Jock Talk: SF Tsunami celebrates 25th anniversary

  • by Roger Brigham
  • Wednesday November 9, 2011
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Neil Hart, far left, joined his fellow SF Tsunami members<br>in front of the Walgreens window display. (Photo: Courtesy SF Tsunami)
Neil Hart, far left, joined his fellow SF Tsunami members
in front of the Walgreens window display. (Photo: Courtesy SF Tsunami)

It was 1986, four years after the first Gay Games in San Francisco, when Neil Hart answered an ad in the Bay Area Reporter to join a swim team that was being formed to compete in Gay Games II that year.

"I had never been successful at team sports as a kid " your typical marginalized story," Hart recalled. "I had never swum on a team or competitively before. I was swimming on my own at a North Beach pool for physical therapy. I realized I had stamina and could swim a mile, so I thought it was something I might like to try."

Despite some nervous trepidation, Hart was dropped off at the pool at Carroll and Third streets with a promise to be picked up 90 minutes later.

He's never really left.

"I met a wonderful man walking into practice, Tim Elliott," Hart said. "We both had served in the Peace Corps in different parts of the world and had never swum on a team before. We hit it off and became great friends. After the Gay Games ended Tim wanted the energy of the games to continue and pushed for the formation of a permanent swim team."

And thus, San Francisco Tsunami was born. The club celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, with festivities in Burlingame in September and having a team window display at the Walgreens on Castro Street in October.

The club has grown to more than 140 members, about one-sixth of them women.

"To accommodate the desire for more practices, our schedule has expanded into evening and morning swims at two public pools: Hamilton and King pools," Hart said. "We have a head coach [Matt Sorlien] and a coaching staff of nine. We also have a synchronized swim team, and Tsunami Water Polo spun off years ago and has its own board of directors."

As is the case with many LGBT sports organizations, the true legacy of Tsunami is the sports opportunity it has provided for those who otherwise would likely never have taken up sports at all.

"I really had no sports background before Tsunami," said Hart, who declined to give his age. "I learned to ski and that was a major individual achievement. Learning to swim was another major individual achievement. I was always marginalized growing up with respect to team sports " softball, touch football, stick ball were traumatic as a child. It was therefore exhilarating and life changing in 1986 to be receiving from SF Arts and Athletics letters addressed to, 'Dear Athlete' in response to my swimming in Gay Games II. I kept wondering, 'Who me, an athlete?'

"Tsunami is LGBT- and straight-friendly. I know for me I would not be swimming on a team if Tsunami did not exist, nor would I be participating in swim meets."

Some individuals come and go, but the poolside community remains the same.

"Sometimes the lane I swim in feels like Grand Hotel," Hart said. "I have watched the swimmers come and go over the years. Nevertheless, I believe the camaraderie of the team has had a lasting impact on everyone who has swum with us."

Like many of the Tsunami members, Hart plans to compete in Gay Games IX in Cleveland in 2014.

"I have swum in every Gay Games since 1986," he said. "After Tim died in 1990, I went to Vancouver with his memory. And after Vancouver when another close friend died, I kept on returning to the Gay Games every four years."

More immediately on the horizon is the next International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics championship. This year's was in Hawaii; the next championship is May 29-June 2 in Iceland.

For more information about SF Tsunami, visit

Ex-Penn State coach accused of sex abuse

Former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged Saturday, November 5 with 40 sex offenses with boys dating back to 1994. Additionally, Gary Schultz, the university's senior vice president for finance and business, and Tim Curley, the school's athletic director, were charged with lying about the incident reports and failing to report to law enforcement what they knew about the allegations.

Sandusky, 67, is free on $100,000 bail. Curley was put on leave and Schultz stepped down following the indictments.

A grand jury investigation that took nearly three years resulted in 21 felony and 19 misdemeanor charges for incidents involving eight young teen and pre-teen boys Sandusky had contact with through a statewide at-risk youth program, the Second Mile, he founded in 1977. The investigation discovered allegations had been previously raised against Sandusky in 1998 but no prosecution resulted at that time.

Sandusky has denied the allegations, which are said to have included anal and oral sexual encounters in the Penn State locker room showers and groping and touching on car trips and sleepovers. The boys were said to have been given trips to bowl games and one of them received "clothes, a snowboard, Nike shoes, golf clubs, ice hockey equipment and lessons, passes for various sporting events, football jerseys, and registration for soccer camp," according to the grand jury.

The grand jury findings are available at

The fact that numerous reports had been made with no corrective action taken shows an appalling failure to protect the vulnerable that youth sports programs are designed to benefit. The best that can be said of university officials to whom reports were initially made was that they did not ask the questions that needed to be asked, whether they did not want the inconvenience of an investigation or the notoriety of allegations. Regardless of how the criminal charges play out, the story is a shocker on all levels.