In the movie Finding Nemo, the character Dory is known for saying “Just keep swimming.” For the past half-century, the Wilton Y Wahoos have done just that. On Saturday, June 25, the Wahoos are hosting Wilton Wahoos: Half a Century of Swimming Excellencean event to commemorate 50 years of swimming excellence and achievements.

Founded in 1972, the Wahoos are named after the fastest game fish in the ocean. The name was suggested by one of the team’s earliest female swimmers who had just moved to Connecticut from Hawaii.

Initially, the Wahoos’ home base, the Wilton YMCA, only had a 25-yard pool, so the national team members needed to travel to New Haven to practice in a 50-meter pool. Today, the facility has three pools, including one under the bubble which comes off in the spring to allow swimmers to train outside.

Riverbrook Regional YMCA CEO Bob McDowell (L) and Wahoos Head Coach Todd Stevens (R) with former Wahoo and 2016 USA Paralympic Trials Finalist David Gelfand (photo: Wilton YMCA)

Multiple pools also made it possible to space out swimmers during the COVID restrictions over the past two years. “Having three pools allowed us to keep the kids safely in the water,” said Todd Stevens, Director of Competitive Aquatics and the Wahoos’ head coach.

The Wahoo program’s longevity and success are remarkable. “What sets our program apart is our history. For 50 years we have enriched competitive swimming for our athletes and have established a legacy of achievement. Many of the original teams from the 1970s are no longer around,” Stevens said. The team competes as a YMCA team as well as a USA Swimming team participating in meets organized by CT Swimming.

Wahoo swimmers have successfully competed both nationally and internationally. The team holds 34 national championships, the most of any YMCA competitive swimming program in the country. They have won more senior, age group, and regional championships that any other team in Connecticut. Some of the Wahoo’s notable achievements: a total of 25 Olympic Trial Qualifiers, including 1988 Silver medalist Janel Jorgensen; 2019 World University Games Gold Medalist Ky-lee Perry; 2016 USA Paralympic Trials Finalist David Gelfand; 2016 Rio Olympian for Antigua and Barbuda Noah Mascoll-Gomes; and 1999 Pan American Bronze Medalist Dan Shevchik.

Consistent coaching is integral in an athletic program. “We have a good reputation for keeping the coaching staff stable over time,” said Stevens, who has been head coach since 2019 and is only the sixth head coach in Wahoo’s history. Many families have multiple children who have swum with the Wahoos over the years.

“It’s wonderful to see the relationships between the coaches and the families develop. It’s really a community which builds to the greater community of our Y,” Jarred Barnes, the Y’s Chief Development Officer, noted.

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Stevens noted that while the geographical pull was more dramatic in the early 2000s than it is today, the Wahoos program still draws swimmers from 22 towns in Southwest Connecticut and Westchester County. “We’re going through a bit of a regrowth cycle right now,” Stevens said.

“With Todd’s leadership, as well as the other coaches, the Wahoos have a bright future,” Barnes added.

The anniversary celebration will include a friendly alumni swim meet, a fully catered Hawaiian-themed menu, raffles, and the induction of six swimmers and two former coaches into the Hall of Fame Class of 2022. Four members of the Class of 2017 — athletes who represented the Wahoos at the Olympic trials during their tenure — will also be honored. There also will be a memorabilia museum so people can look back over decades of history of Wahoo swimming. Special guests include Charlie Skovgaard, the first head coach of the Wahoos, as well as former coaches Chuck Warner and Tim Murphy.

Jorgenson, the Olympic Silver Medalist, will be the keynote speaker. She credits her time as a Wahoo as a pivotal influence during her formative years.

“There are a few defining things that happen in ones’ lifetime and being a Wahoo was one of those things for me. I know I would not be the same person I am today if I did not have the Y community supporting me at such a young age and I feel so fortunate to have made so many incredible lifelong friends over the years. I’m so excited to be able to celebrate the 50th Anniversary with dear friends and celebrate an institution that continues to improve lives of all ages,” she told GOOD Morning Wilton.

The Wilton Wahoos: Half a Century of Swimming Excellence will be held on Saturday, June 25 at the Wilton YMCA (404 Danbury Rd.). The swim meet starts at noon and happy hour, including a steel band, begins at 5 p.m.

For more information or to purchase tickets to the celebration, please visit the Wilton Wahoos Facebook group.