For the Pohlmans, Newton swim team is a family affair

By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / August 2, 2012
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In the summer of 1980, Mary Pohlman was asked to coach the Newton Recreation Department squad that competed in the Suburban Swim League.

“My younger sister, Janet, and a group of her friends were on the team and said they needed a coach until a replacement could be found,” recalled Pohlman, who was soon joined on the staff by her husband, Scott.

The Pohlmans, who had met while swimming for Newton North High and were married the previous September, never needed a replacement.

For 32 summer and winter league seasons, they have guided the rec team — renamed the Newton Bluefish three years ago — to 18 league titles (15 in the summer) and 503 wins.

The Bluefish carried a 7-0 record into Tuesday’s home meet against Millis at Newton North. Win No. 500, registered against Sherborn July 17, was celebrated days later at a picnic and reunion on Albemarle Field by two generations of Bluefish swimmers and coaches.

The current coaching staff, which guided the summer team to unbeaten seasons in 2010 and 2011, includes the Pohlmans’ three children: Michael, Mark, and Katelyn.

“It was great to be coached by my parents and now to coach with them,'' said Michael Pohlman, who works for the Newton Fire Department and is assistant boys’ and girls’ swim coach at his alma mater, Newton North.

“My brother and sister and I played other sports, but in order to do so, we had to swim,” he added. “No matter what sport we played, our folks have been there for us.”

His brother Mark holds several Bluefish and Suburban Swim League records.

Scott and Mary, who works full time in the controller's office at Boston College, competed in the city's recreation program and were captains of their swim teams at Newton North.

A former head coach at Newton South (1981-2001), Scott is a Maine Maritime Academy graduate, and captain of the Lieutenant Samuel S. Coursen, a ferry serving Governor’s Island off the tip of Manhattan.

“I work 12-hour days and get every other week off, so I get to many of the meets,’’ Scott said, “and when I'm not there, I speak to Mary and the coaching staff.

“I was able to get to the picnic and it was very meaningful, seeing swimmers who were with us in the early days and then seeing their kids who swim with us now.’’

Katie Ridge Greeley, who swam for the Pohlmans as a 16-year-old in 1980, has sent three children to the program, including her 12-year-old daughter, Nora, who is swimming this summer.

“They're a remarkable couple. I grew up in the same neighborhood as Mary,’’ said Greeley. “I can't say enough about them. They treat everyone the same and make them feel like they're the only swimmer on the team. And I don't know how they do it, but they remember everyone’s name. They're dedicated and believe in what they do.”

The first team coached by the Pohlmans had 50 youngsters, the program grew to 80 after four years, and is now so popular that it is filled to capacity. There are 243 swimmers in the Bluefish summer program, and its winter program numbered 275 last season. Both accommodate ages 6 through 18.

“Especially in an Olympic year,’’ said Mary, “the phone's been ringing off the hook. Just seeing the smiles on our swimmers’ faces, knowing they're doing well no matter what their ability, is more important than the victories. We teach technique, but we also ask them to respect each other and show compassion for one another and for their opponents. And we wouldn't be doing this now if not for the support of the Newton Recreation Department and their staff.”

A number of Bluefish alumni are swimming for college teams — Bush Ren at Boston College, Alex Graf at Regis, and Jamie Lew at Union — and Sarah Conklin will swim at Amherst. Lew and Ren are helping coach the Bluefish this summer. “It's nice to know we gave them their start,'' said Scott Pohlman.

Steve Schaefer, another team alum, and his wife, Jodi, joined the staff in 2007, and specialize in tutoring the 8-and-under swimmers.

With a record of 503-135-82 since 1980, the Bluefish are one of the elite teams in the Suburban Swim League. In the summer, the league has teams from Canton, Dedham, Framingham, Medfield, Millis, Natick, Needham, Norwood, Sherborn, Walpole, and Westwood.

The winter league members are Acton-Boxborough, Belmont, Brookline, Dedham, Framingham, Milford, Natick, Sudbury, Wellesley, Westborough, Weston, and Westwood.

Newton's summer and winter teams, a perennial provider of quality swimmers to both Newton North and South High, are composed solely of city residents. Scott has been the summer league's vice president and Mary the winter league's secretary for more than 20 years.

The Bluefish host the league's B championships Saturday and the A championships a week from Saturday at the Albemarle complex's Gath Pool, both from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We expect more than 1,000 swimmers at the A meet,” said Mary, “and the public is welcome.”

Marvin Pave can be reached at

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