By Ashley Lodato
For me, one of the most heartening collaborations in Okanogan County is the annual regional swim team partnership for the Toppenish swim meet, at which young swimmers from Brewster, the Methow Valley, Okanogan and Omak join forces to form the Okanogan County Summer Swim league team.
Throughout the regular swim team season in June and July, the Methow Valley Killer Whales compete against teams from Brewster, Okanogan and Omak. The competition is fairly friendly, with parents and coaches openly encouraging swimmers from all the teams to succeed. The swimmers, who spend quite a bit of time together sitting on benches in “the pit” (the staging area where they wait for their lane assignments), get to know the other swimmers in their age groups. They shake hands or high-five each other from the lanes before they exit the pool. Still, it’s competition nonetheless, especially during the season-end championships. While never bitter, the teams are undeniably rivals.
But in order to compete in the huge swim meet in Toppenish, swimmers from all four aforementioned towns can only compete by forming a collective regional league team. So some of the Killer Whales, along with some of the Brewster Bearacudas, the Okanogan Bullfrogs and the Omak Manta Rays, form the Okanogan County team. Suddenly these former foes are all wearing the same swim caps.
What’s sweet to me about this collaboration is that we see how quickly kids switch affiliations from adversaries to allies. The nemesis from last week is instantly this week’s secret weapon, this week’s coveted relay partner, this week’s new friend.
The young swimmers are different colors, different ethnicities, different shapes, dif ints. And yet somehow all this becomes irrelevant when faced with the common goal of wanting to make a good showing at a large swim meet. Differences and rivalries are set aside in pursuit of the collective ambition. Kids understand this intuitively; it makes perfect sense to them.
For some kids, this little Toppenish social experiment instills a subconscious lifelong message about the value of getting to know people who are outside their usual communities and networks.
Two days after competing on the same team in Toppenish, the swimmers will return to their respective teams and face each other at a local meet, competitors once again. But they’ll do it with the knowledge that both they and their sometime-rivals would, if needed, go to bat (or to the starting blocks) for each other. If they can sustain this open-minded approach throughout their lives – rather than merely perpetuate the current paradigm of suspicion and mistrust – the future for all of us will be brighter.