OCBP Alumni Of The Week, Matt McGinnis, A Late Start With Long Lasting Results

OCBP Alumni Of The Week, Matt McGinnis, A Late Start With Long Lasting Results
Matt McGinnis is pictured with some youngsters who completed the junior beach patrol program he helped create in the late-1990s. Submitted Photo

(Editor’s Note: The following is a series on the men and women who have spent their summers protecting all those who came to Ocean City for fun and safe vacation.)

OCEAN CITY — Matt McGinnis was not a local Maryland guy but did become one.

“My dad was a successful businessman and we moved quite a bit,” McGinnis said. “I was born in Chicago, raised between Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Ohio.”

And yet his family did end up vacationing in Ocean City where, as a kid, Matt always looked up to the guards on the beach. Matt ended up attending Salisbury University where he became friends with several beach patrol members, including Brent Weingard and Wes Smith. “They both encouraged me to try out in the summer of 1994. I already had a pool guarding job lined up for the summer but I said what the heck and went for it,” he recalled.

Matt passed the test in late June and was looking forward to starting rookie school when an unexpected opportunity came his way. He said, “It was Sergeant Ward Kovacs who told me there were not enough participants to conduct a training academy. So he proceeded to offer me a different job, Surf Beach Facilitator (a guard who oversees the designated surfing beaches as they move from day to day).  He said it would be a great head start for the following summer. I took the job and I had a blast. I got to meet a ton of guards and was able to get a head start on learning semaphore and other lifeguarding protocols.”

He learned his job well and was rewarded the next summer with his own stand on 60th Street. It was on this street that his first bonafide rescue took place.

“It was my first real emergency experience when a female swimmer at 60th Street got pulled way offshore due to the west winds that day,” Matt recalled. “I remember that Sergeant Smith was at my stand talking with me. We both tried to get her attention, but she just kept looking east. Sergeant Smith told me to go as he ran down to 58th Street to get our crew’s paddle board. I recall finally getting out to her and she immediately lunged for me. Just like what they talk about in training. She was holding the buoy line and kept grabbing for me. I blew three whistles and proceeded to put her in a cross-chest hold in order to swim her in. The next thing I knew, Sergeant Smith was there with the paddle board. We couldn’t get her on the board because she was in such shock. I had to cross-chest carry her in while holding the paddleboard. When we got her to shallow water, she grabbed Sergeant Smith so tight and would not let go. We had to sit with her and the paramedics until she finally let go.”

For nine summers, Matt rose through the ranks of the Ocean City Beach Patrol, from guard to crew chief and finally to sergeant. It was then that Matt got his chance to leave his mark on the OCBP.

“During my first year as a sergeant, Captain Arbin asked me to create and implement a junior lifeguard program,” he said. “My goal was to show young people a day in the life of a beach guard and to possibly encourage and inspire them to one day take the test and join our awesome organization.  For that first summer in 1998, we held two weeks of junior beach patrol camp at 130th Street. We taught the campers everything from life-saving skills, to semaphore, and what it means to work together and be great teammates. After that first summer, we had three junior guards test and make the patrol.  We also won an award from the State of Maryland Parks and Recreation Department for our new and innovative program.”

Matt’s experience on Beach Patrol transformed him.

“OCBP meant everything to me. It allowed me to make lifelong friends. It gave me mentors and it gave me life lessons that I will never forget,” he said.

Matt lives in Salisbury with his wife, step son and their two chocolate labs. He is currently the Director of Athletics at the Worcester Preparatory School in Berlin.