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By Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
One of the most enjoyable things about coaching the Chemung Sailfish for coach Keith Ess is hearing about multiple generations of swimmers in the club.

This year the Sailfish are celebrating their 50th year which has included in some cases multiple generations of families. The club kicked off in 1973 and 2023 now marks five decades for the Sailfish.

“I love the fact when we go to meets, or even host a home meet, when parents say ‘oh I swam for Sailfish and I remember this and I remember that about Sailfish.’ It’s great to see the past before I was coaching and come back and say I swam that event and now my kid is too. Chemung Sailfish has been a strong program and lots of people have gone through that through Elmira.

“What’s great about that is we have people asking if they can help coach and some it’s their grand kids (on the team). They are coming back to meets and looking at the record boards and seeing their name up there and asking has that been broken yet and the answer is no and them saying I think my grand kid can do it.”

After five decades the Sailfish are a program that a lot in the area recognize.

“Even for them (former swimmers) to right away say that’s a Chemung Sailfish kid in the water now because they look at the cap or the colors on the suit in the water and they are just proud to see the numbers of kids that are still involved in the program,” Ess said. “Right away they will bring up a memory they had. It’s great to talk to the past swimmers and parents.

“Just around town to be able to talk about it. I’m wearing a Chemung Sailfish shirt and someone will say I know all about that program. It’s great to see those kids come back and even the parents talk about it.”

There are a lot of fond memories for Ess about coaching the Sailfish.

“We have taken kids to golds and golds is basically New York State meet where we are seeing the best of the best,” Ess said. “To see kids go there and finish in the top five being a Chemung Sailfish swimmer is a very positive thing to see.”

It’s also been a lot of fun for Ess to watch the kids go from the Sailfish onto the high school level one day.

“I have been doing it for about 15 years and I would say every year we have about 60 some kids in our program,” Ess said. “At some point I’d say about 80% are swimming at the high school level.”

Even when some of the kids swim for other high schools it’s fun for Ess, who also coaches the Elmira varsity boys and girls teams, to be able to compete against those kids.

“It is great,” Ess said. “It is a great experience to be able to know the kids, know what they are already good at and pump our kids up to say hey, let’s beat this kid. Even though during the club time he’s a swimmer that we know, let’s go ahead and beat them and do a good job today.

“Seeing them at high school state meets, it’s rewarding for us to know they swam for us as a club team and then went off and did very well at their school team too.”

While there are a lot of Elmira kids on the Sailfish, the program has kids from a number of places.

“As of right now we are pulling from Elmira Heights, we are pulling from Horseheads and we have a couple of Corning kids too that come over and swim for us,” Ess said. “I love to see what they’ve already been taught, maybe in another reprogram, and come to us and they swim for us and we teach them and they host likely will head off into their high school team. It’s super rewarding to see the improvement in their times.”

Over the past 50 years many club teams in every sport have come and gone. Ess knows the support from the Elmira School District, and the job done by the board of directors has allowed the Sailfish to last for a half century.

“It is exciting to know that the Elmira City School District has supported us all along with giving us the pool to swim at and working on our schedules and giving us a facility, and being able to promote is as a feeder program for our varsity teams” Ess said. “It’s great, it really is. Also, the idea that you might not swim for our school team but your being active and swimming.

“I think we have established ourselves as a good program. Our board of directors is a strong program for helping out and recruiting and keeping our finances down as much as we can. People come to our program and we hear good things about our program after they move on. But, the general idea is it’s great to pull from all different school districts and be able to go to a meet as a team as the Chemung Sailfish.”

Not only does Elmira give the Sailfish a pool to swim at, it’s a facility that’s undergone upgrades and is among the best facilities in the area.

What it allows us to do is we were hosting meets as a league pretty often,” Ess said. “But, now I can advertise to the league it’s even ab better facility with the lights and the sound systems and everything that’s there for the facility is great for spectators.

“We are hosting sometimes one or two meets per year as part of our league meet and that’s a great thing for the facility because it’s top notch.”

Having the Sailfish program also has helped the Elmira Express swim programs as the kids have gained good experience with the Sailfish before joining the school teams.

“That’s huge to be able to take a Sailfish kid and be able to move him up to modified for one year, at the most two years, then pull him up to varsity with already some knowledge and skills of basic technique,” Ess said. “Those kids are already setting goals for themselves and that’s different then having a new swimmer come in to the pool and have to teach the basics. These kids already know the basics and we are just working on fine tuning their technique and strokes and making their ties better.

“Being the head coach of the varsity team we have expectations for our modified coach and currently our assistant coach is also helping us with the Chemung Sailfish, so seeing two of our five coaches already on deck for the Chemung Sailfish is a huge part for the kids to keep going with swimming.”

What’s incredibly special for Ess is watching kids go from the Sailfish as kids all the way through high school and into college.

“It’s great to see their scores at college, see their times and know they re competing at a D3/D2 level and to say they are Chemung Sailfish swimmers is awesome,” Ess said.

The Sailfish have been a part of the community for a half of century and Ess is excited to see what can happen for the next half century.

“We continue to promote Sailfish and say what a great program it is to get kids to keep coming and I see good things happening,” Ess said. “More and more kids every year are qualifying for silvers and golds and those meets are meaningful and that’s where they can showcase what they have and their ability to the rest of the state. It’s awesome to see and I think more and more kids are going to accomplish those goals too.”

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