Not Eudora By Harry Welty
March 14, 2008

A Pool Half Filled

By Harry Welty

This marks the return of Not Eudora to the Reader after a two-year hiatus. The columns will be about any darned thing Harry Welty wants to write about.

A friend talked me into joining the swim team when I was a junior in high school. I was never a great swimmer but I lettered twice. In my senior year our 4 x 100 freestyle relay team qualified for state. When our team practiced in the pool of the massive University of Minnesota natatorium it was so deep that I was disoriented. We swam in the first relay heat which meant we were among the slowest teams in the competition. During my leg I misjudged turns twice flipping early so that I found no wall to kick off of. Each time this happened I had to skull backward, tag the wall with my feet and resume swimming from a dead stop. We placed thirty-first out of thirty-one teams.

Our assistant coach was madder than hell. Why, if I hadnít screwed up, we might have placed twentieth. I was too excited to be chastened. All I wanted to know was my split; how fast I had swum my 100 yard leg of the relay. He grumbled as he read off our individual times. Mine was 56 seconds something. I was elated. Even after missing two thirds of my turns Iíd swum my fastest hundred free by over a second. Who knows how fast I would have swum if Iíd hit my turns. Thatís the optimist in me! My pool is always half filled and fittingly, the state meet got me my first teaching job.

Four years later, after fruitlessly applying for over a hundred social studies teaching jobs, I found one in Proctor, Minnesota. The position required the ability to coach swimming. As luck would have it, back in 1974, swimming was one of two sports that did not require a coaching license. I wasnít a physical education major and I hadnít continued swimming in college but Iíd been in the 1969 state swimming meet. My placement at the meet was curiously absent from my resume.

Proctorís sports were in the doldrums when I arrived. Swimming was the only team with any near term prospects of success. This is because the previous coach had nurtured a dozen youngsters and they were poised to become a fine team. He had, however,  let his success go to his head. He demanded that the Athletic Director buy him some pool equipment. If he didnít get his way he threatened to quit coaching. The mild mannered AD, who considered the coach a pain in the neck, took him up on his offer. The coach quit in a huff and I got hired before he could change his mind.

Knowing none of this back story I looked up the old coach to ask for some pointers. I was particularly curious to learn how to run a swim practice in Proctorís antique pool which was five yards shorter than most pools. He met with me and told me how to do the job. He also told me his unhappy story. He was miserable. This team had been his pride and joy. Then, as we departed he told me - nothing personal mind you - that he really hoped I failed.

The old coach got his wish. I spent so much time coaching that winter and the next that I didnít put enough time into a teaching job that I was struggling with. In short order the problems I was having in the classroom found their way into the pool. All of the kids who had been groomed by the old coach quit the team after unsuccessfully petitioning to have him replace me.  What was left was the skeleton of a team. 

The years I taught at Proctor were the worst two of my life. An optimist by nature it was the only time that I ever seriously ruminated on the possibility of committing suicide. One day I was called into a meeting by the school administrators and told that there wouldnít be a place for me on the teaching staff the following year. I didnít even have the consolation of having swum my fastest time. It was the best decision ever made for me.

I was saved that spring by politics. I was asked to run for the state legislature by the Watergate crippled Republican Party. (They couldnít find anybody else.) I spent the summer and fall going door-to-door campaigning for the legislature. No one thought I could win except, of course, for me. When the election was over I compared my splits with my partyís candidate for President, Gerald Ford. I'd lost but Iíd also gotten more votes in my legislative district than the President had. Iíd swum faster.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at www.snowbizz.com