Things will go swimmingly
As I made my way around the Greensboro Aquatic Center this past weekend reporting for this week’s cover story on the Greensboro Community Swimming Association City Meet (“Strokes”; page 27), I became a repository for critiques of the event and the venue from many of the thousands of parents and well-wishers in attendance.
People carped about the parking fee, though many admitted that while parking at Lindley Park was free, it was not always convenient. And some voiced dissatisfaction with the concessions, which this year was the province of the coliseum, as opposed to years past when the teams themselves provided, and benefited from, food and drink sales.
Most of it I took with more than a few grains of salt. It is much easier to complain than to praise, and bad news travels much faster than the good stuff, particularly in the city of Greensboro.
The way I see it is that this is the first year in a new venue for the event, which long ago outgrew its old digs at Lindley. There were a few misfires, to be sure, but also some major upgrades to the 53-year-old swim meet, including the new pool, which registered some of the fastest times in city history.
There was some despair at the loss of the “community feel” that pervaded the Lindley Park affairs over the last 50 years. And it’s true that the aquatic center is a more sterile environment than a neighborhood pool, designed with professional swimming events in mind rather than city meets.
But as much as people like to look at things through the gauzy lens of nostalgia, it is fact that there is no going back to Lindley.
That being said, I have a few suggestions for next year. And though I have never been to the city meet as it existed at Lindley, I have been involved in sporting events like this as a participant, a spectator and a journalist for most of my life.
With the new venue comes more space. I think it would be appropriate to have more tents along the breezeway between the aquatic center and the Athletes Village in the Special Events Center, with representation not just from swim clubs and bathing-suit salesmen but perhaps sponsors like radio stations, restaurants and maybe even weekly newspapers.
The most complaints I heard came on the first day, when more than 2,000 swimmers competed during the long afternoon session in a venue that seats 2,500 at best. People standing in the spectator section blocked the view of others in the seats; the aisles were clogged with overflow; lines for concessions and the bathroom were unreal. The first day should be broken down into two sessions, just like the other two.
Another big complaint voiced to me was that the team members were not allowed into the arena to cheer on their teammates like they could at Lindley. While that could never happen — there are simply too many swimmers — it might be nice to put some big TV screens in the Athletes Village and stream the footage from inside the aquatic center so the kids can watch their friends in their heats.
For that matter, the whole thing should be televised on a local channel. Not only is this an important local sporting event that involves thousands of area kids, it is fantastic sport to which 90-second TV news spots do not do justice. Remember that the public airwaves are just that: public. It is the responsibility of those who have custodianship of these airwaves to use them in our best interests.
Perhaps a few logistical issues could be tweaked, but those concerns are better addressed by the organizers and the parent volunteers, both of whom did a fantastic job putting on this major event.
And then there is the issue of diversity. This is the third largest metropolitan in the state of North Carolina, with more than 100 languages spoken and people from dozens of countries living here. And yet the Greensboro City Meet is oddly monochromatic. I hadn’t seen this many white people in one place since I worked as a caddy at the Garden City Men’s Club.
Seriously, it was whiter than a Bruce Springsteen concert. There were enough white people to fill an RV park. There were so many white people in there, I thought a TED Talk was gonna break out.
But this, too, is a problem that will likely take care of itself in the years to come as Greensboro matures into a more cosmopolitan city. As more kids with ethnic backgrounds make their way to the dozens of community pools that dot the area, we will see a more inclusive swim community.
For now, we have a strong and impressive contingent of young swimmers in Greensboro, and a dedicated group of parents who drive them to practices, wash their swimsuits, volunteer at meets and support every aspect of the sport as its done locally.
I thoroughly enjoyed covering this year’s City Meet. And I look forward to next year.