HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Huntsville Swim Association hosts the Fran Norris Invitational Oct. 25-27 at the Brahan Spring Park Natatorium.
This weekend's meet attracts some of the top swimmers in the Southeast to Huntsville's indoor Natatorium, located at 2213 Drake Ave.
Warm-ups begin at 4 p.m., Friday and competition starts at 5:30. Ten-and-under swimmers have warm-ups at 7:15 a.m., Saturday and Sunday with events starting at 8:30. The 11-and-over competition is scheduled both Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
Since these athletes have the opportunity to qualify for championship meets on up to the nationals at USA Swimming sanctioned meets such as the Fran Norris Invitational, the officials are an intricate part of the legal progression.
"Officiating is probably the hardest job at the meet," said HSA Head Coach Matt Webber. "It takes effort before the meet that you don't get in a lot of standardized swimming, from training and certification, to background checks. They do a lot of work behind the scenes and give up a lot of free time. In my mind, it's one of the most rewarding jobs to affect kids in a positive way."
Everyone knows if a swimmer dives in before the starting tone is sounded, the athlete is disqualified. But that is just the beginning. In actuality, there are many complex fundamentals swimmers must learn in the four competitive strokes in order to make all the right starts, pull-outs, strokes and turns in what they usually make look like a simple set of graceful motions.
"You know the officials are working properly, if you hardly know they're on deck and things are running smoothly," said David Hudson, HSA's meet referee. "The starter controls the pace of the events, the stroke and turn people make recommendations to the deck referee on possible swimmer infractions."
As meet referee, Hudson oversees all of the officials. The rules of swimming are intended to provide fair and equitable conditions of competition. Officials must work hard to fully understand the rules and their responsibilities in applying them. The rules of swimming define the acceptable form for each stroke.
Many variations of form are possible and may still comply with the letter of the rules. Decisions regarding the form of strokes and turns must, therefore, be subject to flexible judgment and common sense.
"The deck referee is actually the one who does the disqualifications, after talking with the stroke and turn judges," Hudson explained. "We want to give fairness to all the competitors, giving the benefit of the doubt in every instance to the swimmer."
Hudson is entering his fifth year as meet referee for HSA. His job is like the captain of a large ship. A swim meet, like the large ship, requires the skills of many people to run smoothly.
The meet referee is the leader who organizes this team of officials to run a safe, fair and fun competition.
Hudson also has overall responsibility for the conduct of the meet. He has a set of responsibilities before, during and even after the meets.
"The meet referee monitors it all and even helps set up the venue. I work closely with the overall meet director as well as the other referees."
The stroke and turn judges and the deck referee make sure the swimmers are doing the four respective strokes correctly the entire time as well as watching to make sure all the starts, pull-outs and turns are legal.
"Everyone gasps when a hand goes up (indicating a possible disqualification)," said Webber. "That call, though, for the coaches and the swimmers, is the best thing that can happen because it allows us to have eight to 20 different pairs of eyes watching something that we may need additional practice on. It allows that athlete to be accountable for doing the right thing in the pool."
Judging does more than just level the playing field for all the athletes. It can also help prevent many injuries that can arise over time, if a swimmer continues not doing the stroke correctly. Catching illegal strokes early makes it much easier for the coaches to correct, too, before they become ingrained into muscle and thought memory.
"It also helps so the athletes don't get caught off guard later on in meets they may qualify for such as the Southeasterns," said Phillip Shepherd, who is in his second year as a stroke and turn judge.
Besides assuring the strokes are done correctly, the officials make sure someone doesn't gain an unfair advantage in a race. Sometimes swimmers may also react differently in the heat of competition than they do while swimming in practice.
"We give the kids and their respective coaches some extra feedback on stroke and turn technique," Shepherd said. "Coaches can work with a lot of swimmers at one time and those extra sets of eyes during actual competition can be very helpful."
The Norris Invitational is free to the public to attend. Concessions and swim memorabilia will be sold outside the main pool. The Natatorium is a 22-lane, 25-yard competition pool. The meet features Colorado electronic timing.
Ribbons are awarded for first through eighth-place in all 12-and-under individual events and first through third places in the 12-and-under relays.
HSA hosts Norris Invitational Oct. 25-27
By P.M. Black