Today is divisional day. In the argot of swim teams, this means that today about 40 teams of kids in the Central Maryland Swim League will descend on seven pools throughout the area to compete for honors in seven divisions.
In adult language this means: Praise the Lord, and pass the sun block, swim team season is almost over! Soon we will get our Saturdays back.
Don't misunderstand me. I approve of the swim team experience, especially the practice sessions. During swim team season, my kids, like kids on most area teams, go to a nearby pool to swim laps, and hang out with other kids 6 to 18 years old.
These sessions are educational. In addition to the fundamentals of swimming, the kids learn new card games, disgusting expressions and, for the older kids, nuances of flirting. These bits of tribal wisdom can't be picked up from parents.
For swim team parents, payment comes due on Saturdays when we "volunteer" to help with the tasks involved in running a swim meet. During my tenure as a swim team parent, I have specialized in low-skill jobs, such as timing the racers with a stop watch or scribbling down a swimmer's time on a card. Recently I undertook a new endeavor, as card runner.
The main point of this job was to get the cards carrying vital information to the other end of the pool before the swimmers arrived there. As the size of racers got bigger, the contest between me and them got tighter. I think I beat them three out of four times. But at the end, I was panting harder than any swimmers.
I was happy to see there were no card runner jobs at the meet at Padonia Park Swim Club this week in Cockeysville. All the vital information was recorded with electronic stop watches wired to computers that tallied the results. The recording procedure was only fitting because for area swimmers, the summer gathering at Padonia is a big deal. To get in a race a kid has to beat a certain time. During the regular season meets, "making Padonia" is a goal that swim team members shoot for.
One of my kids "made Padonia" by a 10th of second. Unlike other meets, this one is held in the middle of the week. So last Wednesday I found myself traversing the interstate highways of Baltimore. I plucked my kid out of summer camp, scooted by the neighborhood swim club to pick up fellow competitors, members of the girls 11-and-under and 13-and-under relay teams, then roared up I-83 to Padonia.
The scene at this mother of all meets was striking. Padonia is a large club with three pools, a pond, and ample grounds, covered with hundreds of parked cars. Spectators had erected large colorful tents on the hillsides overlooking the site of the meet, a 25-meter pool with eight lanes. Kids in brightly colored swimsuits milled about. Parents with video cameras filmed everything, even computer printouts showing results of earlier races.
The team colors, the tents, and the hillsides made me think of days of old when knights held jousting tournaments. That was before video cameras.
My kid, 8, toured the grounds. He frolicked in a pool filled with families trying to escape the near-100-degree heat. He waited in line at the concession stands. At the pond he fed the fish, and along with me pedaled a paddle boat, and heard tales of the resident snapping turtle.
I watched the parents who were working the meet. They gathered swimmers in a staging tent and made certain the kids were in the correct event and the correct lane. Occasionally a frantic call would go out for a misplaced swimmer. Down at the pond, my son and I watched a teen-ager jump ship and scurry toward the pool when his event was called. At the pool, the starter sent wave after wave of swimmers racing from end to end.
After my kid raced, and after cheering for our club's relay teams, I grabbed my kid and left, determined to avoid a traffic jam. I made it out of the pool parking lots early, only to land smack in the middle of a massive tie-up caused by an overturned truck on nearby I-83. My son and I ended up taking a 10-mile detour through the horse farms of northern Baltimore County to make it back to our neighborhood pool.
At the pool everyone asked my son how he fared at the big meet. He reported he had won. That was not completely accurate; he had won his heat. However, when all the heats were completed, he finished 18th in a field of 24.
But being a veteran swim team parent, I knew better than to correct a kid who felt like a winner.