It’s over for high school football. The moment a parent whose child has suffered a football-borne concussion files a personal injury lawsuit, every school district will scramble for an alternative. It dawned on me that there was a perfect replacement for the prized pigskin: Swimming. That is, swimming paired with a certain vice even more popular than football.
Before we get to the vice, consider the setting for a high school swim meet. As I’ve been to several thousand (or at least it seems that way), I will set the stage.
Swimming is a winter sport in Wisconsin. Meets are typically held indoors, which helps the swimmers avoid hypothermia and snagging a toe on an ice-fisherman’s line.
You drive to the high school, and move from nostril-hair freezing cold to the ultra-humid swimming pool, which is like a sauna on steroids. The next ten to fifteen minutes are spent stripping off layers of jackets, coats, hats, scarves, mittens, sweaters, and in rare and disturbing occasions, long underwear.
De-layering is a necessity. For the next two hours you’re going to be packed in tight with fellow parents, all stripped, sweating and panting for reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that we’re all half nude.
Then you’ve got the races. Even though your child is submerged in water and focused entirely on trying not to drown, parents scream their heads off. Can you blame them? Their incredibly constructive comments such as “Go” and “Come On” are just the kind of insight that will improve their stroke technique.
By the end of the swim meet, you’re emotionally depleted, your bangs are dripping with sweat, and your throat feels like someone has taken a belt sander to it. Then you have to pile on the wraps, rev up the dog sled, and mush your way home.
At a recent meet, I began to think about the plight of football in conjunction with these overlooked swim meets (did I mention attendance was 12?) An epiphany was in order to release the untapped potential of the swim meet, and to help school districts stave off the personal injury attorneys.
The Vice That Makes Swimming Oh-So-Nice
That night, while puffing on a pipe and reclining in my study, I thought about the parental passion that overflows at swim meets. One woman had screamed with such force that she’d parted my hair. Another man became so excited that he’d wet the pants of the two people packed in tight around him.
The reason why this type of passion pervades is that all in attendance had young ‘uns in the water. But what if others folks could have a stake in action that was more monetary than biological?
What if wagering were allowed?
If people were allowed to gamble on the races, they’d be even more passionate than the parents. All those folks who fork over the cash for lottery tickets at the grocery store would now have a sweaty alternative.
I phoned the superintendent of schools and the governor of the great state of Wisconsin. Accustomed to my paradigm-altering epiphanies, they welcomed my call.
“Cash-strapped school coffers will be replenished,” I proposed. “There will be no payouts to legal teams fighting off football lawsuits. And, since you’ll be the bookies, you get 5% of the bets.”
Upon hearing the idea, the superintendent drove straight to my house and kissed my feet (not the first time this has happened). The governor would have done the same, but he was already calling a news conference and announcing legalized swim-meet gambling as his idea (again, not the first time this has happened.)
We ran an article our town newspaper announcing the new wagering law. At the next swim meet, attendance went from 12 to 4,503. The pool seating wasn’t big enough, and people spilled out into hallways, the cafeteria, even the parking lot where several froze to death, their frosty fingers clutching their swim programs and lucky rabbits feet.
The passion was palpable–gambling passion! Men spat in disgust as Billy Smale didn’t hit his seed time in the 500. They praised all available deities when Benny Beecroft out-touched the competition in the 50 free. They exchanged high fives and bodily fluids when their bets paid off big, and they wept openly when life savings went down the swimming pool drains.
I checked in with the cash-handlers, and was pleased as punch to discover we’d made a disgusting amount of money. “Then let’s expand this little operation,” I said. “It’s time to build the world’s first Olympic-sized Casino!”
Tiki Bars and Bathing Suits
Wisconsin’s crippling cold tends to pin folks indoors, save for the damn fools who go out cross-country skiing and get eaten by polar bears. In February, warmth and humidity is appealing. It seemed only logical that the swim meet could have as much appeal as a spring break in Florida. The pool area just needed a bit of makeover.
We moved fast, breaking ground on a new pool facility that would seat 18,000. In addition to conventional seating, we created a series of Tiki bars that encircled the pool. People who had no interest in the swimming showed up just for the chance to wear a bathing suit and have a drink with a paper umbrella.
By this point, our enterprise was cranking out scads of money. Better yet, the school folded up the football program. The players didn’t seem to mind. They shucked their shoulder pads for a speedo, encouraged by the fact that the cheerleaders had traded in pleated mini-skirts for bikinis.
Everything was just ducky until the inevitable epiphany disaster. It was a case of school pride colliding head-on with gambling’s eternal rule: You can’t beat the house.
Bobby Blake, our high school’s best breast stroker and state champion, had become both a small-town deity and a big-time cash cow. His win streak had made him a sure-thing in the pool, and people were getting mega-rich off his success. As you would expect, all good things come to an end. Especially when they encounter spoiled beef.
It happened on a Friday night swim meet. A local eatery had started to comp all of Bobby’s meals, and unfortunately, he’d ingested a ¼ pound burger of tainted meat for lunch. That night, with butt cheeks squeezed tight, the poor kid could barely get through his heat, finishing a distant seventh.
Wails and screams of distress broke out as he touched the wall. Many of the townsfolk had bet their life savings on the race, so convinced were they that Bobby would swim his best breast.
Destitute, without cash or credit, our townsfolk naturally looked for a scapegoat, and who better than the government? Claiming that the governor was responsible for their plight because he’d legalized swim-meet gambling, they launched an Occupy the Pool protest. En masse, they waded into the pool and refused to come out until a gambling ban was enacted and their cash was returned.
It’s a constitutional right that Americans can have their cake and eat it too, so the state government borrowed big bucks from China at 20% interest and paid back everyone’s life savings. Then, in a supreme effort to make lemonade from pool pee (things had gotten ugly during the Occupy the Pool Protest), the 18,000 seat arena was converted into a maximum security prison/toxic waste site. Meanwhile, football returned as the big sport on the block, concussion lawsuits be damned.
What happened to our beloved old swim team? Well, the kids kept on swimming. As you’d expect, attendance dwindled to its pre-gambling headcount of 12. It was just the parents, all of them sweating, screaming, and half-nude. It didn’t have much vice, but I have to admit, having the old swim meet back felt kinda nice.