There’s a saying around town: You know it’s summer when you hear Gregg Colbert’s voice booming over the Greentree Gators’ swimming pool.
He recently returned for his 20th season as the “Voice of the Gators,” one of 22 teams in the Irvine Swim League, which serves 2,800 kids, ages 5-18, each summer.
“You could say he’s the voice of the community,” says Jenny Dory, who’s coached the Gators for 34 years. “He’s made a difference in so many lives.”
Colbert saw his first Gators swim meet in 2001 when he and his wife signed up their oldest child with the team.
Colbert knew sports. He’d been assistant coach for the 1987 Northwood Little League team that went to the Little League World Series – but he knew little about swim meets.
“It was this huge event,” he says. “Hundreds of people running all over the place, and I saw nothing but smiles.”
A few years later, when the Gators needed an announcer, he raised his hand – because that’s what you do when you’re a teacher (he’s taught elementary school in Irvine for 36 years) and a coach (he coaches Woodbridge High baseball and football).
“I wanted to be part of it all,” says Colbert, who has watched all three of his kids swim for the Gators and become coaches for the team.
At meets, Colbert keeps things moving as announcer, emcee and coordinator of over 40 volunteers who set up, tear down, staff the snack bar and shepherd kids to their races.
“His positive energy is infectious,” says David Witting, who served on the Gators’ board for 14 years. “I am constantly amazed at his ability to announce events, keep the meet on schedule, solve problems on the fly and make the experience fun for parents and swimmers.”
Yet Colbert insists he’s gained far more than he’s given over the past two decades.
“There’s not a street in town where I don’t know several families,” he says. “We’ve met some of our truest, lifelong friends through the Gators. We’re now part of this enormous family.”
The highlight of each season is “Champs,” or championship day, when more than 5,000 people converge on Woollett Aquatics Center to see which team takes the annual title.
Last year, Colbert was asked to address the opening ceremonies. He still recalls looking into the bleachers for his team.
“I’m like, ‘Where is everybody?’ ” he says. “Our entire team and their parents – no one was there.”
That’s when over 100 people rushed out from hiding. And the league president, Matt Wilson, honored Colbert with a new award, named the Gregg Colbert League Service Award.
“None of us will ever know the true count of hours you’ve given to the Irvine Swim League over the last 22 years,” Wilson said. “But we do know the legacy you leave behind – as a friend, a volunteer, a board member and, most importantly, a father.”
For once, the Voice of the Gators was left speechless.
“It was overwhelming,” he says. “To feel so connected to so many people, I just feel lucky.”