What If?

Okay, who wants to play the “what if?” game with me?

You know, the “what if?” game. The game where you take a historical event, change one or two key things about it, and then play out what happens next given the altered assumptions. Long a staple of starving authors and cable television programmers, we Americans seemingly have an endless appetite for indulging in this time-honored game.

Sports fans are perhaps the most rabid aficionados of “what if?” on the planet. For example, get a group of baseball fans into a room for any appreciable period of time and there is a near 100% certainty that a heated discussion will quickly break out about how a player from the “golden age” age of the game would fare against modern talent or what would happen if, say, the 1927 Yankees were called upon to play a World Series against just about any other team that you would care to mention. Ditto football fans, basketball fans, NASCAR fans, soccer fans, cycling fans, roller derby fans, badminton fans, and tiddlywinks fans. They all like to play “what if?” 

So it should not be a shock to anyone that, having just finished one of the most successful swim seasons in Mount Vernon Park history, the thoughtful MVP Gator might well want to indulge in their own game of “what if?”   You could spend some idle time pondering deep questions like “Are the 2010 Gators really the fastest team in MVP history?” or “How would some of those old Gator teams stack up against this year’s champions?” 

Indeed, the especially thoughtful Gator – perhaps an older swimmer who actually competed on one of those storied MVP teams from sainted days of yore – might decide to up the ante and make the game of “what if?” just a wee bit more personal. That particular Gator might ask how a “typical” swimmer from 40 years ago – not a superstar, but an average kid – would stack up against the competition in 2010. This senior Gator might ask what if an average 8 & under boy from MVP’s 1969 Gator team was teleported into the future and found a place on the 2010 NVSL Division 5 Champions? Would a kid from the distant past be able to hang with the kids from the future? Are the eight & unders of today appreciably faster in the water than their ancient Gator forebears? 

Would the Facebook Generation blow Old School Cool right out of the water? 

Summer, 1969. Richard Nixon is in the Whitehouse. The Vietnam War is raging half a world away.  News reports from the trial of the Chicago Seven are being splashed across the front page of every newspaper in the country. Apollo 11 lands on the moon in July. Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh In” is the #1 television show in the nation. “Sesame Street” and “The Brady Bunch” will make their respective television premieres that September. In August, 500,000 hippies descend on Max Yasgar’s farm in Bethel, New York, for “3 Days of Peace & Music” and poor sanitation, an event that would later pass into popular culture as Woodstock. The two biggest songs in the country are “Age of Aquarius” by the Fifth Dimension and the teeny-bopper hit “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies. 

Of course, none of this made any impression whatsoever on your average eight & under in 1969. No, in 1969 most eight year old boys at MVP were worried about just four things: (1) eight year old girls (i.e. the ever-present “cooties” menace, the AIDS of the pre-pubescent), (2) the prospect of getting beaten up by the Big Kids, (3) being made to appear in public wearing a Speedo (which is essentially underwear, see worry #1), and (4) finding a way to sneak into the pool during break-time without the lifeguards noticing. 

Oh, and hippies. Most eight year old boys at MVP during the summer of 1969 were also very worried about hippies, if just on general principle. Everyone was just a little freaked out by the hippies. 

A digression: In terms of the day-to-day running MVP during the 1960’s, hippies presented a very practical problem for pool managment.  MVP rules required all women to wear a bathing cap when swimming.  County regulations governing the operation of public swimming pools enshrined the widely-held belief that female hair was an anathema, a threat to public health and safety on par with drunk driving and communism.  Otherwise reasonable people sincerly believed that long hair would inevitably detach itself from the delicate female scalp, clogging the pool filter and leading to an “unhygenic” situation.  Extreme vigilance was required; disease, contagion and death were the ultimate price if pool management failed to rigorously enforce the rule regarding bathing caps.  One side-affect of having grown up with this rule was the phenomenon that no male wanting to be deemed worthy of his gender would ever think of wearing a bathing cap in public, even as a joke.  They were for girls.  So we all held our breath on that fateful day when the first group of extremely long-haired males that we had ever seen (i.e. hair past the shoulder, in an era when a haircut was deemed long overdue when it brushed the top of your ear) wandered their way in through the front gate of MVP.  The manager on duty took one look, and handed their “leader” a pink bathing cap.  With flowers.

