Achoo! Spring comes at a high price in Severna Park.
We sniff, we snort, we blow. Eyes itch; throats tickle. New green leaves unfurl, and the pollen count soars.
But, isn't it beautiful? Achoo!
When Ken Barsa isn't at his 9-to-5 job with the county Board of Education, he can be found at the Severna Park YMCA swimming pool, offering instructions to more than 150 youngsters who hang on his every word.
Since he became coach 13 years ago, he apparently has been saying a lot of things right, because the Severna Park YMCA Swim Team, or SPY, hasn't lost a dual meet during that time.
The climax of the YMCA swim season, which runs from November to March, is the annual national competition in April.
Thirteen Severna Park kids qualified for the meet at the Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and performed their very best, but the victories were bittersweet.
Barsa, credited by swimmers and parents with being as good a role model as he is a coach, was not with his team. Barsa remained in Maryland to be close to his parents. His father has been ill for some time, and a devastating fire that destroyed his Long Island, N.Y., home exacerbated his condition.
The coach wasn't there to see his teen-age swimmers performing like "fit, focused athletes," as one parent described them.
His family commitment kept Barsa from seeing two of the most important events of his coaching career.
He didn't see 17-year-old Eric Sloan approach the starting block in the first national swim-off ever required of an SPY swimmer.
Two hundred teams comprising some 1,500 swimmers attend the nationals. During the meet, swimmers compete until only the nTC top 16 in each event remain. Swimmers nine through 16 compete to advance to the finals and a chance to win a national championship.
Eric, a senior at Old Mill High School and the son of Sharon and Seibert Sloan of Millersville, tied for eighth place in the 100-yard backstroke, forcing a swim-off between him and another boy for the honor of competing in the top group.
Eric won the swim-off, and came away from the final round with an impressive fourth place. And a 16th-place in the 200 backstroke put Eric in the consolation finals.
He will take his talents to the University of Maryland this fall.
Barsa missed one other special event.
Despite her mother's insistence that the day was a team effort, Nora Grannell rose to the peak of her athletic skill to honor herself, her coach and Severna Park.
A 16-year-old sophomore at St. Mary's in Annapolis and the daughter of Dianne and Andy Grannell of Gambrills, Nora was a first-grader when she began swimming the backstroke for Barsa.
To get an idea of her aquatic strength, last year she and her dad, who swam in the event for several years, participated in the annual Bay Swim. Currents were so strong and the water so cold that only 167 of the 800 starters finished. Andy didn't; Nora did.
In the morning meet at the nationals, Nora had finished sixth among 200 other 100 backstroke swimmers. In the evening, as she prepared to race against the other seven top finalists, a short biography of each swimmer was read. The lineup included a 17-year-old swimmer who had qualified for the Olympic trials.
But it was Nora who touched the finish line first and climbed from the pool into the outstretched arms of her cheering teammates. She swam four lengths of a 25-yard pool in 56.41 seconds, a record for the YMCA nationals.
The national meet is fashioned after the Olympics, with the winners standing on a raised platform to receive their medals.
Nora looked out into the crowd from the highest step. Assistant coach Sue Boyle and an entire cheering section of proud parents were in the audience.
"I wanted to stay a little while," the 16-year-old told her mother later.
Capping her national victory, Nora finished fourth in the 200 backstroke.
Dianne Grannell said, "This was a relatively small team with no financial support from the community." She said many other teams from across the country had more money invested in them and did not perform nearly as well as SPY, in or out of the water.
The meet in Florida concludes the winter season short course. In August, Nora will go to the Senior National Long Course Meet in Mission Viejo, Calif.
It will be a very sad day when she no longer swims for Barsa, says Nora, a tribute to the coach echoed by other swimmers.
A fund has been established to help the coach's parents: the Barsa Family Trust, Second National Federal Savings Bank, 2045 West St., Annapolis 21401.
Congratulations to the Severn River Association, America's oldest organization dedicated to the preservation of a river and its watershed. The SRA has been in business for 81 years.
In the spring of 1911, 32 residents with property along the river met to protect and promote fish and game and to develop reasonable means of public access to the river.
Today's membership of 106 communities and 721 people makes the association the county's largest civic organization.