Cathhy Silveira is the head coach of the Doral Academy Firebirds in Doral, Florida; she submitted this piece on her team’s chance to travel south to the keys for a dual meet against the Key West Conchs.
I make the promise every season; next year the team will travel to Key West for a dual meet. And then things come up, mostly the cost, and we don’t go. Not so this year. This year we went in search of the perfect high school swim meet experience. And we found it.
All season I built this trip up as the epitome of what high school swim should be. I told the kids that they didn’t want to miss this meet; that they needed to earn the privilege of travelling to this meet. In the preparation/planning stages we hit all of the usual obstacles—no bus big enough to take the entire team and fans, team suits not in on time, suddenly everyone wants to chaperone, etc. etc. But the swimmers were excited. And those not showing commitment to those early morning practices lost their seats on the bus to those that did.
So there we were; loading the bus early on a rainy Saturday morning. I am not too sure what the kids expected; but I am pretty sure it wasn’t the reality of the day. Forget about the 4 hour bus trip with the leaky roof and subsequent duct tape solution. Forget about the swimmers that rode most of the way with their arms above their heads keeping the Tupperware in place to catch the water. Never mind the air conditioning that didn’t work and the bus driver reprimanded for texting while driving. All of that faded into irrelevance when we stepped off the bus.
Smiling faces and warm greetings. Waving flags and fans with homemade signs. The host team came into the parking lot to say hello and to tell us how happy they were that we had made the trip down to swim with them. Wait a minute! Was this a swim meet? To be honest, my swimmers were confused. I just smiled.
Try to picture 8 lanes of swimmers getting ready for competition but remembering to laugh. Imagine two teams looking at one another across the lane lines and smiles breaking out as their curiosity is rewarded with friendliness. Or pre meet team photos being taken and my boys trying to meet the Key West girls while their male swimmers were otherwise occupied. And then being tongue-tied and only being able to blurt out how beautiful the girls’ eyes are. And everyone saying, “they are so nice!”
Lori Bosco, Key West Coach, starts every meet with the National Anthem…..sung by her swimmers. I was surprised and proud when my kids joined in with gusto…..once they got over the shock that it wasn’t a recording. And that it was ok to belt out the words. Lori says that taking part in the anthem makes it more meaningful and something that is shared between competitors.
As each event is called, up they step onto the blocks. There are accomplished swimmers and there are novices. They kind of eye each other down the starting end. Surrounding the entire pool are their teammates, fans and parents. Some are holding signs and others cameras to record the moments for posterity. At the sound of the gun the cheering breaks out.
The most amazing thing happens. The cheering and excitement is for every single swimmer in the water. It’s for the sheer joy of being able to do this. It doesn’t end until the final touch of each race. And it isn’t conducted for the benefit of any one swimmer or team. The encouragement and excitement transcends team identity and is simply for the joy of this competition. Shaking hands and grinning across the lane lines. Laughing at the missed turns and slipped dives. Promises to “get you next time.” Whoops and yells for the last finishers. The amused sound of the starter’s voice inviting the next batch of swimmers up onto the blocks. The teams were simply having fun.
When the last event is swum teams usually give a cheer. And that cheer is usually about themselves and their prowess and pride in winning. Not so at this meet. Lori’s kids line up. They high five or shake hands with every swimmer; kind of like the end of a baseball or soccer game. Then it’s a cheer for the other team. Next question? “Hey Coach? Can we do this at our meets?” “At every meet?” I just smile.
So the competition part of the meet ends. But the fun continues. Key West High School put out the most incredible BBQ for the kids to enjoy. It seemed as if every parent had contributed something, from lumpia to cheesecake. One of my swimmers said, “Coach, we get to actually eat with them?” By now, the teams were becoming fast friends, lifelong buddies. They joined together to break down the meet equipment. The belly flop contest was underway with each boy trying to outdo the other. The most outgoing of the girls join in to show them up. One group of my girls was approached by a couple of Conch swimmers and asked to “come eat with us.” And the parents were united in their efforts to get the swimmers fed…all of the swimmers. Everyone was so nice.
Time to Leave
So the sun is shining and the breeze is flowing. There are iguanas from the itty bittiest to ones that could feed a family of six. The kids are taking pictures with each other, wrangling for phone numbers and exchanging promises to see each other at Districts. We are standing around in the parking lot and no one seems in a hurry to leave. Some of the guys are chasing after the departing Conch girls and the Firebirds girls are giggling at the pictures they got with their new crushes. Promises are made for the meet next year. Yes, they scheduled it themselves. Lori and I just smile.
And the funniest part of all of this…..none of the kids thought to even ask who won…. Not until the rain clouds over Miami came into view and we pulled up at the school.