Debbie Darien’s youngest son was supposed to compete in this week’s All-City Swim Meet in his home pool at Maple Bluff Country Club.
Instead, he attended a NASA space camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and couldn’t make it back in time for the competition.
Nonetheless, Darien is at the meet every day, from start to finish, serving as volunteer coordinator for the three-day event.
About 875 volunteers are needed at the meet, helping to time swimmers, usher kids to and from their events, direct traffic, drive golf carts and handle any other necessary tasks.
Darien is in charge of all of them, first working to recruit as many volunteers as possible and then making sure the workers are in place and on time for their shifts and aware of their duties.
“Debbie is one of the most organized, diligent, logistical thinkers that I’ve encountered,” said Kelly O’Driscoll, co-chairperson of this year’s event. “Then she also has that special knack you need in a volunteer coordinator to be able to sort of twist someone’s arm, or politely suggest that they volunteer with a smile on her face, where you kind of have a hard time saying no.
“She’s been phenomenal to work with, and has a smile on her face through the whole thing.”
O’Driscoll isn’t wrong about Darien’s constant smile. Despite all the chaos of organizing volunteers to shuffle around hundreds of 9- and 10-year-olds, she has one simple reason for taking on the massive responsibility.
“Because it’s fun. It is fun and it’s all about the kids,” Darien said.
Darien said about 300 of the volunteers come from the other pools participating in the meet. But the rest come from Maple Bluff, including people in the neighborhood who just want to help out.
A number of volunteers have children competing. Phil Prange’s 11-year-old daughter Alexandra raced Thursday for Maple Bluff and is done for the weekend, but he was out Friday, helping to direct traffic.
“We’re a small club, so everyone needs to chip in and help out,” Prange said.
Gary and Judy Fox’s grandson, Bobby, swims for Maple Bluff and their daughter, Carrie Arneson, is secretary-treasurer for the All-City meet. The Foxes, wanting to help the family, are working all weekend selling tickets for concessions, while having fun seeing the swimmers compete.
“We enjoy the kids. They are so pleasant. They are so good, so polite,” Gary Fox said.
The All-City meet returned to Maple Bluff for the first time since 1964 and the community responded with enthusiasm, O’Driscoll said. She said the entire village has pitched in, including the Maple Bluff police and fire departments. They are directing traffic throughout the neighborhood, controlling parking and running first-aid for the event. The police department also went door-to-door prior to the meet, giving the details of the event to Maple Bluff residents and also recruiting volunteers.
“The community is outstanding. I think sometimes people sort of forget about Maple Bluff. We’re not a little village that people necessarily drive through very often,” O’Driscoll said. “We don’t bring a lot of big events to our neighborhood. So the neighborhood really rallied behind this event.”
The second day of the event, reserved for solely eight, nine and ten year olds, has all the makings for a chaotic atmosphere. But the mass number of volunteers allowed the meet to run efficiently all day long.
“We’ve certainly had surprises, as happens with any event of this size. But we’ve been able to joke and smile through it all,” O’Driscoll said. “I’ve never been involved with planning an event of this scale, but I am awestruck by how hard people are working just because they care about bringing this event to our neighborhood and our pool and really putting the best face on it that we can.”
No records were broken in the morning session, but two finals were held Friday. Ridgewood won the girls 8-and-younger 100-yard medley (1 minute, 17.89 seconds). Seminole (1:21.03) won the boys 8-and-younger 100 medley relay.
Alexander Charles, 10, of Middleton, finished the 50 backstroke in 34.85 seconds, .52 seconds off the All-City record of :34.33.
In the afternoon, Ridgewood won the girls 8-and-younger 100 freestyle relay (1:08.67), and Seminole won the boys 8-and-younger 100 free relay (1:09.60).
Samuel Wolf of Middleton broke the All-City record in the age 9-10 100 individual medley by more than a second (1:10.96).