By Jean DePlacido
---- — Before Tony Padvaiskas took over the swimming program at St. John’s Prep 16 years ago, the head coaching position had been a revolving door. So former swim team captain Tom Gately and his mother spoke to Padvaiskas about taking over the program.
What a great move that turned out to be for both Padvaiskas and the Eagles.
Padvaiskas met with then-SJP athletic director Fred Glatz in 1997 and was hired immediately. He’s guided the swim team ever since and his squads have won the last seven Division 1 state championships.
Tomorrow, he’ll see many of his former standouts at the inaugural St. John’s Prep Alumni Swimming and Diving Meet at Salem State University beginning at 10 a.m. The 57 current swimmers on the Prep roster will swim against the alumni.
“I’m not as fast as I was in high school or college, but I’m willing to put in a good effort against the teenagers that I coach every day,” said Gately, who has been Padvaiskas’ assistant the past eight seasons and was his first captain.
“Tony means so much to the Prep community and every single person he has come in contact with. I use a lot of the lessons he taught me in my current career as an attorney — and even more as his assistant coach. The idea of working hard, being dedicated and being able to look in the mirror every day and be happy with who you are ... that’s what is most important to him.”
Gately started preparing for the alumni event by researching the program’s history from its very beginning, then got busy inviting former coaches and alumni dating back to the first team in 1977-78.
The array of talent coming to SSU to renew old friendships and take on this year’s Prep team is dazzling. In fact, there have been so many responses that extra heats have been added in many events.
Gately stressed the fact that there will be no winners or losers that day; everyone is a St. John’s Prep Eagle. He hopes this can become an annual event, molded after the top college programs.
“At the beginning, there were roughly 14 boys; this year, we have 57,” Gately said. “Tony prides himself on telling the boys that he could care less about the wins and losses. What he cares about is attitude and effort.”
Former Eagles have gone on to compete at outstanding colleges, and many are still swimming for their various teams. Swimmers returning tomorrow in the 200 freestyle include Brian Brennan from the University of Alabama, Robert Breen (UMBC), P.J. Fallon (Denver) and Jeff Fiore (University of Tampa). Ethan Sullivan (Boston College), Aaron Athanas (Dartmouth), Ryan Fortin (Harvard) and Perry Chau (UMass) will compete in the 200 IM.
Men competing in the 50 free include Gately (George Washington), Caleb Bower (BC), John Bateman (US Air Force), Brendan Sweeney (BC), Wills Fallon (Santa Clara), Mike Cohen (BC), Dylan Dittrich (Georgetown), coach John Driscoll (Villanova), coach Connor Fortin (Fordham), coach Brad Fortin (Bucknell), John Dannemiller (Villanova), Robert Dannemiller (Northeastern), Graham Billings (High Point University), Patrick Carroll (Bates), coach Kevin Carroll (UMass Lowell) and Michael Carroll (BC).
Neil Gagnon (Merrimack) and Chris Walsh (BC) will dive. In the 100 fly, Brendan Moran (Notre Dame), Brendan Fortin (Wesleyan), Bateman, Kyle Jendrock (UMass Lowell), Kevin Carroll, Patrick Carroll, Robert Dannemiller and Alex Sneirson (Holy Cross) will take on the current Eagles. In the 100 free, Gately, Brennan, Fiore, Sweeney, Driscoll, Taylor Smolik (Bentley), Tyler Dittrich (Georgetown) and Billings are set to swim. Adam Eramo (Trinity), Breen, Fallon and Chau are entered in the 500 free.
Jamie Mannion (Harvard), Athanas, Tyler Lareau (Lehigh), Jendrock, Sneirson, Eramo, and Cohen will do the 100 backstroke, while Joe Hines (Fordham), Sullivan, Fortin, Bower, Dannemiller, Joe Barszcz (Hawaii Pacific), Brad Fortin and Michael Carroll are entered in the 100 breaststroke. There will also be several relays.
The first coach of the program was Brother Robert Sullivan, who was asked by T.G. Kryazis and a few of his friends to help out with the swim team in 1977. Sullivan, who is now 84 years old, has health problems that will prevent him from coming tomorrow, but sends his best wishes. He drove the Prep van (among other duties) to meets as the Eagles won the North Shore title that first season.
It promises to be a fun meet for current players and coaches, as well as alumni and parents.
Instead of a rebuilding year for the St. John’s Prep football team in 2013, it will be a time to reload with younger brothers stepping up to take over for their older siblings. There will be a lot of familiar last names on the roster, but different first names and some big shoes to fill.
Andrew Johnson replaces his brother Danny, who was out for the Super Bowl season with an injury. It will be Jake Burt instead of Zach; Brandan Kahari, not Gerald; Dom Pizzano taking over for brother R.J.; and Jack Lambert stepping in for brother Ryan.
If it seems like there has been a Marraffa on the squad for years, it’s because Nick Marraffa will be back and is the third brother on the team, following Bob and Jack. Sean Smerczynski wears older brother Pat’s No. 44 and will be looking to close out his career with another dominating season at middle linebacker. There will also be two Fawehinmi brothers on the team, Michael and Art.
Granted, there’s no replacing Gatorade Player of the Year Alex Moore or Catholic Conference All-Leaguer Lucas Bavaro. But the Eagles’ cupboard is far from bare, with Salem News Player of the Year Johnathan Thomas running wild in the backfield and the offensive line intact except for center James Fagan.
Jean DePlacido is a part-time writer and columnist for The Salem News. Contact her at email@example.com.