Stepping out of the Pool after 48 years: East Boston Swim Coach Dave Arinella Hangs Up his Whistle

Special to the Times-Free Press

Graduation season marks a milestone in young lives as they complete their twelve years of mandatory education and embark on the next phase of their lives—but it also marks the end of some professional careers for teachers and staff who have completed long tenures of commitment to the educational process.

For East Boston High swimming coach Dave Arinella, the end of the school year puts the final punctuation mark on his 48 years as a high school swimming coach.  Although the swim season ended in March for the youthful coach, the end of the 2023-2024 school year accentuates the closure.

A recent inductee to the Massachusetts Swim Coaches Hall of Fame, Arinella earned Boston Public Schools Swim Coach of the Year honors in his final season.  The list of people to whom he is grateful for his success is a long one, but some names come quickly to his mind.

“I have a lot of people to thank for my 48 years of swim coaching,” he said.  “(East Boston High School) Headmaster Phil Brangiforte showed so much confidence in me, and that is so important to the program.  Athletic Director Mike Smith is very involved in our program, he has helped in so many areas.  Former Headmaster John Poto, who  hired me as coach back in 1976, believed in me when he didn’t have any past performances to go by.”

And Arinella doesn’t overlook the people who provided the venue for the Jets successful swim program—the kind of program that is not often associated with an older, urban school. “The staff at Paris Street pool which includes  many former Eastie AquaJet  swimmers.  They have treated us with so much respect.”

But it is the athletes who made coaching an exercise of sheer joy that Arinella will never forget:  “Last but not least are the hundreds of competitive swimmers throughout the past 48 years who have made me and East Boston HS look so good.”

No matter the swimmer’s talent, everyone in the pool heard Arinella’s shrieking whistle and his animated shouts from the side of the pool as he urged every  swimmer to get the most out of every stroke.

It’s been a lifetime in the pool for Arinella.  “I started swimming on a team basis when I was in Middle school.  I swam at the Charlestown YMCA in City Square.  We had a small team that used to have intrasquad meets.  I continued doing this right through high school because East Boston HS did not have a swim team back when I went to high school from 1967 to 1970.”

His long career evokes countless memories, but he counts two special ones:  “My favorite memories of the East Boston HS swim team were the sportsmanship awards that we won in 2005 and 2015.  I showed that our swimmers were respected around the league,” he said.

Arinella recalled the many swimmers who excelled and qualified for the State Sectionals and the State Championship.  “Namely, Ramy Laribi who was the fastest swimmer in the history of east Boston HS swimming.  He holds two records and could have easily broken all of the individual event records,” Arinella said.

But the coach holds a special place in his heart for the student-athletes who came out for the swim team without dreams of school records or individual championships, the ones who needed the encouragement, discipline, and teaching that he was always ready to give:  “As a coach it has been so satisfying to see so many swimmers drop seconds, even minutes, off of their personal best times.  It shows that our program is working.”

Arinella has seen tremendous change in the sport over his nearly half-century of coaching. “Swimming has evolved into a highly technical sport,” he said, and then explained.  “By that I mean, there are so many different nuances that have become important.  Catch, streamline, undulation, kick, starts, turns, pull and rhythmic breathing are all part of the bigger picture more now than ever.”

While the nuances are important, Arinella preaches the basic premise of getting into the pool.  “I have always said that parents should get their children into the pool.”

And he does not advocate learning to swim just for athletic achievement.  “There is no correlation to how early a child gets into the pool as it relates to how good a swimmer they will be,”  he said, then added:  “However, there is a correlation to how swimmers do so well in other endeavors because they have the ability to understand hard work like they do in the pool.”

Future East Boston swimmers will be blessed to have a coach who devotes the time, energy, and enthusiasm that Dave Arinella exhibited for the past 48 years.  Those hundreds of swimmers who experienced Arinella’s instruction and supervision during his career were a chosen few who learned swimming and life lessons from a legend.

And, while he won’t be calling all the shots for East Boston High School swimming in the future, Dave Arinella won’t be far away when help  is needed.  “I will be always be around for anything that the East Boston High Swim Team needs, short of actually returning to coaching.” 

With his experience and knowledge of the sport, that’s a pretty good offer.

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