The Charleston Swim Club for the first time hosted the Cherry Bowl meet late last month, an annual tradition of 63 years that brings together all of the township’s swim clubs for a competition.
Charleston has previously co-hosted the meet with other clubs that had more space and volunteers to accommodate it. But this year marks the first time in more than 50 years of its participation that Charleston acted as sole host.
“It was never done,” said Eric Kish, secretary of the Charleston Swim Club’s board. “No one was – for lack of a better word – bold enough to take a bite of the apple. That’s why it’s a huge deal; in the 63 year history of Cherry Bowl, it’s never been hosted at our club.”
“We are a small club, and hosting Cherry Bowl, for any club – but especially one of this size – is a herculean effort,” explained club president Andrew Shilliday, “and one that would have been laughably impossible if it weren’t for the members, volunteers, family, and neighbors that came together to see this thing happen.”
Shilliday noted that preparation for the meet began more than a year ago and included Charleston members observing Old Orchard Swim Club’s preparation for the 2022 Cherry Bowl. He and Kish both gave a shoutout to Lindsey Klein and Jen Esposito for organizing this year’s version.
The day-long event brings together the 12 township swim clubs and regularly attracts about 3,000 visitors and supporters. Because Charleston is a smaller club, it had to make adjustments to accommodate everyone, such as reducing tent sizes and renting an extra set of bleachers.
“As it turns out, we ended up having 20 to 30% more seating than prior Cherry Bowls, which no one would have ever thought was feasible,” Kish said.
While only a third of volunteers required had registered two weeks out from the meet, that number grew in the final 72 hours. So many volunteers showed up, the club ran out of shirts for them and had to turn others away.
The night before the competition, two hours of rain caused tents to blow over and signs to be torn, but the volunteers speedily restored them by 6:45 a.m. the next morning to start the meet.
“It was a well-run Cherry Bowl,” noted Pat Behen, board member for the Erlton Swim Club, this year’s winner. “They did an absolutely fantastic job. We were very impressed.”
This year’s competition had the theme Pool of Rock and featured three new records, including that of Willowdale Swim Club’s Josh Seidman; the 18-year-old set a new time of 58.05 seconds in the 100-meter backstroke, beating the prior record of 58.32 seconds,
The Erlton men’s 15- to 18-year- old 200 medley relay team of Ryan Quinn, Trever Cottrell, Daniel Keegan and Christian Leone beat the prior time of 1:50.47 minutes with this year’s 1 minute and 49.26 seconds. Woodcrest Swim Club’s women’s 15-18 200 freestyle relay team also beat the record of 1:52.18 by achieving a new time of 1 minute and 52.15 seconds.
Four inductees were added to the Cherry Bowl hall of fame for 2023, including Haddontowne Swim Club’s Rob Bartel, a father who has been on the club’s board since 2007 and is currently vice president; Willowdale Swim Club’s Wendy Seidman, who will retire after 15 years as the Willowdale “team mom”; Woodcrest’s Michael Treglia, who has broken 13 club records and won three state championships and four consecutive South Jersey sectional championships; and Charleston’s vice president Bill Hart, who was recognized for his selflessness and unmatched management of the club.
Erlton’s win was its sixth consecutive victory. Board member Pat Behen attributes the team’s success to its spirit and small improvements made during the season.
“The spirit of this team truly rivals no other,” Behen pointed out. “Our cheering section, we call them Lane 7, is filled with swimmers who are not even participating in Cherry Bowl, but they come to support the team, along with their parents, and that is absolutely a contributing factor.
“It just shows the culture of Erlton, the support, and we’re a family.”
See results for this year’s Cherry Bowl at https://cherrybowl2023.com/.