Prank you very much

Tradition of practical jokes kept alive at Zone Championships

Pacific Swimming’s Shelby Koontz takes a breath during the 100-meter butterfly Thursday during the Western Zone Age Group Championships at El Pomar Natatorium. The 14-year-old won the girls 13-14 division with a time of 1 minute, 4.9 seconds. The meet continues through Saturday.

Thanks, Mia Brierly said, for none of the pranks.

There’s more to succeeding at the Western Zone Age Group Championship than swimming fast. It helps to avoid gags.

And it’s tradition. The zone championships, aside from being a sectional-qualifying meet with more than 700 swimmers from 13 states, is full of expected pranks.

And Brierly of Colorado Swimming has ducked all of them. She avoided such pranks as getting property borrowed — the unwritten rule is return everything within 24 hours — and on Thursday at El Pomar Natatorium, won the 200-meter individual medley with a time of 2 minutes, 30.54 seconds for the Girls 11-12 division.

Colorado leads with 820 points over second-place Pacific Swimming (805.5) and third-place Utah (323).

And Brierly said escaping pranks helped her focus.

“I like to have fun, but at the same time you’ve got to focus,” Brierly said. “Especially when you step up on the block, and when they’re calling your name.”

Unlike Wednesday, there were no zone meet records set. But gags were had. One of the latest was Sierra Nevada (Calif.) finding its stolen mascot, a rubber chicken. It’s called SNERT — Sierra Nevada Recordable Time. Early Thursday, the team received a note on its table. According to team chaperon Eric Balken, it read: “If you want your SNERT returned safety, follow directions carefully ... ”

And for a half-hour, Balken said, team members followed eight paper clues scattered about the arena. The final led them back to their table. SNERT was taped underneath, unharmed.

“Wyoming stole it,” Balken said.

San Diego’s banners that morning were found at the bottom of the pool.

“We had both banners taken,” San Diego coach Sean Redmond said Wednesday. “This was a tradition from the early 1980s when the meet first started. There are certain rules you have to follow: Don’t destroy it; don’t steal it — or borrow it — out of someone’s hand; return it within 24 hours. But some don’t follow that.”

Which is why Kyle Priess of Bozeman, Mont., was appointed to guard the Montana Moose, a stick moose similar to a traditional stick horse, and the team had several of them on hand.

On Wednesday, Priess, who was not swimming in any events that day, attempted to guard them.

But ...

“Montana moose, with the antlers,” Colorado’s Katherine Harston said, “we plan on taking that.”

Despite Priess’s best efforts, a few disappeared.

“We knew it was going to happen,” Priess said. “Not a big deal. We got a girl to give someone puppy dog eyes and got one of them back.”

The girl’s idea, of course.

“The older kids started the tradition (of pranking), and kept it going,” said Colorado’s Abby Kochevar.

Other pranks over the years reportedly have included wrapping toilet paper over a team’s tented area, stealing food (not so funny), flipping tables and chairs over and Saran-Wrapping a team’s table.

“It’s all in good fun,” Redmond said.

And so swimmers such as Brierly consider themselves fortunate. She avoided the gags and simply swam.

Like rounding the corner in track, then easing into a smooth pace on a straightaway, Brierly loves the final leg of a medley, the freestyle.

“Just the feeling of shooting forward,” Brierly said, “like a bullet. It’s always fun; you can see yourself getting ahead.”


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