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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Josie Morris of the Autumn Ridge swim team waits for her event at the Pete Johnston Invitational, one of the biggest events of the summer swim season. 

  • Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette Tabitha Cohn, who swims for Club North Pointe, will take part in the City Meet this weekend. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017 1:00 am

Nerve-wracking at the pool

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

City Swim Meet

Where: Helen P. Brown Natatorium

Friday: 8-and-under preliminaries, 4:40 p.m.

Saturday: 11-12 and 15-and-over preliminaries, 8:20 a.m.; 9-10 and 13-14 preliminaries to follow after more warm-ups

Sunday: Parade, 11:20 a.m.; Finals 1 p.m.

Tabitha Cohn was 5 when she showed genius-level thinking by picking the one sport offered in Fort Wayne that her father, this sportswriter, could be of absolutely no help whatsoever – swimming.

I've seen too many bad sports parents – the ones who yell at their kids, berate coaches, and throw things at referees – to have ever been one. But Tab took me out of the equation by choosing the pool as her second home, relegating her father to a folding chair in the shade. From there, my education as a swim dad continues and it has been equal parts gratifying, nerve-wracking and confusing.

Tab, now 10, will take place in her fourth City Meet this week – it runs Friday to Sunday at the Helen P. Brown Natatorium – and it's as chaotic and amazing a sports event as you will find in northeast Indiana. The sheer size of it is dizzying with about 750 kids of all ages, from 13 teams, taking parts in a multitude of events that never seem to stop, amid a cacophony of splashing, cheering, coaches shouting and horns blaring.

My daughter swims for Club North Pointe (undefeated in dual meets!) and is more style than substance, which is to say her form is terrific and her speed is middle-of-the-road. But heck if I didn't feel like I was watching Roy Hobbs hit towering home runs into the lights the last two years as she won City heats in breaststroke and freestyle. (It should be noted the officials failed to give her either victory, but part of being a swim dad is realizing the timers always seem to be watching a different race.)

I still struggle to remember the order of the individual medley – it's butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle – and I certainly couldn't demonstrate a proper streamline or flip turn. But here are the big things I've learned in my time as a swim dad, so newbies best pay attention:

• Get ready for ribbons. Even if your swimmer isn't the fastest, she will win awards and have actually done something meaningful to have earned them, like winning heats or being part of a good relay. It's well and good to tell a swimmer to just worry about their times, but where's the fun in that? Even a slowpoke can place in a heat, though, so you'd better have a box or display ready for all the awards or you're going to misplace them.

• Swim caps are evil. Especially if your kid has long hair, these things are not as easy to put on as you'd think and they won't be able to do it themselves for a while. Find another parent and have them do it for you until you get the hang of it. There's no shame. What will take you 5 minutes, they can do in 3 seconds. And when your kid finds a pair of goggles they like, immediately go to the store and buy three more of the same kind.

• Don't count on the sharpie. Your kid is going to be more stressed out about the logistics of a meet than the actual swimming. It's chaotic and missing an event is the big, constant worry. At City, parents aren't allowed on deck to help. That's why a lot of swimmers write their event and lane numbers on their arms, but that only helps if you can hear the official. If they are combining heats, ultra confusion ensues. So first of all, trust the system; any meet worth its salt will have people getting swimmers where they need to be. Secondly, work out a way for your kid to make contact with you, even if it's through hand signals, because you'll have a better idea of when they're racing than they will.

• Make sure it's fun. A great thing about swim is that you can do it year-round or, if you're less serious about it, there is a whole summer league of various skill levels. And the emphasis is always on instruction. Summer swim is so great that it can make winter frustrating; there are fewer teams and you can feel like the best swimmers get identified at too early an age and get special treatment, but that's a problem in almost every sport.

Now you're on your way to being a swim parent. Enjoy the ride and always remember to remind your kid: When they do the backstroke, they should know just how many strokes from the flags to the wall. That's how they avoid smacking their heads on it. Four years ago, I would have never guessed that. 

Justin A. Cohn is a senior writer for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1997. He can be reached by email; phone, 461-8429; or fax 461-8648.