A Christmas Story

By David

It’s Christmas morning and for some reason NBC is showing a program about the formation of the Home Depot chain of stores. It’s actually quite interesting. Three guys had the idea, moved to Atlanta and opened one store with money they’d borrowed from friends. Money was so short they also borrowed empty boxes and paint tins from suppliers and stocked the shelves with the fake stock. The impression of service, of being busy worked and after some early losses the retailer was on its way to becoming the 2,200 store giant it is today.

I love the fake paint tins story. I’ve formed two swim clubs in my coaching career: one in New Zealand in 1990 and the other in Florida in 2009. The New Zealand club was the most difficult. Alison came up with the name “The Local Swim Team”. At first Swimming New Zealand didn’t like the name as it did not suggest a geographical location. We pointed out that the Aquahawks Club name said nothing about Napier, Comet Club said nothing about Gisborne and while our old club Gale Force, was an accurate indication of Wellington’s weather, it certainly did not mention the town. Swimming New Zealand relented and The Local was formed – well, almost formed.

In those days to be a club in New Zealand meant having a minimum of 25 members. We had two, Toni Jeffs and Jane Copland. There was nothing wrong with the quality of the team, Toni was already representing the country and Jane would one day do the same. However we were a huge 23 members short of Swimming New Zealand’s minimum. Alison and I joined. Alison’s sister, brother, brother in law and mother became members – only eighteen to go. One of Toni’s friends who couldn’t swim but worked with her in the Body Shop became a founding member. Gradually we reduced the deficit. We even found another swimmer, Nichola Chellingworth who also went on to represent New Zealand with distinction in World Championships and Pan Pacific Games. The Local Swim Team must be the only Club ever formed whose entire founding swimming membership went on to swim for their country.

Finally, we had 24 members; just one to go. I think it was Alison’s idea; what about Sammy, our cat? The forms were completed and sent to Swimming New Zealand and there, as a proud founding member, was number 25 Sammy Wright, aged three, status: beginner. Our application was accepted and for one year Sammy was just as important to our cause as his more heralded team mates. In year two Sammy retired, his work well done. By that time we had real swimmers ready to take his place. For several years Alison’s mother and brother stayed on as members, proud of the role they had played in founding The Local.

One of Sammy’s many ploys to avoid swim practice

Forming the new team in Florida was not as difficult. There were a few idiots who went out of their way to perform a late term abortion; but failed. There was no need here for feline memberships, which is good since we no longer have a cat. We operate out of two pools and work hard to attract swimmers from families whose parents cannot afford the training fees. We rely on donations to cover the training fees of our swimmers. So far it’s worked. We have had fantastic support and today about half our members receive some form of financial assistance from the swim team Board. I like it. Talent is not restricted to the rich.

Each evening outside our pool young children receive instruction in football, basketball, cheerleading, tennis and now swimming. A couple of nights ago I noticed a huge man get out of a new Cadillac Escalade and wander over to join in a pick-up game of basketball. Soon he was absorbed in the game of feints and dunks, lay ups and three pointers. His size and skill prompted me to ask the Pool Manager, did she know who he was? Turns out he’s a defensive guard for the Cincinnati Bengals football team. It also turns out that twenty years ago he began his career out on the field behind our pool. Now, he’s not too big to come back at Christmas and share a game with his old mates. As I said, talent is not restricted to the rich. I’ve always thought the purpose of what we do is not to be an afternoon babysitting service. The purpose of what we do is to provide an opportunity to excel. I’ve known many call that elitism and demand more numbers and less quality. Elitism is not a sin. Elitism gives those who want the chance to excel; the opportunity to one day come back in an Escalade to play pick-up ball with their mates.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of politicians. Washington DC changes a person’s ideals. Or does it? This week a member of Congress heard about our new team and its work. On Thursday, a check for $1000 arrived with a simple hand written note. It said, “Hope this helps.” It does – it helps because we need the funds but mostly it helps because a national representative understands our cause, understands the importance of offering the highest quality tuition to the least of us. Thank you Congressman.

From Sammy to Washington DC that’s quite a leap. Although I guess they share the distinction of getting something good up and running.

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