By: Stina Oakes
7:15: Caravan meets at the home pool
We pull up to join the line of cars and see girls wearing tiaras with their bathing suits, boys in jester hats, and a few knights with swords and shields. The swimmers wander around, looking for temporary feet tattoos, black and gold beads, and car markers. This week’s theme is “royalty,” and the more spirited kids have gone all out: old prom dresses and sashes, red capes and crowns. For those who haven’t dressed up — or forgot — a parent hands out craft-store crowns so everyone can be royal, at least for the morning. As the parents drink coffee and pass around directions, kids write on cars: “DVP Rocks!” “Go Feet!” (Until the next time it rains, I’ll smile every time I look out my rear view window and see “Eat Our Bubbles!”) “Okay! Time to head out!” Kids scramble to get a last foot drawn on a window. A parent walks down to her car, passing out tattoos on the way. We pile back into our cars and drive off in a line. A woman walking her dog in the neighborhood watches us, somewhat amused, somewhat perplexed.
“The Feet Cannot Be Beat! The Feet Cannot Be Beat!” the swimmers chant as they walk into the rival pool. Someone beats a drum. Others holds up large Styrofoam feet. Once they get to their team area, they search in bags for their caps and goggles, gearing themselves up to get in the water on this chilly morning. Some discover they’ve forgotten their caps or goggles; replacements are quickly offered. The parents peel off into groups around the deck: scorers and ribbon writers find the automation table; timers check in with the head timer; officials in their white shirts meet with the referee; and spectators find chairs in the shade. The pool is a mass of swimmers, warming up their bodies.
9:00: Meet Starts
The 12 & under boys line up for the first race, jumping up and down, stretching their arms, ready to race. The timers have their stopwatches in hand. The officials are in position, clipboards filled with hopefully unused DQ cards. Without prompting, swimmers stop moving, spectators stop talking, and silence descends. We know the drill: after the national anthem, the meet will start. In the quiet, I think how odd, but strangely pleasing, it is that at this exact moment pools across the county are all doing the same thing.
The silence hangs in the air. “We’ll start in just a minute,” the announcer says. More silence.
“Awkward!” someone yells in the quiet. A murmur of chuckles. Still more silence.
“Oh, say can you see?” a few of our 15-18 boys waiting for their relay start singing, half jokingly, half seriously. I suspect they just want to get the meet started so they can swim: you can practically see the adrenaline coursing through their bodies. But they keep singing. Other voices join in. By the time they get to “twilight’s last gleaming,” everyone — spectators, swimmers, timers, officials — is singing. I’ve got goosebumps. At the end of the anthem, the starter goes off. The boys dive into the water, the timers hit their start buttons, and the officials hawkishly watch them swim.
11:30ish: Meet Ends
The entire perimeter of the pool is lined with swimmers, parents, and coaches from both teams. “Dale-view Re-lays!” CLAP, CLAP, CLAP-CLAP- CLAP! As the first swimmer approaches the starting line, the watching swimmers stop cheering and put their arms in the air, fingers wiggling. It’s quiet. The starter beeps. As the swimmers dive in, the watching swimmers throw their arms down, yelling, “Woosh!” In the middle four lanes, swimmers race their hardest. It’s the final two races of the meet — the graduated relays. The boys swim first, then the girls. The 13-14 swimmer starts them off with a 50, followed by the 11-12, then the 9-10, ending with an 8 and under swimming a 25. These relays have the same points as all the others in the meet, but the symbolism isn’t lost on anyone here.
After the relay, swimmers search for their things, pack up, and chat excitedly. Someone finds an extra towel, someone else has lost her goggles (someone needs to invent goggle tags). Later this week, parents will post emails looking for misplaced caps, goggles, sweatshirts. As they stuff wet clothes and towels into their bags, they make plans about who will ride with whom over to Fuddruckers for the team lunch. The excitement over their win is infectious.
12:00 Team Lunch
Walking in the parking lot, my son stops, looks at us, and says, “I don’t have shoes. I didn’t wear any today.” My three-year- old, in her dress-long t-shirt, announces, “I’m not wearing any shorts.” Another parent overhears the conversation, smiles at me, and says, “Yup. They’re Daleview kids.” We find her shorts, make plans to stop and buy a pair of flip flops, and head to lunch.
Once at the restaurant, there is a sea of yellow and black t-shirts and giggling kids. Tables are filled with unusual groupings — teenagers sit with elementary-age kids, preteens hang out with parents, little kids wander from table to table. Watching the swimmers and parents interact with each other, I’m reminded that while swimming is an individual sport, you may swim down the lane alone, but at Daleview, swimming is a team sport.
Photos courtesy of Tim Male