Throwback Thursday – Making the Team
A week or so ago, my oldest grandson, Reed, tried out for a competitive swim team. He was very nervous but he made it. Watching Reed grow … and grow up … often feels like a chance to watch myself as a kid. Not only does he like the things I liked (and still like), I can see his mind working like mine, right down to being an occasional smart ass with his Mom and Dad. But I particularly enjoyed his excitement about swimming because being on the swim team in high school was one of those experiences that contributed to the adult I am. In a good way.
I entered high school as a skinny, very smart, socially inept four foot ten boy with car door ears and a pompadour. I loved sports but wasn’t great at any of them … and my size made me a poor prospect for high school teams. But I had worked as a camp counselor and lifeguard at the nearby YMCA camp, so I spent a lot of time in the water and considered myself a decent swimmer, so in my junior year, I went out for the East Haven High School swim team. Went out for is overstating the case … the school swim team wasn’t very good and everyone who tried out made it. That year I swam individual medley and some relays, mainly because I could manage all four strokes. I usually finished in the middle of the pack on down.
Over the summer, back at the YMCA camp at Lake Hubinger, I spent quite a bit of time when I wasn’t on duty swimming laps or swimming across the lake and back. Simultaneously, I started a growth spurt. I returned to school in September six inches taller, more muscular and a faster swimmer. The coach, Mr. Marshall took one look and said, What happened to you? My senior year, Coach Marshall pushed me like he never had before. He particularly pushed me to compete in the butterfly which is the most exhausting of strokes. For my entire time on the team, I’d always done the dolphin kick (the faster way) for the first lap, then as I began to tire, I’d do the frog kick which was easier but slower. The week before we had an evening meet with Hillhouse High, he told me I was going to do the dolphin kick the whole way. In practice he followed me along with an aluminum rescue pole and every time I tried to switch, he’d poke me with it. The Hillhouse meet was special because, being in the evening, my Dad and Mom could attend. I swam the hundred yard fly as fast as I could, all dolphin kick, and when I finished, I looked up to see everyone else still swimming. I’d won. It was the shining moment of my miniature athletic career.
When I think back on my high school years, there are only a few moments that stand out letting me I see myself in a new light, when a teacher or coach made me realize what I was capable of. At our swimming banquet the seniors were all called up to receive a special trophy and the coach would say a few words about each swimmer. When it was my turn, Coach Marshall said that when I joined the team I’d had a Red Cross freestyle and not much else. He talked about how I’d learned to do all the strokes and how much I’d improved. And as he handed me my trophy, he said, Buddy, may you improve as much in the future as you’ve improved in the past. And I knew he wasn’t just talking about swimming. Thank you Coach Marshall. Even after 55 years, I certainly try.