Bluefins and Piranhas – neighborhood swim teams from Valencia – celebrate 25 years of community and friendships
Piranhas are shy and easygoing. Bluefins are resilient and social. Bluefins and Piranhas, the neighborhood swim teams from Northbridge, Valencia, are simply fun.
Celebrating 25 years of community and friendship, the two friendly rivals — Northbridge Bluefins and Northbridge Point Piranhas — exemplify nurturing strong communal bonds, in and outside the pool. What started as an idea to merge sports and social skills has evolved into a tradition.
“It was a big deal,” says the founder Durinda Evanoff, who came up with the idea nearly 25 years ago. Her children were in elementary school, and she thought it met a need. “It promotes great leadership amongst the kids, camaraderie in the neighborhood and amongst the children. So, I was very excited that the board was willing to work with me to get the Piranhas swim team started.”
Both teams are registered as nonprofits. Registrations are usually open during spring for the upcoming season, and children from the Northbridge, Valencia, neighborhood are encouraged to apply to various age-specific classes, while sponsorships are welcome. Fundraisers and events are regularly planned during the season that ensure equal participation — hello pancake breakfasts.
What Evanoff started remained with her family, and continued beyond her then-neighbors. “Once a Piranha, always a Piranha,” she said, chuckling.
Rival Bluefin’s current president Mauricio Escobar is an IT professional at College of the Canyons. For him, swimming with the teams became a great opportunity to steer his two boys away from digital contacts to working in a group. “For me it’s a belief that the community is built upon by the relationships with your neighbors. And being in a community such as this, it really allows neighbors to help each other.”
Helping also means volunteering. Families are required to comit to volunteer for either team, distributing duties among themselves, and leading through example. For Escobar that also means reinforcing values that encourage the particpants to be “respectful and mindful of the fact that it’s a competition but it’s really about spending time and share a meal with our neighbors, and that’s hard to find.”
Children who learned to swim, and made friends, through Piranhas and Bluefins come back as mentors. One such child was Christina Fletcher. Now a 22-year-old first-grade teacher in Arizona, Fletcher was 5 when she started swimming with the Piranhas, and became a head coach.
“It was my first time ever really joining the team and being a part of the team. I played for them until I was about 15 and then I started playing other sports. I realized that I wasn’t getting the same community involvement I got with the Piranhas.”
That’s when she decided to go back and became an assistant coach. This year, Fletcher is debating if she’ll go back this summer as a head coach.
A Piranha mom and former president is Amy Alexander, whose daughter has been a Piranha for nine years. “I was a volunteer coordinator and then I went up to president because I knew that we needed to sustain the program. Someone needed to step up and continue the program and I wanted to make sure that it happened.”
For Alexander, one of the most fun events was boat races that happened at the last meet of the year. Parents from each team get a cardboard box full of the same items, without knowing what’s in it. They then have to build a boat and put somebody in the boat and make it across the pool.
“The boat races are very, very competitive. It’s Bluefins versus Puranas. And it’s who can build the boat that’s going to make it across the pool. All the kids get in the pool and they watch as the boat goes down and everybody’s cheering and you know you want your team to win.”
Evan Young is the Bluefins’ head coach. Now a 20-year-old at COC, he started swimming with the team at 7. “I see it coming full circle.”
Being a part of the teams from a young age, Young says, taught him many skills that would help him later in life. “Even as a coach, where I’m responsible for around 25 kids, has taught me how to be a team player.” What he values the most, he adds, is the continuation of the bonds beyond the neighborhood. “Multiple families check on me all the time, reach out to me for my birthdays. It has helped my relationship with many kids and their families.”
COVID-19 paused a lot of exciting things. The lockdowns presented unprecedented challenges to the board members and organizers, “you can’t do a lot of swimming over Zoom,” Escobar said, laughing.
“We missed all of 2020 … that entire season was cancelled. We used a reduced-meet environment where our coaches weren’t allowed to meet unless we were holding an event, and making sure that everyone understood what the new parameters were to abide by LA County’s rules.”
David Ginsburg, Piranha co-president, moved to the neighborhood in 2014. His family was on team Piranhas, until the pandemic shut everything down. It wasn’t until May 2021 when any group activity seemed possible again.
“That gave us perspective from the prior years. From not being able to do anything like this to being back or starting the process to get back to normal and to see everybody again and participate.”
The next season is almost here. It’s time to pick a team. With the pandemic-induced restrictions easing gradually, Bluefins and Piranhas are registering for ages 5 to 16 for swimmers whose parents are members of Valencia Northbridge HOA. The two websites detail the perks of registering, class schedule, and profiles of coaches and board members.
Rivals inside the water, Bluefins and Piranhas continue traditions of fostering bonds while making memories. All that in a community pool.