‘O Captain! My Captain!’Jack Kapel is BHS’ 4X aquatic overlord

Jack Kapel is short on advice and long on experience.

He lets his deeds speak for him.

And they have a lot to say.

The stellar Spartan senior, 17, has held the position of team captain for the past three years straight on the varsity water polo (10th-12th grade) and swim and dive teams (12th grade) — one of the greatest combined tenures in the school’s recent history.

No, he didn’t flunk a class to squeeze in one more year on the team either. He’s been leader of the poolside pack since sophomore year. You might not recognize him out of the pool, though.

An aw-shucks style

Kapel doesn’t act the part of alpha male. Nor does he sound it.

A soft-spoken, casual kind of guy who might seem to belong behind a guitar or bent over a sketchbook (he is, actually, an avid artist) rather than leading a boisterous gang of Spartan sportsmen into competition, he’s more gregarious than gladiatorial. It is exactly his anti-macho style though that Kapel credits with his successful time at the top.

“You have to kind of enjoy it without making it a job,” he said. “I’m not super die hard for everything. I’m not like, ‘Oh, I want to get a scholarship for this,’ or ‘I practice like every single day.’

“I feel like I’m a very special case,” he added. “A lot of the captains you see, I feel like, are the stereotypes of a lot of sports captains: they’re very serious about everything. I feel like I wasn’t super serious all the time.”

Perspective, Kapel said, is an often overlooked aspect of success.

“Don’t take the sport too seriously,” he said. “It’s a sport.

“Don’t relax to a point where you’re just not trying. The effort has to be there all the time, but just have fun. And hopefully people will see you’re having fun with it and just respect you for that.”

It’s a simple philosophy that has served Kapel well, and has garnered praise and respect from both his teammates and coaches.

“He is such a special kid and has helped to mold the success of our team,” said Bainbridge High School boys water polo Head Coach Kristin Gellert. “He deserves every nice word said about him.”

Though he’s quiet, Gellert said Kapel’s “words carry a lot of meaning when he does speak up.”

“He leads through example, hard work and humor,” she said.

“I’ve known him as an athlete for six years and have never heard him question a coach or not give his all when asked to do so. He definitely beats to his own drum and has a self-confidence that is rarely seen in 17-year-olds, but I think that unique mentality helps him to understand and remain empathetic toward teammates who may think differently than him.”

It was a combination of a weird lapse in player turnout during his own formative years in the water polo program and early participation with the swim team, along with smaller rosters in both sports back then, Kapel said, that put him place to apply that unique kind of leadership early in his playing career.

“I’ve been around for longer than most of the kids who are playing now have,” he said. “So I’ve seen the whole team grow up.”

Sunk at the start

Kapel found water polo, his primary sport, because he actually didn’t take to swimming right off.

“My parents sort of made us do sports, which I kind of like that, looking at it now, that they sort of made us do stuff,” Kapel said of he and his younger brother, Sam, also a notorious powerhouse in the Spartan water polo program.

“We had to do swimming, and I just did not like it so I just sort of took a break,” Kapel recalled. “I was trying to do a whole bunch of sports, and I did lacrosse and baseball and that kind of stuff, but I just didn’t enjoy that.”

He liked the pool, but wanted something “less repetitive.”

“I joined the [water polo] team when I was in sixth grade,” Kapel said. “I would practice with the high school team, which was cool. And I could play in some of the games — which I don’t know if I was exactly supposed to or not. They just tossed me into JV games in seventh grade.”

He was hooked.

And did, obviously, eventually return to competitive swimming too, though water polo would always be his first athletic love. A love he showed off loud and proud with real action in every game.

“Jack is really fun to coach,” Gellert said. “He has a great sense of humor. He’s fast, smart, aggressive and creative. He’s very self-motivated, and is a very supportive teammate. He has contributed so much to the culture of our team and I’m truly honored to have been able to be his coach.”

A non-troubled tenure

Kapel’s younger brother (a junior who, earlier this year, broke a scoring record that had stood since 1988 when he notched 100 points in a single season) is set to assume the captain role next year. There’s little to no sibling rivalry in the Kapel house, though, as the elder Spartan is quick to praise his baby bro.

“He’s stepped up a lot this year for water polo,” Jack said of Sam. “For the younger kids, I want to be their role model, but I think that Sam really is.

“I’m glad that he got captain because I feel like it’s going to be a very happy team next year.”

Kapel regularly heaps kudos on the junior players of both teams he’s led. Ask him what it takes to be a good captain. He’ll tell you the truth:

“I don’t really know,” he laughed. “I sort of hoped I would lead more, but it’s also nice that I didn’t have to because my team was sort of pretty put together.

“For the most part, for all the years I’ve been captain, it’s been pretty nice because all the guys kind of know what the deal is.”

Pro child’s play

Kapel said after graduation he intends to take a gap year before possibly attending art school to further explore his love of art and design.

His parting advice for tomorrow’s captains? Engage the youth.

“When I started in sixth grade I’d play around with the 12th-graders, which you don’t really do,” he said. “That was so cool to me.

“I feel like I really did luck out with my timing in water polo. Looking at now, the idea of just sort of picking up one of the sixth-graders from the club team and playing around with them, it’s a little hard to imagine. So the fact that seniors could do that, I’m just very grateful because it made me want to play more.”