THE year is 1965. Robert Menzies the nation’s Prime Minister, the Essendon Football Club premiers, and a small boys school in Melbourne’s south-east has just triumphed, securing their first AGSV Swimming Premiership in emphatic fashion.
Mentone Grammar had landed themselves on the map.
A historic event for the school, yes, but no one could have predicted what was to follow. Little did anyone know that this achievement would spark an empire for Mentone in the pool- a culture of winning, a habit of success, and undeniably the birth of one of the fiercest rivalries of the modern era.
Indeed, 53 years have gone by since that day with times changing dramatically, but remaining are a few factors that are permanently embedded in our lives. Taxes? Potentially. Death? Probably. But Mentone and Ivanhoe going head-to-head at MSAC in mid-March? Certainly.
The MSAC lights, the booming echoes of the Mentone faithful in the stands, arm in arm as they cheer their compatriots home, the silence before the start, the roar of a win – it’s an environment that turns boys into men, it’s a platform in which you can become a school hero at any given moment, it’s the biggest stage of them all.
May I remind you of the 2017 championships, a fresh-faced and relatively unknown Ben Putamorsi nervously enters the arena, apprehensively walking onto pool deck for the first event of the night as an emergency fill in- the 100m freestyle.
The goal? Getting to the other end and back in the shortest time possible. If he beat anyone along the way? Even better.
That same man, a mere 56.43 seconds later, strutted out of the pool as a cult hero of Mentone Grammar, annihilating his PB of 1:01.5.
If you didn’t know him previously, you did now.
Swimmer or supporter, that’s the power swimming at Mentone Grammar has, that’s the bond that has fostered success, and that’s the culture that has seen this previously small boys school transform into a coeducational steam train in recent years.
And they don’t plan on slowing down.
Since 1965, only two schools have held the trophy aloft in the boy’s competition, with Mentone leading the head-to-head battle with 34 premierships to Ivanhoe’s 19.
Similarly in the girl’s competition, the same vehement rivalry is ever-present. After winning four consecutive premierships from 2010-2013, it was only the Mentone girls who could force an end Ivanhoe’s superior reign in the pool, incredibly proceeding to bring the next four girl’s titles home and stake their claim as the school to beat.
Since joining the school in 2006, the girls of Mentone Grammar endured years of struggle, but only recently have they resiliently found their feet and they are now starting to take AGSV competitions by storm, both in and out of the pool.
2018 appears no different on paper, with both Mentone and Ivanhoe once again vying for the two premierships that appear imminent for one (or both) of the powerhouse schools.
However, impossible is the task of separating the two and predicting a winner.
Although Mentone Grammar is home to over 1,500 students, the prospect of the void left by either premiership cup not returning to the hallowed 63 Venice St on the 16th of March is a daunting one.
The assignment for the boys made all the more difficult with captain and national swimming sensation, Ben Putamorsi, recently suffering his second ACL setback within 12 months.
However, in a situation where most would drop their heads and seek sympathy, the exciting athletic prospect is more determined than ever to play his role in keeping the engravers busy in 2018.
‘Obviously for me personally it’s been a struggle, but I’ve tried to put it behind me and focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t do’ he explained.
‘My focus is really on team and trying to benefit the environment and culture, especially with the younger ones – trying to explain to them what they’re a part of’.
Putamorsi proceeded to acknowledge the unity of the group,
‘With two separate premierships up for grabs it’s easy to get carried away thinking the boys and girls are different, but we train as one group and everyone supports each other and pushes their teammates to get the best out of themselves’.
In this sense, Putamorsi declared that either premiership would be a reward for the group, before reinforcing that the focus is still on bringing both trophies home.
‘As seen recently, we have won both the boys and the girls premierships four years in a row, so I think the link between how we go about it as one unit being reflected on the night is a crucial aspect’ he said.
‘I’d love to be out there swimming, AGSV night is what I live for and it’s the highlight of my year. This year will be a bit different but I’m still keen to play my role in securing the 5-peat. There’s no reason why I can’t enjoy it as much as previous years’ closed the inspirational captain, displaying his positive mindset that constantly counters his adversity.
Putamorsi will be supported by long-time friend and teammate, Jack Williams, as they aim to lead the boys to premiership glory.
For the girls, the star-studded and intimidating line-up will be headed by AGSV record holder Emily Bresnehan, and with the support of Jordan Fox the girls are sure to produce another breathtaking campaign in relentless pursuit of their 5th straight title.
However, the Mentone Grammar swimming factory won’t be doing it alone on the 16th of March.
At least not if Chris Perkins has anything to say about it.
Perkins will lead the Mentone faithful into the stands in what has become one of Mentone’s finest adverts, as students come together to recite stirring renditions of the school anthem, along with the all famous ‘wogga’ and more recent introductions that are sure to ring around the school yard long after the event has concluded.
The supporters will be riding every wave with the team. At times they experience pure elation, others utter despair. But one thing is for sure and that is that they will be there for their mates when it counts. And that is why this school will continue to go a long way in the future.
Win, lose or draw. Whiskers on your togga
– Lachie Moorhouse