Swim meets organized chaos

Bridget Champagne knelt next to a young swimmer, mimicking the moves needed for a good dive from the platform.

As the horn blew, indicating the start of a swim meet heat, Champagne yelled “go, go, go” and the swimmer made her way across the Gonzales municipal pool.

The scene was repeated dozens of times on June 27 during the Gonzales Dolphins swim meet against a team from Baton Rouge.

Dolphins head coach Champagne, 21, said swim meets are organized chaos with more than 250 swimmers competing in dozens of heats held in rapid succession.

Swimmers mark their legs or arms with the meet numbers and events they are set to compete in. Most swimmers compete in more than one race, so many have what resembles a tic-tac-toe board temporarily tattooed on their bodies.

To keep the 170 Dolphins swimmers organized between races, a colorful tent city surrounds the pool, with placards marking areas for different age groups.

Swimmers listen to music, make phone calls, play games and snack while waiting for their next heat.

Volunteers carrying clipboards round up swimmers, maneuvering them from the tents to a holding bench area to the pool with clockwork permission.

“Somehow, it all works,” Champagne said.

It works, she said, because of dedicated parent volunteers and coaches that spend most of the meet rounding up swimmers and making sure everyone is where they need to be.

Longtime Waves parent volunteer Patricia Peno said her three children love swimming and being part of the Dolphins team.

“It’s a sport that could end up saving their lives,” Peno said.

In addition to learning how to swim, Peno said swimming practices keep them busy during the summer vacation break.

Champagne also created the team’s success to the hard work and dedication of Dawn Robert, the city’s aquatic director.

Having a great facility doesn’t hurt, Champagne added.

New Dolphins coach Jason VandeVuss, the former director of the now-defunct Gonzales YMCA, said he’s glad to be back in the area teaching children how to swim.

VandeVuss, like Champagne, never stops during the meets. They dash from swimmer to swimmer and stop often to answer questions from swimmers and volunteers.

Champagne said her goal for each summer is to teach the swimmers proper techniques and strokes, but “to have fun and for them to learn responsibility and how to act with others.”

The Dolphins, who compete in the River Cities Swim League, will compete July 17 to July 19 in the city meet in Baton Rouge.