t allowed in the pool until 6:50 p.m., so every minute is precious.
Swimming on a Sunday night wouldn’t be her first choice, but she has gotten used to it.
"It really depends on how the Giants are doing," DeBlasio laughs. "My family and friends still haven’t gotten used to it; it’s a big day in an Italian family to spend the day together. The kids seem fine with it. It’s just the way it’s always been on our team."
When Tenafly first started its program, all it had was a black-and-orange banner and willing kids. Teams loved to swim against them for the pool time and pick up an easy win.
The banner still is hanging, but now it’s above one of the most talented teams in the county. Because of that, fewer opponents are willing to come on a Sunday night in the dead of winter. Tenafly only has three home meets this year.
Bendes will miss every minute, even the threadbare banner. It’s symbolic of the team that has found its place.
"It’s old and ratty, but it defines this team," said Bendes. "I think they are making a new tradition this year where the senior parents are going to pass it on."
Last Sunday night as the Tigers beat Leonia, cheers echoed off of the walls, flashbulbs popped and the balcony was jammed three deep.
"Years later, we are still here," said Lorraine Liulakis, who has had two swimmers compete for Tenafly. "Steadfast, same seats, keeping score, cheering. That’s what we do. Really. That’s what we do."