Swim team in Greenville County is a big deal. SAIL, Swim Association Invitational League, began in 1964 and has grown from a meet between four teams to a league that today consists of roughly 3,400 swimmers from 37 different pools. You can visit the SAIL website to find all the information you could ever want including a Swimmers' Tale, a Swimmers' Prayer, and a Swim Meet primer. But let Not My Boys help navigate you through the SAIL season.
SAIL is broken down into six divisions with teams in each division relatively the same size. Your pool will have a dual meet (a meet with your pool and one other pool in your division) each week, on Thursday. The score is not officially kept for dual meets, which makes the fist-fights among rival parents odd.
After dual meets with each team in the division, there is a divisional meet in which all the teams in the division swim against each other at the same time. The score is kept here and the fist-fights among parents turn to knife fights. All six divisions have their respective divisional meet the same weekend. Once these meets are finished, all the times from the six meets for each event are compared, and the top times in each event advance to the Championships and Classics meet the following weekend. This is the first time your children will experience failure among their peers, followed by Klaver (middle school sorority), Terpsi (high school sorority), then college.
All swim meets are broken down into events based on gender, age and stroke. Here is how the SAIL website explains this...
Events are run in this order for each gender (girls first), age group:
A group of volunteers will guide your child from the tent area (discussed later) to the clerk of course. This is a fancy name for a set of benches. No parents are allowed here except the clerk of course volunteers and the helicopter parents who ignore the rules. The swimmers will be given a card with their information on it, the card will be handed to a recorder at each lane sitting behind a tv tray table who records the times captured by the three timers in each lane. Heat sheets are available for purchase that allow you to see who is in each event. Once your swimmer is done swimming their event, you will hug them and give them money to buy junk food at the concessions before they swim again in 6 hours.
What to bring:
Your child will need: a swim cap, goggles, towel, tailgating chair, the worst possible food items you can eat before competing in an athletic endeavor, coloring books, iPod, iPad, iPhone and iMac.
You will need: IV fluids, SPF 2000, Costas, Yeti Tumbler, Yeti Cooler, Yeti Hat, Swim Life T-shirt, brass knuckles for regular dual meets, knives for divisionals.
There are few things in life that you can predict with almost certainty, but temperatures approaching those on the sun along with rain or thunder on Greenville Thursday nights in June is almost guaranteed. I did not have to consult the Euro Model or the Farmer's Almanac to make this bold prediction. I just consulted the summer swim team schedule, the greatest weather predictor on Earth. Even when you think you are in the clear -- the skies are blue, the sun is out, there is no way there will be an issue tonight -- then you hear a small rumble. Was that thunder? "No..No.. it's sunny," someone screams. "I think it was a dump truck," exclaims another. Do dump trucks normally pass through residential areas in the evening hours? No, but as a parent at a swim meet you will grasp at anything for it not to be thunder. Then the second clap of thunder happens. Even though the thunder was from a storm 20 miles away never to pass by your pool, you are at its mercy. We do the only thing that seems logical, get everyone out of the pool and huddle under the much safer metal tents.
The Tent Area
This is the area where all the swimmers gather while waiting for their events to happen. This area is not for the faint of heart. You can't unsee what you see here. It is a village where everything looks the same. The towels, the tailgating chairs, the children, they all look the same. You will have the few who are sitting quietly reading a book while waiting on their events, but mostly you have wild animals in small tribes running around possessed. At some point along the way it became custom for the swimmers' diets to consist of sugar, nacho cheese, and anything that stains the tongue and mouth the color of a rainbow for two weeks. It also became custom for rational people to decide to write uplifting messages in permanent marker all over the bodies of their children. You know, uplifting messages like "Eat my bubbles."
There are very few parents in this area. The only ones you will see are the two parents in charge of lining up the heats and the new parents who are so terrified of what they are seeing that they are afraid to leave their children unattended. You can easily pick out the parents in charge of lining everyone up; they are the ones frantically flipping through heat sheets, screaming names, and gasping for air as they stick their face two inches from the giant fan with blades so big it could lift a 747 off the ground.
Since everything does look the same, let me help you orientate yourself. The 8 & Unders are the ones running around like your dog does when it gets off the leash at the dog park. They are running fast, out of control, yet somehow avoid running directly into anything else. The 9-13 year-old kids will only communicate to you through the language of dance. The 9/10’s will just stare at you and start bending their arms and legs in strange quick movements that will come to an abrupt stop with one leg up and arms slightly bent. They may yell Ahh, as well. The 13/14’s just dab at you when you make eye contact. The 15/18 area only communicates through Snapchat, so do not expect to talk to them unless you turn your face into a cat and send them a message that self-destructs in 20 seconds.
Now let me help you find your place among the parents at the meet.
These are the parents who are screaming at the top of their lungs PULL, PULL, or just screaming KICK as they move their arms in a frantic flutter kick motion all while holding a stopwatch and heat sheet in their hand. Please keep in mind the swimmers to whom they are yelling are a good distance away with a swim cap over their ears and their heads under water. The yelling will come to an abrupt halt when their swimmer touches the wall, followed by a frantic shuffling of papers and constant head turning from stopwatch to heat sheet.
The Silent Yellers
These are the parents who don't want to be Yellers, but they are dying inside when their children swim. They try so hard to not act like it is a big deal, but are easily spotted as the ones with a forced smile on their face as they glance at the stopwatch they have running on their phone. They instantly know when they stop the watch that the time that appears is 3.42 seconds off last year’s championships cutoff. This is my favorite group because it consists of my wife.
Yeti Cup Mafia
This group is off in the shadows of the meet. Their main mode of transportation is golf cart. They come out of the shadows to watch their child's event then quickly retreat to the shadows. They are a very thirsty group. They can be seen refilling their Yeti cups often. They are a jovial bunch who seem to become more jovial as the meet progresses.
The Secret Service
This is an amazing group. They have one of the toughest jobs at the meet. They are the stroke and turn judges. They are positioned around the edge of the pool wearing white shirts and talking into Secret Service-type earpieces. When you see their arm go up in the air, that is the signal that they are about to crush the hopes and dreams of your child.
They can come out of nowhere at times. You are watching your child finish her first IM. She climbs out of the water. You are waiting for her behind the ropes. Your child is walking toward you smiling so big it stretches from ear to ear. She is just about to get to you when a white-shirt agent cuts her off. You see them talking to your child, then you see your child's lip start to quiver. The agent walks away talking into his wrist and your child walks to you sobbing, snot pouring out her nose, gasping for breath as she tries to tell you she flutter-kicked on her breaststroke lap.
These are the people who gave up trying to be cool a long time ago. At first you will not realize they are taking video for the year-end swim team video and you will think to yourself, these people sure like to document their children. It is not until you finally have to ask someone who the creepy person is filming all the kids, that you find out there is a swim team video. It will not be until the banquet that you realize the video is actually a full-length feature film that documents every single second of the swim season. It will not be until your second car trip that you want to shatter the DVD of that video that your kids keep watching over and over. It will not be until this sentence that you realize I am the videographer.
I hope you have found the additional tidbits of wisdom helpful as another swim season is about to start. I was first part of SAIL more than 30 years ago as a swimmer. The memories of pouring a full package of Fun Dip down my throat as I sat in a muddy field at Wellington Green for Championship and Classics are still fresh. It is easy to joke about swim team, but what can get lost in the craziness of summer swim meets is the great friendships our children are making and the valuable lessons they are learning from spending summers in the pool.
Wait... was that thunder?