Score: The Establishment 1, Hippies 0.         

To make it easier to understand all of the important social/sporting changes that occurred over the past 41 years that could affect the relative swim performance of an eight & under boy, I’ve simplified things a bit with the attached chart: 

Things That Influence The Average 8 & Under Swimmer

2010 Gator 


1969 Gator 




Parents’ Car
  • Toyota Prius

  • 1965 Chevy Impala


Swim Meet Sustenance
  • Muffins
  • Hot Pockets
  • Gatorade
  • Raw sugar, in the form of uncooked Jell-O eaten directly from the box
  • Soda pop (non diet)


Between-Swim Entertainment
  • Playing portable video games
  • Watching the Big Kids listen to their iPod/text each other on their cell phones
  • Asking coach if it is time to swim yet
  • Getting sunburned
  • Deck of Playing Cards
  • Avoiding getting beaten up by the Big Kids
  • Asking coach if it is time to swim yet
  • Getting sunburned

Deck of Cards

Swim Suit/Deck Attire
  • Speed suit
  • Lax/soccer shorts
  • Speedo
  • Blue Jeans

Speed suit

  • Personalized latex swim cap (both sexes)
  • Goggles
  • White butyl-rubber bathing cap (girls and long-haired hippies)

Latex cap

  • 25 Meter Pool
  • 50 Meter Pool (race 25 meters, stop in the middle of the pool, flounder in water over your head until rescued)

50 Meter Pool

Main Anxiety
  • Losing goggles
  • Cooties
  • Big Kids
  • Hippies


 And just how would our typical eight & under boy from 1969 fare against swimmers from 2010? 

Based on a cache of ancient NVSL ribbons that was recently excavated by archeologists just a short distance from the hallowed gates of MVP itself, Gator historians tell us that, in terms of individual performance, our “average” eight & under swimmer from 1969 (i.e., me) would have been just as “average” in 2010. Using data from the NVSL website and comparing it to times set by our 1969 swimmer, we find out that (1) recent Gator history would not be re-written if this particular visitor from the past showed up to swim today, and (2) statistics can be really boring. 

When he wasn’t busy worrying about hippies or avoiding cooties, our “typical” eight & under from 1969 swam freestyle and backstroke and had a place on the freestyle relay. Plugging an average of our 8 & under’s 1969 times into the results for each of the five “A” meets that MVP contested on their way to the 2010 Division 5 championship shows that, while Michael Phelps certainly has nothing to worry about, our Gator from the Past would have acquitted himself honorably. In fact, our 8 & under’s actual 1969 results in backstroke are eerily similar to what the data shows he would be expected to score in 2010. In 1969, our young Gator captured three third place finishes in backstroke, traversing the pool in a decidedly unspectacular time of 26.2 seconds. In 2010, an 8 & under boy in Division 5 who could swim a 26.2 second backstroke would be expected to garner….two third places and a second place. 

The relay results are just as consistent. The 2010 8 & under boys freestyle relay lost just one race. The 1969 8 & under boys managed to pull off an undefeated season, carrying their winning streak all the way to the All Star Relay Carnival. Their winning All Star time – 1:17.5 – would have garnered them an undefeated season in 2010 as well. 

In other words, essentially the same results as 41 years ago. 

So, are the eight & unders of today appreciably faster in the water than their ancient Gator forebears?  I suspect not.  After all, while 41 years may seem like a long time to you and me (it is 287 dog years), in terms of relying on Darwinian selection to maximize the physiological changes necessary to breed a race of Uber Swimmers, we’re going to have to let that particular cake bake a while longer.  We can revisit this issue when 8 & unders start showing up to their first day of swim practice with gills, webbed feet and a dorsal fin…  


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