This past weekend I attended my team’s annual swimming and diving banquet. I am not a fan of banquets, but this one was different. This was the first time I’ve realized what a banquet is for: closure. This year the banquet held particular significance because it marked the end not only of the season but also of my career here. This would be the final banquet I would attend in my current position.
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The banquet opened with the head coach’s comments and take on the season. I have heard him make this kind of summary for the past three seasons. Three years ago he talked about what we could do. Two years ago the story was look at what we did. This year he read a quote that helps to describe the evolution of a successful program. "From nobody to upstart, from upstart to contender, from contender to champion, from champion to dynasty." In the three years that I have been here as an assistant, I have seen a team that were upstarts become contenders. Then these contenders became champions. Now they are laying the groundwork for becoming a dynasty. Watching the head coach address his athletes, their parents, the school’s administrators and staff, made me want to be him. I know how much work he has put in so that the athletes could achieve the success that they have.
Following his opening comments, the head coach went on to recognize his staff. He thanked the two assistants who were kind enough to volunteer as coaches for the program. It is a true testament to the kind of program that our head coach runs when you have an area veterinarian and a full time grad student volunteer to be a part of the staff. Both had only kind words and gratitude for being allowed to be a part of the team. Next to be recognized was the diving coach, who has been here for the past eight seasons. "Diving coach" is only one of the ten or so responsibilities that this person holds at the university. Next on the list of acknowledgements was the woman who has been our part-time assistant for the past ten seasons — longer than all of the other assistants and the head coach combined. She is part-time only because she is a full-time teacher at a local school. Next came our faculty advisor, who serves as liaison between our team and the academic community. He started serving in this capacity nine years ago, in big part because his wife is the part-time assistant. Then came my time for facing the microphone. The head coach told everyone that he was saving this person for last because he would be moving on after this season. He then thanked me and told me that he loved me and would miss me.
So how are you supposed to follow that? All of my colleagues for the past three years were announced and had words of thanks and praise for the program. Their contributions to the program and to their respective professions are tremendous. As I stood to address the crowd of parents and swimmers, I was taken aback for a minute. I had just listened to how truly impressive the company of my peers was. For the past three years I had been living the coaching life with them without really thinking how truly impressive they were as people. These colleagues had helped to shape me into the coach and man that I am today. With that in mind I stood alone behind the podium, looking out into the crowd that had been such a huge part of my life and knowing that this would be the final time that I spoke to them as a part of the coaching staff. I started with what seemed like the only logical thing to say… "Thank you." From there, everything I had thought about saying or had prepared went out the window. I am still not really sure of what I said while I was up there. I am sure that I let everyone know the debt of gratitude that I feel for having been allowed to coach here for the past three years. I assured all of them that I wasn’t dying, and that they weren’t the cause of the breakup. I also informed them of two new technologies, known as the "World-Wide Web"and "e-mail," which had been invented just in time to allow us to stay in touch.
After the staff recognition came the awards. This has become an ever-expanding segment of the banquet. It seems that we are living in an era where rewards are handed out without any sort of accomplishment. This wasn’t the case for this Saturday afternoon. I had the chance to pass out thirty-nine scholar-athlete awards. There were also special awards presented to individuals on the team as voted by their fellow swimmers. I had the privilege of presenting the Leadership Awards to Ms. Orange and Mr. Green, both of whom I had worked with directly over the past three seasons. I have seen them develop not only into great athletes but also into mature young adults.
The hardest part came when the microphone was turned over to the seniors. The first senior was someone who has made the most strides as a young adult while still maintaining his individuality. Last year he quit swimming after an incident at training trip. This season he asked forgiveness and for the opportunity to give it one more chance. He finished the season remaining the school record holder in the 400 IM as well as finaling in the 200 IM, and 200 Back. The message he delivered to everyone was, "stay with it no matter how hard it gets. The reward in the end is more satisfying than anything else in life. I left swimming and it left a hole in my life. My schedule was missing the structure of having practice every day but, furthermore, there was a hole in my heart." Each swimmer got up to the mic and not one had a bad word to say about their experiences.
This is what this sport is all about. Here was a group of seniors that had accomplished something great. They had all finished their senior swimming careers. Not one of them won a national title or achieved a world record, but their lives would not have been fulfilled without swimming.