The piece below is from veteran Bellport Village lifeguard Matt Horsley, on behalf of the village’s seven lifeguards.
The End of an Era
Why the lifeguards suddenly left the place they loved
We the lifeguards wanted to take a moment to apologize to the patrons of Ho-Hum beach for leaving the beach unguarded, and shed a little light behind our sudden exodus from the place we all grew up, worked at and deeply loved.
To start, six of the seven lifeguards were Bellport High School graduates who frequented the beach long before they became lifeguards and chose to dedicate themselves to the job because of the love for the ocean they developed there. We were never the highest-paid or properly equipped lifeguards on the island, however there were many other factors that made this beach a wonderful place to work.
We knew the community, their abilities in the water making the beach probably the safest on the island. Watching generations of kids grow up perched from our tower as we protected them was a very good feeling. It was a relaxed family-friendly atmosphere where our judgment was valued.
However in the last few years, a rapid erosion began of all that made Ho-Hum unique.
Gone was the respect of our positions and knowledge, and the courtesy of communication. We would see administration come to the beach, look around and leave without ever saying a word to us, only to be called soon after seeking justification to why we were operating a certain way. This justification became a background noise to our workday, demonstrating a consistent disconnect and distrust of our rolls.
Even with a perfect safety record for as long as I [Matt Horsley] and head lifeguard Greg D’Antoni have worked for the last 17 seasons, we were cut out of any decisions regarding the procedures of our job. The safety of the beach was taken out of the hands of experts and placed into those who rarely even attended the beach and do not have any experience as lifeguards. Most decisions that were made we would either find out accidentally through word of mouth, or by luckily catching it in the paper you are now reading. No changes would be explained to us directly or supported with logic as to how those decisions were reached.
With the new pavilion being built we were constantly reminded how we were not allowed to use it to seek refuge from the sun when it was complete. Instead we would be given pop-up tents to shelter us even though we explained how they do not last in the salt and sand.
Not to mention we are the only lifeguards on Long Island without a proper shelter. Amenities such as sunscreen, chairs to sit and umbrellas to seek shade we purchased ourselves. We have had no place to store our gear, working with antiquated equipment that we often self-repair instead of replace.
While the loyal beach goers continued to put smiles on our faces, the unprofessional manner under which we worked had become overwhelming. Towards the end of last season we voiced our concerns and let them know that the beach was becoming a miserable place for us to work.
While we did finally get a raise this summer — after a 14-year hiatus —our work condition requests were not only ignored, but they continued to degrade.
We all would gladly give the raises back to be treated professionally and with respect.
On Friday, when we again voiced our concerns, we were told as a side note that we would have another amenity stripped away. Our families had now become completely forbidden from the beach as explained to us by the village clerk in the morning and reiterated by Mayor Fell on our final ride home.
This fact (among others) was falsely spun in a recent letter sent out to village residents, which claimed that only our children were not allowed if there was no other adult supervision.
While this absurd attempt to control where our families could go was not the cause of us to abandon our cherished post, it was certainly the straw in a long line of employee mistreatment that broke the camels back. We are not the first to leave because of the administration’s poor management polices, and we probably won’t be the last. If you know us, and most of you do, you will realize that to make all seven of us suddenly leave, it must have been for good reason.
Ho-Hum was much more than just a place we worked. I would even risk saying that few knew that particular strip of shoreline better than we who have dedicated our summers to protecting those who visit it. Collectively we have over 80 years of lifeguarding experience and over 60 years of experience at Ho Hum.
We deeply regret that it came to this decision; hopefully the village will repair its practices so that the next line of lifeguards are treated properly at this special beach.
Matt Horsley is a 20-year Bellport Village employee and been a village lifeguard for 16 years.
Photo: Bellport lifeguards (L-R) Matt Horsley, John Knapp, Z (Alex) Czarniecki, Greg D’Antoni, Kevin Edwards, Grace Healy. Not pictured is Tom Gassner. (Courtesy of Matt Horsley)