I donned my reporter’s hat Saturday and drove down to the natatorium at IUPUI to cover the Indiana boys swimming and diving championships. I hung out with some swimmers in high school, so I understand how swimmers are second only to wrestlers when it comes to strange high school athletes, but had never been to a proper meet. It was an interesting afternoon.

First off, people go crazy at these things. They stand up and scream for the entire race, which at the high school level, can last as long as six minutes (500 yards is the longest distance used in competition in Indiana). There are organized groups of cheering students, complete with special cheers for each race, costumes, and counters to other school’s cheers. I thought I was full of spirit in high school, losing my voice to cheer on our volleyball team. I never considered going to a swim meet.

My task was actually pretty easy. The paper I work for only covers two high schools that had kids competing, and Friday night I already knew, from the prelims, that I would only be covering one swimmer, one relay team (both in consolation finals), and one diver. That gave me time to get my bearings, figure out what the hell was going on, and try to come up with some decent questions before I had to head down to the deck and interview kids and coaches.

The diver made things interesting. He finished fifth last year, as a sophomore, and was expected to do well again this year. He began the finals in fourth place, dove well through the finals, got a little help from the kid in front of him, and finished third. He was as giddy as a school girl when I interviewed him. Yes, that is a veiled reference to some of his characteristics. Let’s make no bones about it: most of the divers fit the stereotype for what you think of guys that dive. And before anyone gets upset with me, I hope my credentials as someone who does not care about such things has been firmly established over many, many years. I’m just sayin’, that’s all.

Once again, I had a real press pass, and got to sit up in special media seats. It probably says a lot about me that I get a kick out of that. I’m sure all the divers would make fun of me if they knew a 36-year-old man felt that way.

The swimmers did ok. The individual finished 15th overall, which means he was 7th in his consolation race. The relay did very well, finishing second in their consolation final, taking 10th overall. Interviews went well, and I think my story was solid.

There was some other excitement, with three state records falling and the closest team competition in 19 years. That made for some nice filler for my story. In the competition’s final race, the top two teams went back-and-forth over the four legs of a relay and touched within a blink of each other. The defending champions won the relay, but still came up five points short in the team competition. Terrific drama, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Some other things I noted while there:

First, worth mentioning, the natatorium has hosted four previous Olympic swimming trials and will host the diving trials later this year. Pretty cool to see the names for the 1984, 1988, 1992, and 2000 Olympic teams panted on the wall. Who knew Rowdy Gaines would one day be selling <a href=”http://www.endlesspools.com/why/swimming/swim_rowdy.html”>Endless Pool</a>s on TV?

The award platforms were stupid. They were these cylindrical platforms that rose higher as you moved from eighth to first place, with first place being like four feet off the floor. There were no steps or ladders, so the winners had to hop up on their own. This was really interesting for the relay teams, which had to crowd four guys onto each spot.

One kid, who won two events, slapped a walking boot onto one of his ankles immediately after each race. Doesn’t it still hurt like hell if you’ve got some kind of fracture in your foot and you’re swimming? I mean, you use your feet to swim, right? Yet he won two state championships. It must have been extra humiliating for all the guys he beat to watch him hobble by afterwards.

OK, I mentioned how people are crazy? Everyone waves their hands the direction the kids are swimming. Most people kind of flick their hands, like they’re shooing a fly away, one direction as the kids go down the pool, then reverse direction as they return to the opposite side. I wonder if it’s an aerodynamic assist? When you see a couple thousand people doing it, it’s pretty funny.

What was really cool, though, was seeing coaches and parents and teammates go crazy when a team or person performed really well, but maybe finished fifth in their race. There are probably a lot of kids who didn’t win, but swam their best time ever, or came back from well back to make a respectable showing. It was nice to see the enthusiasm for the effort not be diminished because a kid didn’t finish first or second.

The kid that won the diving competition is named Jimmy Page. As is his father. And according to a story I read today, both father and son are huge Zeppelin fans. That’s the best story I’ve come across this year. If I covered his school, I’d volunteer to write a 2000 word feature about all of that. There’s nothing but good things in that story.

You know you’re watching a high school event in the midwest when people politely applaud even when the divers fail to pull off their dive and hit the water with a smack. That was kind of nice.

They played lots of up-beat music before events. I was sitting next to the North Central student section. Before one race they played Blink 182’s “All the Small Things,” which is from 1999. Every kid in the NC section knew all the words and was singing along. Who knew Blink had such staying power?

Finally, after each award ceremony, the announcer said, “Sincere congratulations to all competitors…” It made me wonder, have they had a problem with sarcastic congratulations in the past?

Oh, and it’s nice to spend a day in a balmy, chlorinated natatorium on a cold, February day.