I love the Sebastopol Sea Serpents. I first swam for the team in 1957, when I was 8. My family had just returned from Germany where my dad spent two years as an Army dentist. I could already swim, but I really wanted to play baseball when we came home. Unfortunately no one knew I was very nearsighted. After a disastrous first baseball season, including an accidental beaning by the coach, I decided it was safer to swim. I joined what was the then-Sebastopol Swim Team. They sounded like they were having fun at Ives Pool while I struggled at the ballpark. At the time, the swim team was totally paid for by the city, so we had tons of kids from as far as far away as Tomales, the Russian River and as close as our rival city, Santa Rosa.
I really looked up to the teenagers those first years, including Jeff Kendall, who at 6’7’ kept hitting his knees diving into the shallow end of Ives Pool for the race start. He was great on relays, because he could catch up with other swimmers on his dive! When I was ten, the team voted to call ourselves the Sebastopol Sea Serpents. I swam for the team until 1966, when I turned 18, the end of the line for age group swimming. I did coach the team during college, law school and then had two kids on the team myself. I love the Sea Serpents.
But my old team is hurting these days. The pandemic has hit the team hard, as well as other programs at Ives Pool. The recent pool closure has left all of its users “high and dry.” That includes the Sea Serpents who depend on dues, and fundraising swim meets at the pool, to support its program. Because of the pandemic, the city council declined to issue fireworks sales permits to the Kiwanis, Lions and the Sea Serpents, who depend on those sales for a large part of their fundraising. There have been other times during its 65-year history when the team struggled, but at this moment the Serpents face the greatest crisis in their history. The community needs to throw a life preserver to the team for a lot of very good reasons.
Reason 1. The Sea Serpents have provided a unique coed opportunity for kids of all ages as a team sport. In 1957, it was the only sport that a girl could get involved in during the summer break. My sister, Diana, recently told me that “it was neat lifting weights with the boys at Analy High School before the season started.” This was a training program our then coach, Norm Stupfel, introduced us to, just like other big teams in the area. He was a former state college championship swimmer, and water polo player, and brought a new level of coaching to Sebastopol from 1961-64. He modernized the Serpents.
Reason 2. Kids make lifelong friendships while practicing long hours at the pool, and then participating in local or regional weekend swim meets. When I swam we went up against the Santa Rosa Neptunes, Ukiah Dolphins, Oak Park Otters and other local teams. I knew a lot of kids from all over the county, and had many friendly rivalries, which lasted into high school competition. The Serpents really had to bond, sitting around together in warm sweat suits, surviving those cold, foggy, and breezy Ives summer nights during swim meets. I should mention that for many years, until Ives was remodeled, we had a home pool advantage, not only because of the cold weather, but we also had a non-regulation 35 yard long pool, (instead of 25 yards), and rope finishes were required for all individual races. Visiting teams never got used to our longer pool.
Reason 3. Since its inception, the Sea Serpents have provided kids with the opportunity to learn a physical skill that they can use for the rest of their lives. Swimmers spend hours training, which results in better overall health, and without serious injury. Let’s face it — I got my lifeguard-pool manager jobs because I could swim better than most kids my age. And it was definitely the best summer job in town, especially since one of the other lifeguards at the pool was my then-girlfriend, now wife. It would also not be a stretch to say that because so many kids have participated on the Serpents over the years, the team has contributed to the overall water safety of the community.
Reason 4. Every kid who was on the Sea Serpents learned an important life lesson. Hard work pays off. I always told the kids on my team (1968-71), that if you go to practice regularly, put in a good effort, listen to the coach, you will improve. And when you improve, the team improves, and you may just win a championship. When my kids won the league championship in 1971, the last year I coached, not only was it an accomplishment for them, it was one of the greatest experiences of my young life. We had a lot of fun, and a great team spirit, which the kids enjoyed. Becoming a good swimmer also provides a child with an early sense of self-esteem, and may lead to more than winning ribbons and medals. More than one kid from the Serpents has made national rankings, been invited to Olympic training camps, and earned scholarships on college swim teams.
Reason 5. By swimming competitively kids learn to deal with adversity at an early age. Time for younger sister Diana to reappear. We were both swimming in Ukiah at their big end of season Labor Day Invitational meet. (That’s adversity right there, swimming in Ukiah on Labor Day. Always 100 degrees.) Anyway, she got bitten by a Yellow Jacket at lunch after qualifying for the finals, which meant a chance for a medal. Her lip swelled up and she was hurting. But she really wanted that medal. My parents ran her to the local ER for treatment, but she insisted on coming back to the meet and swimming in the finals. She got her third place medal. That little piece of metal is still the subject of family history. As coach, I had kids get disqualified for swimming an illegal stroke, making an illegal turn, or jumping in too early at the start of a race. I was always surprised by the many and various ways swimmers got disqualified. All I could do was to tell them to get ready for the next race, and thank goodness, they usually did.
The Sea Serpents have given much to the community. They need your help now. If you swam for the team, had kids on the Sea Serpents, or just believe there should be programs like the Sebastopol Sea Serpent, please donate. Donations can be made on the SSS GoFundMeCharity page, charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/alumniofsss, by visiting the website, seaserpents.swimtopia.com, or by mailing a donation to Sebastopol Sea Serpents, PO Box 2517, Sebastopol, CA., 95473.
Greg Jacobs is a former Assistant D.A. Sonoma County, and Sea Serpent swimmer, coach, and parent.