Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Bullpen (aka The Seventh Circle of Hell)

Until the last night of summer swim league championships this past Tuesday, I had thought, “Maybe I’ll blog this week about how much fun it is to sit and eavesdrop on the kids, as they hang out in the team camp, waiting for their events.” This is how I get caught up on all the latest high school gossip and on my Pokemon card-trading strategies (Squirtle eventually evolves into Blastoise who can pull water cannons out of his shell and has 100 health points. Who knew?).

But then the mom who rounds up volunteers came looking for people to work the bullpen on the last night of championships, and there went my peaceful evening of eavesdropping. Oddly enough, in all my years of swim parenting and coach spousing, I had yet to work a bullpen. Now I know what I’ve been missing and I have the aching back and roughed-up vocal chords to remind me, just in case I forget.

The bullpen, for those of you who know how to evade volunteer coordinators, is the place at a meet site where swimmers are corralled, sorted into events and heats, told they can pee in the water if they really have to go that bad but they cannot leave the bullpen for the bathroom now, and then marched out to a pool deck where, half naked, shivering and surrounded by fully clothed, screaming adults with video cameras, they have been conditioned to fling themselves into cold water when a buzzer is sounded and they cannot get out again until they are exhausted and disoriented by oxygen deprivation. It’s like a cockfight, only less humane.

But I wouldn’t know how the pool part of the evening actually went that last night because I was working the bullpen. We had 64 chairs set up under a tent, eight rows of eight chairs each. For a little while, it was only 63 chairs until we figured out that some woman (in a Hermès scarf, I feel compelled to note) had stolen one so she could sit and watch her little muffin swim in the kiddie pool. I sent the bullpen mom with the loudest voice to go get it back. It wasn’t easy but she got the job done.

We chased hovering parents out of the bullpen – also not an easy job. Yes, I realize that all this chaos could be emotionally scarring for little Dagmar or Robespierre, but two minutes before we ship them out is not the time to rethink your decision to sign them up for the swim team.

We stared down TWA (Tweens With Attitudes) and threatened them with disqualification if their eyes didn’t stop rolling in their sockets. We negotiated with coaches who insisted that “the other half of the B relay is here…somewhere…they just might not make it to the bullpen…but don’t scratch them.”

And we did have the heart-warming experience of being able to put one alternate into a race when a kid did not show up for finals. Those first and second alternates are the ones who tug at your heartstrings because they do show up and stand outside the bullpen, waiting patiently and hoping against hope that they’ll get another chance to swim. As with my beloved 6 & Under swimmers, these are the kids who remind me why an aching back is a small price to pay for inspiration.

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