There may be no more comfortable place in the world for Eric Delmonte than a pool deck.
A senior at Deering High, Delmonte finds comfort and companionship near the swimming pool, bantering with people who understand the trials and tribulations of those who churn out endless laps in an effort to shave fractions of seconds.
“A lot of my really close friends, I all know from swimming,” said Delmonte, a self-described introvert who, about 10 years ago, ran into the locker room to hide because a coach had orchestrated a group sing-a-long of “Happy Birthday.”
“I didn’t like having people look at me,” he said. “When I was younger, I was actually really shy.”
This winter, plenty of swimmers found themselves looking at Delmonte, usually after they reached the wall and found him already there, checking the clock or offering a congratulatory handshake. He won the Class A 200-yard individual medley – the truest test of an all-around swimmer because it incorporates all four strokes – in a time of 1 minute, 54.58 seconds. Nobody else in the state broke 1:57.
He also set a state record of 57.61 seconds in the 100 breast stroke. Until Scarborough’s Jerry Gravel broke it last winter, the breast stroke mark had stood since 1991.
Delmonte is the Maine Sunday Telegram Performer of the Year for boys’ swimming and diving.
“Eric was one of those kids who was always working hard,” said first-year Deering coach Sarah Rubin. “He did every yard I gave him in practice, he never doubted anything we did, he would never be on the wall hanging out.”
A wallflower no more, Delmonte emerged as a true team leader, both athletically and socially.
“He would be our DJ,” Rubin said. “He’d ask if we can have the music on and then be pumping jams during all of our practices.”
Because Rubin works at Gorham Middle School, Delmonte served as the team’s pack mule, toting everything from paperwork to bathing caps from the Deering High athletic office to practice at Riverton Pool. After practice, not only would he return everything to the school, he also would drive home many of his younger teammates with working parents.
“I know what it’s like to not have rides,” he said. “I didn’t want to make anyone feel awkward and have to wait there because no one was available to pick them up.”
Delmonte started swimming by tagging along with his older brother, Corey, now 22. Their mom, Jennifer, swam for Bangor High and wanted her children to learn. She volunteered with a local club, the Portland Porpoises, so when Eric was 5 he joined the older kids and eventually moved up to his mom’s group.
His club coach for the last six years has been Matt Baxter, who spoke of Delmonte overcoming a case of mono last winter and blossoming into an outstanding talent. Not that Delmonte would boast of his accomplishments.
“He never talks about it,” Baxter said. “It’s beyond humble.”
Delmonte continues to swim for the Porpoises, and in the fall will embark on a collegiate career at Virginia Tech. He also visited the University of Connecticut and the University of Texas.
Delmonte said he earns mostly A’s and B’s. He plans to study “some kind of science” in college.
Swimming is his only sport, and takes up much of his time.
“I’m not very coordinated on land,” he admitted. “I usually just hang out with my friends and usually we go out to eat. Because most of my friends are swimmers, we’re constantly hungry.”
His club swimming season continues with a state meet next week in Brunswick and an eastern sectional the following weekend in Ithaca, N.Y. The end of his high school career leaves Deering without not only a standout swimmer but an impressive leader.
“He loved working with the newer kids, teaching them turns or starts,” Rubin said. “He never complained. He was just doing it for the love of the sport.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: