Harveys Lake History

The Championship Lake Swimmers

A Wilkes-Barre Record photo from August 19, 1926 showing the Northeast PA YMCA championship swim team. Clarence Obitz is standing 4th from the left. In 1926, Obitz was unbeaten for four years in the 50 and 100 freestyle events. He would later coach the Lake teams.

The 1937 Season

In early June 1937 the aquatic season at the Lake had an early start with a three day life-saving seminar at the YWCA’s Blue Triangle Lodge headed by Bob Zubrod.  The Wyoming Valley Swimming Association also was accredited by the AAU with the first of several area swim events scheduled for the Lake on the Sunday afternoon of July 4.

The President’s Cup winners were eagerly followed.  About 1,000 people attended the holiday event at the Picnic Grounds.  Charles Stitzer won the 100 yard and 220 yard free-style events.  Campbell won the 100 yard backstroke and Elwood Davis won the 440 yard free-style event (usually Campbell’s specialty).  Robert (Bob) Jackson was a strong contender finishing third in the 220 yard event and second in the 440 free.

During the 1937 Summer, Jim Campbell, Irving Roe and Elwood Davis were the leading long-distance swimmers in the Valley and winning the “team” trophy at a July 18 AAU meet at Fall River, Massachusetts.  Davis finished fifth in a field which included thirty of the East’s best swimmers, ahead of his teammates Roe and Campbell.  But later the two were beaten by a Scranton team at Newton Lake.  In late July a WPA swim meet was held at Sandy Beach with Bob Jackson, the winner of the 880 yard freestyle race.

On August 1, 1937, the trio of Roe, Jackson and Campbell won the Middle Atlantic and Open AAU swim team championship title at Lake Ariel.  Elinor Abbott placed third in the 2.5 mile women’s swim.  The individual first-place winner was Steve Wozniak, Buffalo, who would also compete at Harvey’s Lake.  Elwood Davis was unable to finish the race, but after a rest both he and Irving Roe rowed for Elinor Abbott as “safety boat” for her race.  A few days later Abbott took top honors in a womens’ quarter-mile AAU race at Lake Chapman.

On August 28, 1937, the thirteenth annual President’s Cup was scheduled on the Potomac in Washington, D.C.  The Lake tri was unable to compete.  Campbell had medical issues; Roe had college commitments; Stitzer and Davis had work issues (these were Depression years).  For 1937 the local team was Emory Check, Wilkes-Barre, and Harvey’s Lake swimmers Bob Jackson and Thomas E. Brislin with financial support from Lake businessmen.  The coach was WPA swim instructor Clarence “Slats” Obitz who was a championship freestyle swimmer for the Wilkes-Barre YMCA in the mid 1920s.  While new to long-distance swimming Check and Brislin were training regularly at the Lake and at the “Central Y” in Wilkes-Barre.  Its 50 yard pool was state of the art when it opened in 1934 (the pool was closed on December 30, 2008, as the YMCA has a new pool).

Interviewed in December 2008, at age 93, Bob Jackson recalled that Obitz drove the team in his car to Washington D.C.  When they arrived the Potomac River was in flood stage and the President’s Cup swim race was shifted to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (the canal is still in recreational use).  The Scranton YMCA won the three-mile swim team cup.  The individual first-place winner was Buffalo’s Steve Wozniak just beating the 1936 winner, Ohio’s State star Elwood Woodling.  Among the 56 entries, Jackson finished twentieth and Brislin twenty-second.  Check suffered cramps and could not complete the meet.  The canal was narrow, muddy and a challenge to the competitors.

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Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo