City Swim Meet: Water World meets Lord of the Flies

Heat Sheet

Go time at the University of Tennessee!

Talk about living vicariously through your kids. The City Swim Meet at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville is the living definition of that. Having missed out on the traditional college experience I always enjoy going to the UT campus, which conveniently sits just 10 minutes from my house. The first pic is the kid’s events for the day to include time, heat and lane. There was my 8 year old in the program for a real live competition with hundreds of other kids from all round the Knoxville area. My nerves were waking up.

The kid? Well he could care less. Maybe it’s that deal where he’s too young to feel magnitude. For me the magnitude of this was enormous. Very soon after arriving I would be taking him down to this giant holding pen where he would await the call for his first race. As his races were all so close together I thought this might be the last time I got to talk to him until the end of the meet. That meant he would be on his own in the huge swim arena, jumping into that huge pool, racing all those other kids and the best I could do would be sit in the stands and watch, helplessly. You bet your ass I was nervous.


Keeping his head while all about him lose theirs.

There he is, in the 2nd pic, sitting like a Jedi in deep contemplation. Sat like that for almost 6 minutes. I only started to watch the clock after Mrs Frank’s Place texted to ask if he was nervous. I sent her this pic and then realized he had been like that for a few minutes. He had just returned from his first race, the individual freestyle, to the team tent, waiting for the call for his individual backstroke event. From that 6 minute meditation came this bit of discovery. Daddy, if they let me be on the team next year I’m gonna race the breast stroke too. So we were both feeling the moment. My moment was giving me irritable bowel syndrome, his moment was apparently giving him the taste for blood.

Honestly I started not to recognize him. I usually take him to the evening swim practices during the week. I’ve never seen him be very competitive. But after this weird little moment and then his backstroke event, I realized he was finally feeling the spirit of competition. In that race he started 9th. Of course he starts every race last because he watches the other kids and won’t dive until they do. He’ll never false start that’s for sure. But he puts himself behind right from the jump.  But unlike most meets and practices, in the pool at UT he found a new gear.


Amazing what a competitive atmosphere can do. Or maybe he’s juicing. Hard to tell.

By the halfway point he had drawn even with most of the field and I figured on a decent finish. But he kept going and touched the wall for third. He’s best finish to date. Shaved serious time off his previous best. I was ecstatic. He was more interested in the shaved ice truck sitting outside the door where the swimmers came out after they were done. I tried not to yell like a crazy parent. I can’t tell you if I did or not. I was in a bit of a euphoric haze. And I ain’t ashamed to admit it.

Don’t let the title fool you. It was a great event. We had a great time. It was well run and organized inside the arena. However, outside the arena, the staging area, the place I began to refer to as the pen, was at times bedlam, and most times utter chaos. In the midst of that chaos was one dude, a sentinel of sorts, already hoarse from the Friday events. One man against a tide of kids and screaming parents.

We had three kids going in the same heat in the backstroke. We went to the pen before they called for us. From his view it looked like a relay team and he motioned to me. They were in the midst of being overrun by relay teams of 8 and 9 year old boys and girls. Some squads had two and three relay teams. The commotion was caused by relay teams showing up without all four members. But mostly it was caused by parents trying to show they knew better than the sentinel. It was crazy. When the sentinel motioned to me I spoke before he wasted more of his dwindling voice. Hey man, we’re early. We’re not the relay team, just early for the backstroke, event 42.

the pen

The sentinel is in there somewhere. And this was a dull moment. It’s Lord of the Flies in there!

I got a quick nod of appreciation from the sentinel and he went back to stemming the tide of rebellion in his little fenced in island. I put an important mental note away for the future. When Frank’s relay event comes up don’t come to the pen without the full team and let the dude be the dude. I say this to Tracy all the time when we go out to eat. Let the waiter be the waiter we’ll just be the eaters. Well on this day we were just the swimmers. Some of the other parents had figured this out as well and you could see them standing back a bit waiting for the din to die down. That moment never came.

It wasn’t until the kids began to get past the sentinel and dictate to their parents what should be happening that I pulled Frank back to the other side of the lot where all this was going on. He was getting real tired of all this and I could see it was weighing on him. Finally the relay teams moved into the arena and it was Frank’s turn to enter the pen to wait for his race. When the sentinel came up to me I just had to ask him. Who did you piss off to get this job?  But the sentinel’s job is never done and he was back at the chaos, moving kids to arena. Time for me to get in there too. That’s where I watched my kid rip off a personal best and finish third in his heat after all that nonsense outside.

Later as the meet ended Frank’s coaches mentioned the same guy does that job every year. He actually volunteers for it. God bless that poor bastard. I assume the job gets a little easier as the kids get older. So this must be some sort of purgatory or something. Either way the sentinel was the real MVP that day. And because of him my 8 year old wants to drop boy scouts and fall baseball so he can work on his swimming for next year.


Small kid. Big pool.

As one of my friends said, if Frank gets long like his grandfather, my dad, he’ll go far in swimming. I have no issue with that. It’s a great sport. And after this City Meet deal I’m hooked too. I mean look at the last pic. That’s Frank in Lane 7 in the same pool Michael Phelps and the rest of the 2012 Olympic swimmers trained in during the run up to the London games.

That is a small kid in a big pool. He’s just starting to find his stroke. I’d much rather walk golf course seeing his smooth swing but I admit I wouldn’t mind spending my retired years going to college pools to watch this kid swim.

Wonder what the sentinels are like at that level?


50 Years a Memory: Treasures from the Attic

As I may have mentioned, the house I grew up in, the house that was built for us 50 years ago this past July, is on the market. My mom is moving out after the death of my father in 2015 and it’s time to clean the place out. I may also have mentioned we are the only people to ever live in that house and we have accumulated 50 years worth of “stuff”. Well the work has begun and actually nearing its end. My little sister, aka The Warden, is running the show. Sometimes 660 miles is a good distance.

Not gonna lie, the thought of all that work makes me tired. I sheepishly have to admit I have the best of both worlds. I am doing none of the work but getting a lot of the stories and pictures of the stuff they find as la mia famiglia work through 50 years of stuff stuffed into two attics. Here is one of the treasures they found.

Yeah you can say it, I was adorable.

That’s me, your humble author, spring of 1972 I think. Had to be cowboy day in kindergarten or something. I know it’s not first grade. I was sentenced to eight years at St. Vincent De Paul Catholic school for grades 1-8. Hence I would have been in uniform or some type of prison togs or what have you.

That picture, as it turns out was the tip of the iceberg. I really never considered what documents or photos they might find. The bulk of the conversation always centered around the big orange tractor pictured two stories ago, the massive above ground pool filter that favored a small fission reactor, and a conspiracy laced theory that my parents had just tossed my brother’s, now worth a small fortune, collection of baseball cards from their youth in the small downstairs attic. Since their youth occurred in the 1960s there may be some good cards in the pile. Probably gonna be a Capone’s vault type of thing but it’s a fun story.

Micky Mantle’s rookie card aside there was some finds of more significance , at least in my mind. My brother has always had a nose for politics and we have great conversations every time he rolls through Knoxville. Now I know why that is.

A little highbrow but it gets the message across.

Behold, historical documents from his first campaign for public office. Not sure of the date on this but campaign budgets were clearly a little tight then. It’s also unclear from the historical documents recovered from what I believe is the upstairs attic dig, of exactly what the outcome was. There was no evidence of a reelection campaign so I think it’s safe to assume this particular bid at public service went begging.

Maybe one of my sisters or even The Man himself will clarify that and what exactly the Office of Chairman was. Keep in mind what we know about politics now was completely different back then. For all we know Chairman might be Class President. Or it could be chief chalk eraser clapper/cleaner. Hard to say.

There were some other good finds in those attics. At the risk of breaking my arm as I pat myself on the back, here is some evidence of where my love of reading comes from. My kids both howled at this when I explained the play on words. But it was a timely find as Frank is starting to learn the importance of reading well. Not just because it’s smart to do so, but because reading is the key to being good at math and science, two of his favorite subjects currently.

Some subtle irony there if you can see it.

If I remember correctly 1978 would have been 5th grade for me. I do remember my teacher, Mrs Fisher. Even at the rip old age of nine years old I thought she was cute as a button. She was the teacher who figured out I needed glasses. My grades predictably went up from that point. Mrs Fisher was a cool teacher and a large part of my roaring success with reading. Scanning the landscape of Frank’s, and now Anne Marie’s grade school, I take comfort in how many Mrs Fishers I see waiting for them as they progress. Lot of memories in that little card.

Some other cool finds were my dad’s duffle bag and nap sack from his time in the Army. My sister’s leg brace that she wore for a s long as I can remember when we were kids was unearthed. Of course there were more pictures and other things. Mostly more memories.

Here are a few of the pics recovered from the operation.:

That’s us. Must be 1980ish in our living room.

Three generations – one house.

That last one was not found in the attic. That’s just a shot of my Frank and his grandfather Frank, Poppy as they called him. Both with the official name of Francis. Summer of 2010 I think. So if you’re keeping score that’s three generations of Francis’s in our dinning room.

The other pic was clearly found in the attic. That’s the eight of us with our parents in 1981/82 maybe. Not sure the occasion but we are lined up for some reason in our living room at the time.

Final memory from the attic in the only house we ever knew.

Birthday time for the then unknown Warden.

That shot is my childhood. All of us around the dinning room table. The warden was having a birthday. So it’s November 1975 maybe. That’s me sporting the white belt after labor Day. Always the risk taker.

Brace yourself, I’m going nostalgic. Birthdays for us happened around that table. Period. Granted with 8 of us we had a built in party, but the dining room table was our spot. All those trips back to Jersey since I’ve moved to Knoxville end up in that room, sitting around the table telling stories or making fun of someone. Well at least they did. Someone else will get to sit there now. Maybe for another 50 years.

Imagine the stories they’ll share.




Swim Team and the Swim Meet that Never Ends.

You know it all seems so cool, seems so awesome. What could be better than being a competitive swimmer?

Since I was a kid the TV brought scenes of Olympic swimmers during their meets, and events, and heats. Watching the US Swim Team crush everyone in Los Angeles during the 84 summer games was amazing. That was the Olympics of Rowdy Gaines, Pablo Morales, Dara Torres, and Mary Meagher. The US bagged 21 gold medals. From there we got Atlanta and then Sydney and the first appearance of then unknown Michael Phelps from Baltimore. The coverage of swimming at the Los Angeles Olympics all the way through the latest games in Rio has been breathtaking.

Not Torres and Gainey. Still super cool though.

You want to know what that coverage wasn’t? Accurate.

Now I’m not saying it was fake news. No, everything we saw was real. What I’m saying is we didn’t get to see everything. Lie by omission? Probably not. But if the unwashed, such as myself, could see what went into to those super cool swim meets, what happened behind the scenes… Well let’s just say my kids might have had to live with a very non-super cool ten dollar slip and slide during the summer instead of the swim team they go to each day.

Swim team practice itself is great. Takes an hour and they can go to the morning session or the evening session or both. Two nights a week the evening session is on the campus at the University of Tennessee. That’s way cool.

Practice is just what you might expect. Swimming. They literally swim laps for an hour. Great exercise and they do it every day. In the final few minutes of practice any kid who wants to can jump from the diving board. Mine have really enjoyed that part. They used to be deathly afraid, now even AM jumps right off. The confidence building in them both is visible.

But the swim meets. My god the swim meets. Tuesday night was my first time. What an indoctrination. My wife and kids got there around 4pm. The meet started at 6. I got there around 5:45. I was greeted by utter chaos only to be told by a dad from the other team that this was one of the most organized meets he had seen so far. No one from my family had seen me yet. The desire to flee was palpable. Instead I braced and forged on.

Should have run when I had the chance.

I found my wife at the check in tent, volunteering as usual. The kids appeared soon after with colorful but weird markings on their bodies. Across their backs, a sharpie induced tattoo of their last name. On the underside of their forearm some hieroglyphics that looked something like this: 12/1/1.

That bit of info indicates his event, heat and lane. So for that example he would race in event 12, be in heat 1, and swim in lane 1. Frank swam in 4 events so he had a mini European train schedule on his arm. But once it was explained to me it was easy to follow. Until I took a closer peak.

Frank why does the last one say 42/3/3?

Cause I swim in lane 3 for my last race.

Wait are you saying you are swimming in event 42? Tracy is he swimming in event 42? There are 42 events?

The answers were yes, yes and no. Absolutely should have run before I was made.

Yes he was swimming in event 42, but no there are not 42 events. There are 72. I’ll write that out for you non-numerically inclined. A swim meet has seventy-two events. And every swimmer swims at least one event. The opposing team had 160 swimmers added to our 60+ swimmers.

Frank is not even that good at this and he was swimming the maximum allowed four events. He was slated for events 12, 22, 32, 42. Great for ease of counting, not great for getting to bed anytime before midnight. Once more, there are multiple heats to each event. So from the above example Frank swam the first heat in event 12, but there were 4 heats in that event. So event 13 did not occur until all heats for event 12 were finished. And of course we had a record breaking 8 heats in event 16. Of course we did.

AM was easy. She swam 11/1/1. Event eleven as it turns out was very early on in the festivities. Problem: Wife was volunteering the whole meet, and I had to stay for all of Frank’s races. Issue: AM has to hang out waiting for her brother to finish his last race in the third heat of event 42. Forty two?!?! How do I tell a kid she has to sit there and watch other people swim but she, still in a bathing suit, can’t go in the water? The waiting is a lesson in endurance. And for a 5 year old she did great.

And yeah we blew town the minute he emerged from the water after his last race. Look I’m all for team work and team spirit and all that other business, but it’s Tuesday night, quickly becoming Wednesday morning. I don’t even want to tell you what time I get up for work. (4:30am) but there is a good chance they still might be swimming when I’m hopping in the shower before heading to the office.

I ran into a friend who was volunteering as a lane watcher or something. His kid was swimming in event 64. Poor bastard. I almost passed out when he told me. Speaking of… did I mention it was 98 bazillion degrees out there? Mrs Frank’s Place was almost a causality. Which is bizarre really. To pass out or suffer from the heat or dehydration a mere five steps from a large pool of water would be one of the universe’s cruel ironies.

All my whining aside it was a great thing. To see your kids perform in an environment like that at such a young age is a treasure. Coach Joe is an amazing dude. He is responsible for running the meet when it’s at our pool. By all accounts it went off without a hitch. Which is staggering considering all the logistics that go into something like that. So kudos to him and the staff and Team Smokin Salmon!

Here are few shots from the swim meet that never ends.

Starting Block Lane 4 – Individual Back Stroke

Frank reaching for the wall – Individual Back Stroke







So intent on a competitor he forgot to put his goggles down – Individual Breast Stroke

AM in her first ever race – Individual Free Style

So yeah it sucked in some aspects. And now that I know what to expect and how to prepare it will suck a whole lot less next time. But there was a whole lot of greatness happening too.

The camaraderie Coach Joe has cultivated on a swim team with kids as young a 5 and as old as 18 is amazing. Older kids I’ve never met stopped to congratulate AM on her first race as they were on the way to check in for theirs.

In a middle of the road type race, Frank’s kick in the final stretch of the Individual Backstroke got him from 6th to 4th, picking up valuable points for his team. Honestly I thought I was the only one who noticed. Wrong again. Several people came over to him with encouragement and excitement of his final move in the last few meters.

When Frank was so focused on beating one of the kids from the other team off the block he forgot to slide his goggles down over his eyes. He went the whole race without them. He took the kid from the block and at the wall. Mission accomplished.  Two of his coaches were laughing. There goes Frank the Tank without his goggles. No he has goggles, he’s just not using them.

The kid has a nick name. Who knew? An easy alliteration of his name to be sure. But apparently it also refers to his determination to do something like prove he can swim the length of the pool without moving his arms, jump from the diving board without getting his hair wet, and swim a race with his goggles on his head instead of his eyes because he was intent on getting off the block first.

The things you learn about your kids.

It’s a good squad with good coaching. We are lucky to have this experience. And my kids are learning important life lessons from swimming I thought they might only get from golf.

Hmmm Swim Team, who knew?