After watching swim team meets between other schools, I tried out for our high school swim team (I attended Harrison High School in Chicago from 1946-1950) and what do you know, I made it! As I relive this memory it also talks to how swimming has changed in six decades and all for the better.
I went to my first practice session in our swimming pool and I saw no one wearing a bathing suit. It was strange seeing my swim team members jumping into the pool while their private parts also jumped. It was liberating without swim trunks and actually without the heavy boxer short swims suits it helped us stroke that much faster.
I tried out for the relay swim team and lost by a stroke but I still remained on the team as a substitute. Then it was time to swim against another high school. There wasn’t any audience (don’t ask me why) but there we were, two teams competing without swim trunks. When I think about it I find it hilarious to believe we ever practiced and competed completely naked. Now the fun part!
We had another meet, this time with an audience of men and women. No! I know what you’re thinking but we wore the worst fitting swim suits of that era. One of our swimmers was in the 40 yard free style. Most pools of that time were twenty yards as pools by meters were not built at that time. So they dove off the side of the pool, did their belly flop and off they went.
When the swimmers came to the end of the first lap, they pulled their bodies out of the water and released their feet off the pool and it happened. When one of our swimmers pushed off the side of the pool his swim trunks began to slide off his waist and his buns started to show. While the audience chuckled he finished the race and with a blushing face went to the bench.
Now in todays swimming you wear the skin tight suit so water can’t crawl into the suit and you lose it. In addition, you no longer jump from the side of the pool into the water with a body flop. Yes, it did hurt. Now you have a platform so that the entry into the pool is faster and smoother and no more body flops.
My memory of the better swim times has faded but they probably couldn’t compete with the modern day swimmer. Today’s techniques and practice are so far apart to my era but so much better for today’s competitors.
Now back to my time. I was trying out for the long distance team. We had to swim 100 yards, 5 lengths of the pool and it was the most embarrassing trial run I could have had. There I am butt naked, never swam the distance but when all my team mates were finished I was last in the pace. I actually changed lanes all through my tryout. You guessed it, I did not make the long distance team.
After that we were to assemble around the pool in our swim trunks for a team picture. While the photographer set up his equipment I strolled into the hallway and saw some guys playing basketball in the small gym. So I started to play the game with them, barefoot and in swim trunks! I got so engrossed in the game I forgot about the team picture and I never took my place for the photo. So Harrisonians, you won’t find my photo with the swim team in any of our year books. But I did end up on the basketball team.
This is what I love about Chicago Then. I can fill in the blanks with memories of another time but I can make it a semi-autographical history of my own life way back when.
Memories light the corners of my mind and I hope yours too!
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