I’ve mentioned before that I played a lot of different sports as a kid. When I lived in a house near this giant park called Roadrunner Park, they had a fishing lake, a BMX track, 3 baseball fields, a soccer field, 4 tennis courts, a football field, and 3 pools. The only ones I didn’t use in some kind of organized league was the BMX track, the tennis courts, and the football field (all three of which I used many times, just not as part of an organized league).
My mom talked often of how, when she got swimming lessons for my sister, I couldn’t help but jump in the pool myself and paddle around. It’s apparently natural for toddlers to swim pretty well on their own, so it isn’t like I was a natural or anything. As I got to walking/running stages of my life, I’d even use the diving board. I don’t remember this, but my mom liked regaling me with tales of scared parents watching me dive off a board that was 5+ feet above the water and she’d just say “ohh he’s fine” because I’d been swimming since before I could walk.
When we lived a mere two-minute-walk from this huge park with huge olympic sized pools and 25ft tall high-diving boards, my sister and I both got pretty excited about the prospect of their youth league water sports 1yeah, yeah, I giggle when I hear “water sports” too, but that is the official name for sports taking place in the water. She chose synchronized swimming, and I chose diving. This was 1988 – Greg Louganis won 2 gold medals in his first Olympics (in 1984) and was the Superstar that America was cheering for in that year’s (1988) Olympics (where he went on to win another 2 gold medals). Diving seemed like some rockstar shit, so I was in.
Youth sports in those days were pretty chintzy – you didn’t have ESPN’s cameras, or even local news stations, covering the events. The coaches were more like childcare workers, just making sure you didn’t do anything too stupid, and they did fuck-all in training you. This diving league was even less organized than the usual sports I played. We had a lifeguard and private pool access for 2 hours, after normal pool hours, and we all just took turns. It was another kid in my league, and not the coach (I don’t even remember if there was a coach), that told me they judge how you actually enter the water. Prior to that, I just figured everyone was impressed if you could do cool tricks in the air along the way and didn’t smack your head on the board or slip off the edge accidentally.
I worked on minimizing the splash to the extent that I didn’t even care about all the flips and tucks I could do along the way. Having been also in gymnastics at the time, I knew a thing or two about flips and tucks, but I was obsessed with minimizing splash. Over time, I came to settle on two dives to use in competitions : the inward, and the outward. The inward isn’t particularly impressive, but it was pretty good for a 9-year old. The outward was when I could show off a bit.
If you don’t know what an inward is, or an outward is, I’ll provide some visuals. The inward looks like this (which is way better than what I was doing). And the outward looks like this (which is marginally better that what I was doing).
Our big competition was coming up, and I was ready to hit the judges with my one-two punch of Inward first round, Outward second round. One problem : that was the night of the famed Tyson-Spinks fight. Which meant many parents giving zero shits about their kids jumping off platforms and a lot of shits about Kid Dynamite going up against another undefeated boxer for 12 rounds of boxing.
My father was one of those parents.
He drove me to the event. Along the way, he asked me what I’d think of Tyson if he lost to Spinks. I told him that didn’t even seem possible and he told me that it was important to remember athletes are humans, they’re fallible, and I need to consider the possibility 2it seems like a “life lesson” thing, but he probably meant this in a gambling sense. I eventually said “well… he’d still be my favorite” and he said “okay! that makes you a true fan”. He dropped me off and told me to “knock ’em dead”.
This pool area was much larger than the one at RoadRunner Park. They had risers on all sides for an audience to sit. The diving board was probably 35 feet high, which made me a little nervous. My first round went fine, and I did my inward dive to a smattering of distant pity applause (cause parents aren’t gonna cheer for not their child). When I went up for the outward, I heard the announcer say “Mitchell Marzoni, going for his final dive. He’ll be performing…” (he actually paused) “…an OUTWARD dive”. I recall hearing a gasp in the crowd. Keep in mind that I was 9 years old at the time. I got out to the board, jumped out as far as I could reasonably go, pulled my legs back to help propel myself downward, and went straight into the water. This time, there actually was applause. Despite my lackluster response to the inward, I was awarded a trophy. They didn’t have a 1st, 2nd, 3rd place. They just gave the top 5 divers a tiny little trophy. Giving you an idea how unorganized this whole league and competition was, my trophy just says “Parks, Recreation & Library Department”. Today, I’d be able to give you 400 instagram photos of the whole event, 6 YouTube videos, 20 tweets, and a few Facebook posts. Back then, people just said “oh… that was neat” and moved on.
When my dad picked me up, we spent the ride talking mostly about Tyson and his fighting career. All he would tell me was “it was a GREAT fight”. He’d recorded it on our VCR, and I couldn’t wait to get home and see it. Despite his son just wowing a crowd of strangers, he simply asked “what’s that in your hand?”. I told him it was a trophy for my diving, and he said “ohh that’s great”. I was about to tell him how I managed to get the damned thing, but he quickly went off on a rant about Tyson’s fighting style instead. I was happy to listen, but I don’t think he or my mom ever actually found out what I did that day. Which is probably why I quit the league shortly thereafter and focused on other shit instead.
When I got home, my dad rewound the tape. I remember remarking on how quickly the tape rewound to the beginning. My dad hastily made up a story about “ohh.. I wanted to watch the first round again”, and I sat on the couch and watched my favorite boxer – nay, favorite athlete, do this shit…
In retrospect, you can see why anything anyone did on that day would’ve come in a very distant second place.