When Brewster High School sophomore Oscar Gonzalez drowned over Labor Day weekend, his death hit the community hard. A vigil was held in his honor at Electrazone Field just days later and, as the school year draws to a close, his soccer teammates continue to wear Brewster soccer t-shirts with “Oscar G” and his number on the back. But perhaps the most important thing that has been done to honor the beloved student is the start of the Oscar Gonzalez Safe Swim and scholarship.
The Safe Swim and scholarship were started by Jack and Debbie Duncan. Debbie, a teacher’s aide at Henry H. Wells Middle School, knew Gonzalez when he was a student there. She and her husband Jack, president of the Brewster Lions Club, joined forces with Wings Over Water School of Swimming. In February, Wings Over Water held its first Oscar Gonzalez Safe Swim, teaching local students vital skills. Through the help of the Brewster Lions Club and the generosity of the Brewster community, disadvantaged students were able to take part in the swim as well.
“A lot of people, adults included, don’t know how to swim,” said Edie Flood, who co-owns the swimming school with her daughter, Therese Alden. “It’s a life-saving skill.”
The school district recently honored the swimming school with a Brewster Appreciation Award in recognition of its generosity and dedication to the students of Brewster schools.
Superintendent Dr. Valerie Henning-Piedmonte, Athletic Director Dean Berardo, Brewster High School Principal Nichole Horler, Board member Kristin Cacal, soccer coach Scott Potusek and Gonzalez’s teammates Joshua Lowe, Daniel Giron, Jordy Cerrato, and Aidan Rivadeneira visited the swim school last week.
“We can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done to help some of our students,” Dr. Henning-Piedmonte said. “This team bore a lot of deep pain as a result of Oscar’s death and yet they’ve done something remarkable by keeping his memory alive. This is one of the examples of that. The partnership with the Brewster Lions and Therese and Edie is an extension of all of the wonderful things that have happened as a result of Oscar’s untimely death.”
Henning-Piedmonte went on to say that when she was in high school, she almost lost a childhood friend to drowning.
“I was terrified of the water from that point forward,” she said. “It took me a long time to get over that fear and take lessons so that I could be safe. So I really appreciate and honor what you’re doing to continue to make sure that our students are safe and that they don’t have that fear follow them into their adult life.”
“Once you get over that fear,” Flood pointed out, “there is so much more on the other side.”
Coach Potusek noted that one of his sixth-grade students has been enjoying the benefits of the Safe Swim program.
“She’s so excited about the opportunity to learn how to swim,” Potusek said. “You can see how it has come full circle, the opportunity for them to receive these important skills.”
For Gonzalez’s teammates and those who knew him, the Safe Swim scholarship and program helps to create something positive out of a truly heartbreaking situation.
“We had a tragedy and something really tremendous — a living legacy — is going to come out of it,” said Berardo. “That’s a really good thing for now and for students in the future.”
Registration for summer sessions at Wings Over Water begins on May 28.