Marolt: It wasn’t really wasted hand-timing
I did some volunteer work last week. I was the backup hand-timer for the high school state skiing championships. It ended up being a rewarding experience, after all.
At the pre-race meeting, they emphasized that they needed people to use stopwatches to time the racers through the courses in case the modern computerized automatic electronic timing equipment malfunctioned. There were a lot of experienced race volunteers there and none were stepping up.
The way the organizers talked and the way the other volunteers reacted by sitting on their hands, I figured it was a tough job that required mental agility and ambidextrous hand-eye coordination. Huh, I thought, this task might make for an exciting day on the side of the slopes. I raised my hand and there was a collective sigh of relief from everyone in the room.
All I can say is, thank goodness there were a couple of beautiful, warm days for the races. Hand-timing requires the ability to concentrate on the mundane without any time for drinking coffee. One after another you write down the racer’s bib number and then you watch the start wand, click your synchronized watch when the skier’s leg trips it, and jot down the time, to the hundredth of a second, that they left the start. It’s like you are counting sheep to help you fall asleep except at the end of the night you are required to report the name of each sheep and how high they jumped.
Another interesting thing about hand-timing a ski race is that you are not really timing anything. All you are doing is writing down the time the skier left the starting gate. You have no idea how fast they skied the course. There is another timer at the bottom with a clock synchronized to yours who is writing down what time the skier crosses the finish. That person doesn’t know anything, either. In case they have to use the manual timing, a judge subtracts the start from the finish time to see how the skier did.
On the second day of races I needed to find another sucker to take my wife’s place at the finish line, as she had a prior commitment. I called my friend Bill, who I owed for not voting for me as president of the high school football chain gang. I figured he had this coming. As it turns out, this payback wasn’t very satisfying, either. Hand-timers don’t even get radios, so I couldn’t gage his fury at me duping him into the chore until after the race when he was only full of complete relief that the day was over and looking forward to a cold one on the ski lodge deck.
I did get to watch bits and pieces, here and there, of some terrific skiing by some of our state’s best athletes. I’ve said it before, but it is worth mentioning again that I believe high school sports are the pinnacle of enjoyment of athletic participation. If you are dedicated to it, you can excel and be recognized. Your teammates are friends you’ve grown up with. The fans know you and love you no matter what. My advice on this is to enjoy it, kids and parents. At each successive level after this, sports more and more resemble work and the increasing pressures erase a lot of the joy of participation. Of course, if you eventually get paid to do your thing, then it’s all worth it. Maybe.
There was one boy in particular who was extremely excited to be in the races. He was dang good, too. In the start gate, he would hoot and holler as if he couldn’t wait to go. It wasn’t an act. Unleashed, he shredded the courses and won both days. His euphoria was manifest in his skiing, and it was contagious.
As I watched the kid go, my admiration for his abilities was redirected a bit by the nagging question in my mind: Why are some people so gifted with innate and abundant talent? I pondered this question, in five-second increments over the two days.
When it was all over, the chief of course genuinely thanked me for helping out. It hit me then. He is one of the nicest, most sincere, good and genuine people I have ever met. I got to spend two days at his side doing something for the kids, which he does frequently. Focusing on the athletes, I nearly overlooked his incredible talent of simply being a really decent human being? If we switch our values, other talents become visible! Like I said, it was a rewarding experience.
For better or worse, participating in high school sports are some of Roger Marolt’s clearest memories. firstname.lastname@example.org
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