August 11, 2021

Highlighting a Venerable Summer Tradition in Princeton, CP Bluefish Swim Program Celebrates 50th Anniversary

SENSE OF COMMUNITY: Elise Ambra, 7, right, and her teammates get ready to compete in a meet this summer for the Community Park Bluefish swim team. The Bluefish program, which has become a venerable summer tradition in town, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. (Photo by Samein Prieste, provided courtesy of CP Bluefish)

By Bill Alden

For Nina Rossi, joining the Community Park Bluefish swim team as an 11-year-old ended up changing the course of her life in and out of the pool.

In the water, Rossi went on to become one of the greatest swimmers in Princeton High history, getting named as the outstanding girl performer at the Mercer County championship meet all four years of her career. As a senior in 2006, Rossi set the state record in the 100 butterfly and held school records in the 200 freestyle, 200 individual medley, 100 free, 100 fly, and 200 medley relay. She continued her swimming career at the University of Maryland, excelling in ACC competition.

Out of the water, her experience as a Bluefish coach helped lead her into education, as she became an elementary school teacher in Lanham, Md., and now serves as a testing coordinator in the Prince George’s County school system.

“It gave me something to do in the summer that was fun and relaxing,” said Rossi, 33, reflecting on her years with the Bluefish.

“The summer swimming is very similar to high school swimming where there is that team camaraderie and fun things to do with it. I was coaching and swimming towards the end. Coaching was great. I think it is a reason I wanted to be a teacher. I was like these kids are learning something, they are doing better. Their times are getting better. The Bluefish basically shaped where I am today.”

That formative experience led Rossi to return to Princeton on July 30 when the CP Bluefish celebrated the program’s 50th anniversary.

“It was great, the pool completely changed from the last year I coached here,” said Rossi.

“It was nice to see this huge change but it is still CP. You still have fun. I got to see a couple of old teammates and old coaches. It sparked my youth. I had two kids and ACL surgery all within three years of each other, I feel like I am a little broken. It just brings back your youth when you get to see the summer swimming again. I love it.”

Organizing the celebration of the milestone was a labor of love for current Bluefish head coach Mike Uchrin.

“When we realized it was our 50th season, we knew we had to do something,” said Uchrin, who is in his 11th season with program, having guided the team the last seven years and serving as an assistant the four previous years.

“We invited a number of past Bluefish to come out. It was great to see faces like Nina Rossi there. We had some living legends of Bluefish past. We had a lot of old, different relics of the past that we displayed. We had old banners that were signed by people that are now in their 30s. We had a number of newspaper articles going all the way back to the’70s.”

The current Bluefish swimmers enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

“The kids were checking out the displays and some old pictures,” said Uchrin “Many of the kids were asking about names that they have seen on the record boards.”

In Uchrin’s view, kids have been drawn to the Bluefish over the years due to three hallmarks of the program.

“It is the focus on having fun, being so inclusive, and just being part of this community,” said Uchrin “It is really those three things. These kids come out, they know they are going to be able to join their friends regardless of what ability they are, whether they are a club swimmer or a rec swimmer. This is a place they know they can come together and have fun and get a little bit better.”

Having fun with the Bluefish has encouraged others, besides Rossi, to reach a higher level of swimming.

“I met a woman at the 50-year event who came up to me and she was excited to be there because the Bluefish ended up launching her to have a successful collegiate swimming career,” said Uchrin.

“She said she would never have done swimming if it weren’t for the Bluefish.”

The excitement surrounding the program has led it to become a staple of summer life in town.

“Looking back at 50 years of newspaper articles over the last couple of months, you see how a big part of summer in Princeton it is to be a part of the CP swim team,” said Uchrin.

“It is the same thing as going to the beach or having a barbecue. It is inclusive of the community and shows how much people have embraced it. I think it is one of the major points to speak to the success the program has had over the years.”

Uchrin, for his part, is glad to have had a role in that success.

“I am so grateful to be part of this and along for the ride and be just a small part of these 50 years,” said Uchrin.

“I see where the program is now and how much it has been embraced by the community, the direction that we are going and the fun that we are having. It has been great to be a part of that ride as we have gone through the years. I am hoping to keep the fun going into future summers.”

Based on her experience, Rossi is confident that many others will want to come along for the ride with the Bluefish.

“I think everyone wants to join it,” said Rossi, noting that there are 220 swimmers on this year’s team.

“It is something that people want to be part of and everyone wants to see.”