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At The NOL Swim Meet

January 28, 2013 - Al Stephenson
I am always impressed when I watch high school athletes compete at a top level. When the young people excel at a sport in which I have virtually no ability, perhaps marvel is a better adjective. Such was the case as I journeyed to Sandusky to take in the 2013 NOL Conference Swimming Championships.

You must understand that if I was dropped in the center of a swimming pool that my chances of reaching the side safely would be about 50-50. If I were to try to get to the end of the pool, the odds of me reaching my destination would go down significantly. So to see accomplished swimmers take to the water leaves me shaking my head.

The only swim meet I had ever been to was in college. We had a kid on our dorm floor that was on Hiram College's swim team and we made a couple of trips to the pool to watch him. The most remarkable thing about Wes Ogata was where he lived. How anyone got to Hiram, Ohio from Hawaii is beyond me, but that he did and we enjoyed watching him swim. Some forty years later it was time to attend another meet.

So after finding my way to Sandusky High School's natatorium, I prepared to watch Tiffin Columbian's swimmers compete. These athletes toil in relative obscurity compared to other more popular sports. Don't think for a minute though that these kids are any less enthusiastic about what they do. The atmosphere was electrifying and - in a word - loud.

The noise started early as the SHS pep band performed the National Anthem as well as the school's fight song. In relatively cramped quarters, the 18 member group sounded very loud. The noise level actually rose when the first event was staged. The girls 200 Yard Medley Relay had fans screaming from the opening horn until the end of the race. I had the feeling that it was Olympic competition given the excitement level and that feeling remained until the last event was completed.

One of the more interesting things I noticed about the meet was the type of cheering that went on from the fans, coaches and teammates of individuals who were racing through the churning water. The verbal yell was "go" which I guess is a logical thing to yell at a person who is trying to finish ahead of their opponents. The yell was accompanied by each person using a hand signal that was a little comical. Encouragement came from using one's fingers to accentuate the direction the swimmer was headed. If you were on the side of the pool the fingers went sideways. If one was at the end of the pool, the fingers were pushed rapidly forward. I'm guessing you could have gestured the other way and the athlete would not turn around. I'm not sure the swimmers could even see the gestures, but they were given by the hundreds.

The only event that didn't use the "go" term was the breaststroke. In that case the crowd yelled "pull" instead. The swimmers must have understood as they continued to race from one end of the pool to the other.

The noise was deafening except for the start of each race. The crowd was chastized to quiet down a couple of times before the command was given to take the marks which was quickly followed by the horn. It was during one such quiet period that an incident took place that soon had much of the crowd near me chuckling. A little girl's hand held electronic device suddenly came to life as a female voice said "hi everybody." We were all startled, but the little girl looked scared as her dad quickly grabbed the device. The moment took place just as the horn souded and no harm was done. When that became evident, we all had a good laugh.

I was mesmerized by the swimmers diving into the pool to start the race. These kids dove out, not down and were seemingly halfway across the pool before resurfacing and starting to swim. I couldn't help but wonder how long it would take me to recover from a cannonball entrance to the water. I told you - my swimming ability is nonexistent.

There was a standout at the meet and that would be Taylor Vargo of Sandusky. She was constantly heading to the top of the awards stand to receive her first place plaque with a new NOL record time. I found out that she is headed to Ohio State on a full four year scholarship to swim. She appeared to be very deserving.

I came to watch the TC swimmers though, and I was not disappointed. Several outstanding performances convinced me that these kids are dedicated, hard working athletes. Chris Gates defended his title in the 200 Yard Freestyle, winning with a time of 1:54:08. Adam Young finished fourth in the same event. Gates added a second place finish in the 100 Yard Backstroke. Natalie Howard and Lindsay Young finished 1-2 in the 100 Yard Backstroke. Howard added a second place finish in the 100 Yard Butterfly. Sarah Hudacek had a pair of runnerup finishes in the 200 Yard IM and the 500 Yard Freestyle. Sister Rachel Hudacek had a pair of seconds as well - in the 100 Yard Freestyle and the 50 Yard Freestyle. TC's relay teams also placed.

Other Columbian swimmers who scored points included Nate Ramsdell, Braden Kuhn and Abby Burton. The TC girls team finished second and the boys third in the championships.

The view from my seat suggests that I had a thoroughly enjoyable day. Watching these kids compete was awesome. I would like to congratulate them for their efforts and thank them for the opportunity to watch them in action. I would also like to wish the TC swimmers good luck as they head to tournament action.


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