From the sideline

Column: Swim meets are well-oiled machines

June 15, 2013 

Get out of the house on a Tuesday afternoon for a summer league swim meet and you will find hundreds of parents soaking in what will become lifelong memories with their children.

But take a closer look and you’ll discover a large-scale conglomeration of parents and volunteers conducting business like assembly workers to make sure the meets stay on track. Their efforts also ensure the meets are completed in a timely fashion – ideally before sundown.

Like a well-oiled machine, meet workers funnel the young swimmers to the starting blocks by age group from the first dive to the last kick.

The process relies drastically on an announcer, who alerts the different age groups when they are on deck to report to the clerk of course. The clerk then squares away who’s who and makes sure every swimmer is delivered to the correct lane for the correct heat.

On the face, that may not sound like too tall a task. But when you consider the smallest of swim meets consist of about 80 total swimmers – and some teams in the Tarheel Swimming Association have more than 200 swimmers on their rosters – it isn’t hard to imagine the front-end organizational role is no cakewalk.

When Planter’s Walk swam at North Hills last summer, for example, 314 swimmers were on the combined roster for the meet. When Raleigh teams Greystone and Seven Oaks met in 2012, the joint roster figure was a whopping 536.

Once the announcer signals the start of each event and the young water dwellers go their respective distance, the work’s not done for the meet workers. In fact, it’s nowhere near done.

Statisticians mark down finish times or positions for each swimmer as they reach the wall and eventually pass their information on to be considered into the team scoring for the meets. Other workers greet swimmers at the wall with ribbons they can take home and add to their collections. And while all of that is going on, the clerk promptly reloads the next batch of swimmers onto the starting blocks. The system works like a motorized revolving door.

Other helpers, commonly the older members of swim teams, also do their part to keep up the pace of the meets. They jump in the pool to help the youngest competitors, ages 6 and under, get safely in and out of the water.

Then there’s the team coaches and representatives, pool staffers and lifeguards – some who compete in the meets – also present to lend a hand when one may be needed. The clerk may run into a lineup snafu a coach can quickly resolve. And, in case of emergency, no one knows the pool facilities better than those who work there.

Many teams have the added luxuries of season-long parent photographers and grill masters on board to capture the action and keep stomachs satisfied throughout the season.

All of this is what goes into producing something as simple as a good time with family and friends, and smile on the young swimmers’ faces. Clearly, those results are worth the effort for those who make the meets happen.

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