Community ServiceMetroRock — Everett, MA
Some people do trail work. Others replace tats. Still others remove spray paint, clean up trash, or host fundraisers. Some people simply have more time to get involved with things and they live their lives in their cocoons. It’s not a bad thing, and the cocoons may not be that small or simple in the end. I just can’t do that stuff, at least not yet, not at this point in time in my life when I’m still figuring things out and enjoying the adventure. Someday when the adventure ends, then I’ll look back and see the well-worn path I’ve left behind. And then I’ll go out and make the path pretty, accessible, and fun for the others who stumble along the same patch of dirt that I bumbled along. Until then, I like judging comps. It’s not much to judge a comp. One learns the rules and applies them. If one is lucky, then there are no complaints. The kids are good kids, too, and the parental involvement is generally outstanding. This isn’t like baseball, and I know that from personal experience. I’ve coached baseball before and parents are tough for both the kids and the coaches. I’m not saying there aren’t any bad apples at climbing comps, but the vast majority of the volunteers are parents who, when their child is climbing the route they are judging, remove themselves out of fairness. Is that a rule? I’m not sure (it probably is), but even if it wasn’t I’d still see the same parents stepping aside. This isn’t the blind mouse calling a ball a strike. It’s a climbing competition, and there is something different in the air. The atmosphere is healthier for some reason.
I’ve only done a handful of comps over the past few years. I’m lucky enough to have judged at two national championships and two divisionals along with a couple of regionals, too. The lower the comp level the better the kids and parents behave. I’ve never had a kid complain at a regional comp. There are usually a couple of kids fighting for an advantage at divisionals, but they always sign their scorecards once the judges confer, discuss, and decide that the judges got the call right. A couple of years ago I had one girl at nationals from Texas tell me before she even started climbing that if I didn’t get the call right then she’d sue. She might have been bred by a well-to-do family but she was white trash to the core. On the flip side, and in the same age group, another girl cried when she didn’t get the score she thought she had earned. She didn’t complain, but the tears were unavoidable. Thankfully one of the judges had a camcorder and was reviewing the climb as we handed the girl the pen to sign her scorecard. It was subtle, but all three judges had missed something: where we had all seen her reach for the next hold, and where we had all seen air between her fingertips and the plastic, there was something amiss. Her fingers had stretched out with her elbow, the bottom of her lip was pulled in tight under her upper teeth, and her tense body flew upward to the hold. We could see the effort was there, but effort only gets a kid a third of a point. There was no question that she tried. But at the point where her body stopped moving upward and was now heading downward, where we thought she didn’t touch the hold, we saw her body jolt, if only for a slight moment on the way the down and we wondered, “Could her body stop like that in mid air when it was now clearly falling?” We watched it again and saw it again. And then we watched it again. It was difficult to understand what we were seeing. It was so quick that we couldn’t blink. But each time we reviewed it the movement became clearer. She stopped twice in mid air: once when she had reached the top of her leap, and again, a few fractions of a moment after she began her descent, her body shifted direction slightly enough that instead of falling straight down she fell closer to the hold she was trying to reach. She had touched the hold, and our human eyes were proven wrong when we finally paused the video at the right moment in time. We gave her the extra two one-tenths of a point for touching the usable surface and she cried again, except this time she was thanking us and happy. In fact, she apologized for not making it clearer when she leaped and for us watching the video when we didn’t have to (and she didn’t even ask us to review it). She didn’t finish very high. The girl from Texas finished higher, but I’d take the crying girl any day and everyday on my team.
My latest comp was divisionals. These are the kids trying to make nationals. I’m not sure how many kids make it from each group, but it’s a two-day competition with two routes on the first day and one on the second. I’m lucky in that the organizers who set the comps up at my gym like me, so I get the fun and most difficult routes. I had a little bit of controversy on the first day (there was some supposedly illegal coaching going on and my eyes got crossed when one kid fell from a higher hold than I witnessed. But she was right and I changed her score appropriately), but the second day was smooth. I like watching the kids prepare while they sit in the chair with their backs turned away from the wall; only the roars from the crowd tell them how the previous competitor did. Some of them smile and some take deep breaths. Some know that they have no shot from the start, but they all try. About half scout the route out before climbing with the other half jumping on the route and taking the holds as they come. It’s an emotional roller coaster for some; whether they win or lose their nerves are a mess from start to finish. Pure effort often amazes the crowd as much as grace and talent do. Everyone likes to see the kid who gets to the top, but no one denies his heart goes out to the kid who has dropped the rope three times while trying to clip, with the shaking in her pumped arm moving out to her shoulders and then to her abs before shaking her from the precarious foothold that’s all that’s keeping her on the wall. A few kids shriek during the fall, and the falls can be big or small, but they’re all soft. Most kids can barely hold a pen after they’re done. Signing their initials is as much of an adventure as on-sighting above their level.
And I enjoy seeing the parents each year. I only get to see most of them once per year. They’re mostly happy people, at least on that day. The kids are good, too, and it’s nice to see them grow and progress even though I don’t have the same social connection to them as I do with the parents. I can’t go wrong with a free t-shirt and food. The adrenaline feels great when I get the call right. I’m going to miss doing comps when I move away. I don’t have any kids, so I’m not at the comps because of them. I do it because I like it. Some people do trail work, but I like this. It isn’t much of a contribution, but it’s something. I’d like to think I’ve learned something over the years. I’d like to think that I’ll know how to treat my kids when they do comps at whichever sport they choose. Maybe the trail I’m working on won’t be used for many years. That’s OK. I’ll miss it when I leave it, but I’ll embrace it fondly when I return to it in my later years. I honestly can’t wait until I stand aside as a judge. The thought makes me smile.
Greg shares a Blog with his friend Jeremiah. Click here to see Greg and Jeremiah's Climbing Blog. Click here for Greg's Route Index