Lightning dotted the sky as the lifeguards/swim instructors hurried us across the pool deck and into the boiler room separating the women’s locker room from the men’s. I was 12 years old. My brother was 10. Our swim lesson was aborted and we were wet, cold, and shivering.
There had been no time to grab a towel and the boiler room was not heated. But, we were safe from the lighting and possible tornado raging outside.
As we waited in the semi-darkness—pretending to be brave with the rest of our class—the teenage instructors decided we should pass the time by playing a quick game of basketball.
The tallest lifeguard, a boy on the Catholic Memorial high school basketball team, picked up a wayward locker basket—the metal kind with the green tag and number on the front, the kind you would pick up on your way into the locker room, stuff all your gear into and then slide it into the shelf and lock it up—and held it above his head. One of the other lifeguards found an old ratty towel and we divided into teams trying to reach the basket and dunk the wadded up towel into the locker basket.
The game quickly consumed us. Shouts of foul play (and actual fouls) filled the air when a shot was missed because the lifeguard holding the basket moved it at the last minute—laughing and yelling and moving constantly around the room.
The yelling and shouting drowned out the noise of the storm raging outside and all the little bodies went from cold and shivering to hot and sweaty.
As usually happens to boys that age, the game came to an abrupt halt when someone almost got hurt. Two of my teammates and my brother were working hard to hold the high school boy and the basket still by hanging on his arms, legs, and back. One of my friends went up to dunk the ball (I mean towel) and the whole hoop and all the boys attached to it tumbled down, one kid bouncing harmlessly off the actual boiler.
As the mass of bodies tried to disentangle itself, the head lifeguard (i.e., boss of everybody) walked in to check on us. He took one look and decided that maybe, just maybe, full-on “basket” ball in a dark and dirty boiler room wasn’t the best way to keep his job. So, he put a stop to it—though to his credit, he never yelled at anybody.
Eventually, the storm died down. We went back into the water—which of course was even colder from the rain—and life went on. But, all these years later, after many, many good times in pools, waterparks, lakes, oceans, river and more, the best time I ever had swimming was in a boiler room during a summer storm. And that was a credit to a teenage lifeguard who found a fun way to pass the time and keep us all from freezing.
This issue is a sort of salute to all the lifeguards, swim instructors, and aquatics directors who are gearing up for another season of fun on the water and, when that isn’t possible, fun in the storm shelter too.
Till Next Month…
Rodney J. Auth