BRIGHTON — They came from college and post-college. They came from high school and middle school.
But they all came for one purpose: To pay tribute to a beloved mentor and have a little fun.
The event was a “Tribute to Tim,” in honor of former Brighton swim coach Tim McInnes, who died suddenly in September.
“It’s a sad reason to come together,” 2011 Brighton grad Brandon Schultz said. “But it’s amazing to see all of these people again. When you go to college, you lose a lot of the connections, but it’s a special night to see everyone once again, a special night to see one another and talk to one another.”
McInnis worked for the Brighton school district for decades, providing guidance in and out of the pool.
“He never coached me,” said Danielle Gray, who graduated in 1999 and later swam at Oakland University. “But I worked for him as a lifeguard and that’s a big part of what he did here. He taught me how to drive the stick shift of my car during lunch hours when I was lifeguarding. He was always saying, ‘Shift smooth, shift smooth.'”
And, she was asked, does she shift smooth these days?
“Well, now I have an automatic,” she said, laughing. “But at the time? Oh yeah.”
Dozens of Brighton swimmers, past and present, wore everything from competition swimsuits to board shorts while competing in various races, many of them one length of the pool.
“I got tired out during the warmup, but I’m not giving up yet,” Schultz joked. “We’re going at it. I want to beat some people. I don’t want to be last. I know I’m not nearly as good as I was in high school, but I’m trying, for sure.”
In between races, swimmers milled on the deck while parents sat in the stands of the Brighton pool, which opened last year.
“This is the first time I’ve seen it,” alum Daniel Halling said. “I’m kind of jealous.”
Among those competing in the ostensibly fun swims was Taylor Seaman, who was less than a week away from setting two state records in the Division 1 state meet last weekk.
“He was the first coach to every push me to be better,” Seaman said. “Before that, coaches would say, ‘You’re doing great. You’re doing great.’ But Tim would say, once he started coaching me, ‘You’re doing great, but you can do better, and this is what you can do to improve.’ And I really loved having him as a coach, because he would always push me to be my best and do my best.”
McInnis had retired earlier this year after assisting girls coach Jason Black for most of the last decade while also coaching the Brighton boys team.
“It wasn’t just him being here and everything,” said Black, who took over as the boys coach this year. “He was present all of the time. It wasn’t just coaching. It’s whatever you needed from him, he would do. If I needed time off to be away, he was always here.”
But, Halling said, McInnis’ influence on him was profound.
“Swimming kind of seeped into your whole life,” he said. “You were dedicated, you were always there and you always did your best.”
Wednesday’s event was as much a reunion as a memorial for the young men and women who came through the Brighton program.
“I feel like everyone here was so largely impacted by Tim,” Seaman said. “It’s great for everyone to celebrate him and what he’s done for everyone in the community.
“It’s really fun,” she said of the swimming. “A friend of mine were saying, ‘Why is this even timed? It’s just for fun.'”
Fun, for sure, but also there was the spirit of competition which, over the decades McInnis was involved in the Brighton swim program, built it to where it is today, with swimmers like Seaman and Gray moving on to the college level.
Asked how her swims went, Gray joked, “Oh, I got spanked, b ut that’s OK. Those girls went after it.
“I told them to be kind,” she said, smiling,” but they weren’t. But that’s awesome I wanted to see that.”
One suspects that Tim McInnis would have, too.