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Swim-team parents pool kids' excuses into winning booklet


Kids do not go quietly into the pool. They offer excuses, some clever, some not, of why they shouldn't have to go to swim team practice.

Kathy O'Laughlin, Barbara Marshall and Sue Bristol know the routine. They are swim-team moms. In the process of cajoling their kids -- five O'Laughlins, two Marshalls and two Bristols -- to attend the daily practice sessions of the Padonia Park Swim Club in Timonium, they have heard a litany of excuses.

This summer, the moms began writing down their kids' excuses. They added ones heard by swim-team coaches and other parents. They gathered the alibis in an 11-page publication called "More Than 101 Excuses Why I Can't Swim Today," and are selling copies at $2 each at some swim meets and through the mail (The M.O.B., P.O. Box 359, Hunt Valley, Md. 21030).

The list ranges from the familiar refrain of "I can't find my goggles," to the creative plea of "I can't swim because I found a snake in my backyard." The publication of the list is timely. Today -- say hallelujah and pass the sunblock -- is the finale of the Central Maryland Swim League season. This means that today, some 4,000 swimmers ranging in age from 8 to 18 crowd into seven sweltering pools scattered throughout the metropolitan area and compete for trophies, ribbons and team bragging rights.

Lining the edges of the pools, feeling a mixture of pride and heat-exhaustion, are the parents of the swimmers. For the past six weeks, the parents have listened to excuses from reluctant swimmers. Most parents have smiled, and sent the kids into the water.

As a veteran swim-team parent, I read the excuse list with interest. I had my favorites. Here are a few: "I can't swim because I got a new haircut and don't want to mess it up." "My earring fell out and I have to find it." "My tooth fell out and I have to find it." And, "I can't swim because I don't like green hair."

This plea, Mrs. O'Laughlin said, was voiced by teen-age girls, blondes, who were worried that the chlorine in the pool water would damage their tresses. I met Mrs. O'Laughlin and one of her fellow authors, Mrs. Marshall, when our families were attending a meet held last week at Padonia Park Club. It was called the Straehle Invitational Central Maryland Swim League Individual Championships.

The kids call it "Padonia," and during the first meets of the season virtually every winning swimmer emerges from the water and asks, "Did I make Padonia?" The question is swimmer's slang, asking whether they swam fast enough to qualify for the league-wide meet. In the geometry of summer swim meets, the one at Padonia is the top of the pyramid.

The O'Laughlin kids and the Marshall boys not only qualified, they also ended up winning ribbons and medals there. This told me that while these kids might have mouthed a lot of far-fetched excuses why they shouldn't practice, they probably ended up swimming extra laps anyway.

Swim teams come in several sizes. The one the O'Laughlins, the Marshalls and Bristols swim for, Padonia Park, is large, with about 300 kids. When it swims against its Division One rivals from Hammond Park, Shipley's Choice, South Carroll, Five Oaks and Springdale, headlines can be made. My boys swim on Bolton Hill, a team of 50. When the swim-team standings appeared recently in the sports pages, I read the records of the teams in our classification, Division VI. I saw the records of Olde Mill, Westminster Swim Team, Chartridge, Atholton and

Southdown, but no Bolton Hill. Forget headlines, we didn't even make the agate.

Shortly after I met Mrs. O'Laughlin and Mrs. Marshall, we were talking like old friends. We were swim-team parents, an experience that seems to be somewhat similar regardless of the size of the team. We agreed, for instance, that the tribal nature of swim team is one of its most appealing parts. Teen-agers on the team, for instance, often take 6-year-old teammates under their wings.

We agreed that there are parents, not us, who take the swim team too seriously. We agreed that most of these parents are from other pools.

We agreed that you have to watch out for the "mad DQers," that is for stroke and turn judges who revel in disqualifying, or "DQing," young swimmers who have not followed the letter of the law.

Finally, we agreed that while we, as swim-team parents, can tell our kids to practice that butterfly stroke, we are not required to get in the water and demonstrate how it should be done. Parents preach. Kids practice.

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