By Michele J. Kuhn
FAIR HAVEN – Go Connor! Go! We’re proud of you.
That was the message hundreds of borough residents were sending Connor Jaeger as they gathered to cheer first his preliminary race and then the Olympic finals of the 1500 meter freestyle in London.
Jaeger, a borough native, finished in sixth place in the 1500 meter freestyle as his friends, neighbors, former classmates and residents who didn’t know him personally, packed the auditorium Saturday, Aug. 4, at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School for the final. Another 60 cheered for him at the Knights of Columbus hall, the second day that venue hosted a Jaeger viewing party. A large crowd had gathered at the Fair Haven Road hall to watch him swim in his preliminary race shortly before 6 a.m. Friday.
“He’s sixth in the world,” marveled Charlie Hoffmann, the borough’s director of recreation who helped to quickly arrange the gathering Friday and Saturday. “Think about that, sixth in the world!
“This was a celebration of his accomplishments,” Hoffmann said. “We were sending good energy across the pond.”
The mayor and borough council are making plans to celebrate Jaeger’s accomplishments when he returns home.
Jaeger, 21, a graduate of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional who is an engineering major at the University of Michigan, is definitely a favorite son of the borough and the excitement over his success at the Olympics spread quickly throughout Fair Haven.
The crowd waved flags and cheered for Jaeger. Occasional chants of “U.S.A! U.S.A!” and “Go Connor!” erupted as he swam the distance race for only the seventh time competitively. He finished with the time of 14:52.99.
As Frank Aurichio, T.K. Smith and Mike Warshauer, all 20 and former classmates of Jaeger’s, walked out of the high school following the race, they were obviously proud of what Jaeger had done. “It’s much cooler than anything we’ve done today,” Aurichio said.
“It was also cool to see the community come out and support him. The town really came together. It was fun,” he said.
Even though the race was in London, Warshauer said the Fair Haven viewing party made it “feel like you were really experiencing it… it was like you were there.”
Smith, who was wearing a USA basketball jersey and clutching one of the small American flags given out at the high school, called Jaeger “a great kid, a hardworking great kid who deserves all this.”
“It was a great neighborhood event,” said John McCormack who brought his 4-year-old son, Declan, to the high school. “We don’t know Connor but we got caught up in the excitement. My wife and other son went to the Knights of Columbus (Friday) morning…We just wanted to come and support him.”
“It was a chance of a lifetime to see Connor come in sixth,” said Fair Haven resident Liz DeBeer. “As another parent said, it gives every kid in town the inspiration to follow their passion… No matter where he placed in the race today, we were proud of him.”
Technology definitely had a huge place in the watching of the XXX Olympics. One of DeBeer’s daughters couldn’t attend the viewing party and watched the live stream using her cellphone. During the race, many residents were texting and sending photos to those weren’t there. The races were seen by Fair Haven residents in real time via live streaming.
“It was awesome. Such energy and excitement,” said Fair Haven Councilwoman Susan Sorensen. “It was also great to have this happening during (Fair Haven’s) centennial year. It’s been a phenomenal year. This adds to it.”
The recreation department’s Hoffmann helped put Friday and Saturday’s events together. “It was Kathleen Walsh’s brainchild. She said, ‘Let’s do something,’” he said.
Members of the Knights of Columbus got onboard quickly and were at the hall at 3 a.m. Friday to ensure that everything would be set up for Jaeger’s preliminary race. When Jaeger’s place in the finals was assured, the idea to have a second viewing party “got real popular, real fast,” Sorenson said.
Because organizers believed the Knights of Columbus hall not large enough to handle what was expected to be a big crowd on Saturday, the board of education got involved. Emails were sent to residents and by 2 p.m., after several hours of a “full-court press,” the first of hundreds of people arrived at the high school, Sorenson said.
“It was awesome.”