Becky Kap, left, writes Luryn Shaw’s event information on her arm in permanent marker as Suzie Clements double checks the information before the start of Hidden Falls’ swim meet against Hamilton Mill on June 24.
BUFORD — The 2010 Gwinnett County Championship Meet represents the culmination of another Gwinnett County Swim League season for many of the hundreds of swimmers, coaches, parents and volunteers that will converge on the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center in Atlanta beginning Saturday.
And league officials will put in plenty of hard work coordinating heats and finals in eight different events for six different age groups in both the boys and girls divisions.
However, with the league handling most of those jobs this weekend, this weekend’s meet may almost seem like somewhat of a break for the parent volunteers from what they like to call “Organized Chaos.”
From hand-timing and computer scoring individual races to making sure the swimmers get to the meet site and to their respective heats on time to smaller things like running the concession stand, parent volunteers have to wear a lot of hats throughout the seven weeks of the season.
“Every piece is an important part of the meet,” Susan Smith, team representative for the GCSL’s Hamilton Mill team, said during a meet with Hidden Falls late last month. “If one is missing, the puzzle isn’t complete.”
And for the representatives from 45 individual teams like Smith who have to coordinate it all and see to even the smallest of details, meet night is usually an all-day affair.
“I started this morning at 9 o’clock,” Hidden Falls representative Christy McCall said. “(The meet probably won’t end until) around 10:30 or 11 o’clock, which means we won’t get out of here until close to midnight, and I’m going to Steak ‘N Shake to celebrate that we’re finished.
“It is a little less of a (work) load (for away meets). Obviously, when people are coming to your home (pool), there’s a lot more work for your team. But as a head (coordinator), there’s a lot of responsibility, so I don’t know.”
That amount of responsibility remains high for larger teams like Hidden Falls and Hamilton Mill as well as teams closer to the average size of 130-150 swimmers.
With so many swimmers, the job of each team’s head coach would also seem to be pretty hectic, especially those like Jim Reason, head coach of the 195-member Thunderbolts Swim Team in Duluth.
In some ways, the job can be even more demanding than his regular job as head swimming coach at Duluth High School.
“From a coaching standpoint, it’s probably more paperwork,” said Reason, in his 10th summer coaching the Thunderbolts. “In high school meets, you have 12 events and 10 lanes. Most of the time, you only have about one or two heats (per event), or maybe three or four for some of the freestyle events. ... So, the paper work and behind the scenes work is probably more.”
Perhaps that is one reason why only a handful of teams are coached by those who have full-time coaching jobs, while others rely on high-school or college age coaches who often used to compete for the same clubs — which is how Reason got into coaching in summer leagues many years ago.
However, Reason also points out that coaching in the summer league also has plenty of advantages compared to coaching high school swimming.
“In high school, you have maybe two assistants for roughly 65 kids,” Reason said. “I have six assistants in the summer league, and if you have a good staff of coaches like I do, it’s really the easiest part (of running meets). ... The practices are a little bit of a respite. And with only the top 50 qualifying for the county meet, (recent) practices have been less in numbers.”
He definitely wouldn’t trade jobs with coordinators like McCall or some of the other parent volunteers.
“You’ve got to have some pretty sharp cookies and plenty of patient parents — and in a lot of cases, a lot of loud parents — running the bullpens and doing some thankless jobs to make sure the kids get to where they’re going,” Reason said.
With this weekend’s county meet ending yet another GCSL season, coordinators, volunteers and coaches alike will be getting a much-needed break.
However, that break won’t be as long as one might think.
“For us, (each season) is really year-round planning,” said Smith. “Most of the preparation goes January through May. Once the meets start at the end of May, it kind of goes on autopilot. In the summer, it’s a 40-hour (per week) thing.”
Despite the enormous sacrifices to be made, complaints are surprisingly few, at least for McCall and Smith.
“It is (a lot of work), but you know what? It’s so worth it,” said McCall, who has had three children swim in the league over the years. “We teach our kids a lot about giving back (to the community).
“This is my 14th summer doing this. It’s a cycle. People that are in charge, their hands get full with their jobs or something changes and somebody has to step in. The torch was passed to me pretty quickly when I moved here. At this point, I don’t see anybody looking for that baton to be passed, but if the day comes, I will pass it. I don’t do it for the glory. I do it for my kids and everybody else’s kids.”
Likewise, coaches like Reason often find their jobs to be labors of love.
“That’s why I’m here,” Reason said. “God has a gift for all of us. God’s gift for me is a chance to coach and be a role model.
“This is my 20th year (coaching summer league teams). I spent nine years in DeKalb County, and I was able to assist coach and then head coach for five years at my home pool that I used to swim for (Drayton Woods in Tucker). But it’s been a blessing to get the Thunderbolts job.”