By Julie Barzilay
Daria Gaut â09 was lying peacefully in her bed before the sun had begun to creep overhead one morning three years ago. The house was silent, the night was calm â or so she thought. Suddenly, a squad of upperclassman burst into her bedroom blaring music, bundled up in their swim team sweatshirts and sweatpants, grinning and laughing hysterically. Tugging Gaut out of her bed, they immediately commenced phase one of the annual swim team kidnap: ridiculous costumes, hideous face paint and wacky hairstyles ensued, all administered with the affection of older kids guiding youngsters through a rite of passage.
A few weeks ago, Gaut burst into the bedroom of Sally McGrath â12 to pass on the team tradition known as the “swim team kidnap,” which has been going on for several years. After the wake-up and dress-up, all team members are ferried to an IHOP in Santa Monica for a humiliating team breakfast.
“We looked ridiculous and everyone in IHOP was staring but it was still a really good bonding experience,” Alex Edel â10 said. “As an older kid it is really funny to dress the younger kids up but at the same time we have to make sure that they are comfortable and have a good time.”
Most teams have initiation rites, pre-grame rituals and old traditions they perpetuate each year to amplify team bonding and build spirit.
The swim team launched a new tradition this year, where each girl was assigned a team member to “pump up.” Notes, food and secret messages are conveyed without revealing the identity of the teammate until the end of the season.
“Swimming is a really psychological sport and when you have your teammates supporting you every step of the way it makes for better performances,” Edel added.
The boysâ swim team has maintained the tradition of running laps in their Speedos to distract opposing girlsâ soccer teams for as long as most members can remember.
As long as the traditions are sustained in the right spirit of camaraderie and friendliness, swim Captain Ashley Halkett â09 thinks they are a crucial and beneficial part of being on a team.
“You kind of feel like youâve paid your dues when you were a freshman, so you get really invested in it and try to make it as memorable as possible for the younger kids because it was such a defining moment in your own swim career,” she said. “It was also way harder to plan than I ever realized because you have so many parents to call and teams to set up based on where people live, so I was a lot more grateful afterwards.”
The cheer team dreamed up a similar initiation ritual this year â they all dressed in wacky outfits and went to Universal Studios. Since the initiation was done for the first time this year, even seniors participated.
The Advanced Dance II Company employs traditions to bring members closer and to get centered before performances.
“Dance Company has a really intense pre-show ritual,” company member Alanna Bram â09 said. “It usually takes about an hour in total. We all do 30 minutes of warm up, then for about another 30 minutes we do all these fun things. They are top secret but they get our adrenaline pumping, and they bring us really close as a company. Itâs a mix of really fun and exciting things and really spiritual and bonding exercises.”
The warm-up, always done to pump-up songs like “Itâs a New Day” by Will.i.am, and spiritual songs (BjÃ¶rk and Imogen Heap are favorites) involves intense stretching, jumps, turns, leaps and plies.
But after the physical warm-up comes to a close, the real pre-show sets in. Secret chants, bonding exercises and group cheers fill the stage before the house opens. Then the group disperses to resume preparation as the audience trickles in.
“Every year we do the same pre-shows such as passing a pulse while holding hands in a circle,” dancer Caitlin Cunningham â09 said. “I always feel closer to the company every time we do a pre-show, and it gets me really pumped up to put on a great performance.”
Hip-hop blaring from rolled-down car windows always energizes the girlsâ golf team before a match. In addition, while leaving the tee box, members tell each other “sit vis tecum.”
“The literal translation of our chant is âmay the force be with you,â which demonstrates how, though everyone on the team is able to focus on the sport at hand â making it all the way to CIF this year â we donât take ourselves too seriously,” captain Alex Green â09 said. “I think it is also a little intimidating to the other teams when we all speak in Latin before our matches.”
Green feels team traditions alleviate some of the pressures of competing at a very high level, and also bring team members closer together.
Green is also a fencer. At the end of each year, the fencing team has “balloon wars.” Each member of the team pins three balloons onto the outside of his or her jacket and mask. Then, everyone grabs a saber, and half of the fencers charge at the other group in the hopes of popping every balloon in sight. The last team left with some balloons intact wins.
“Team traditions are a great way to bond with your teammates and to pass some of the time that would otherwise be spent lingering,” Green said. “They make the experience of being on the team more significant and memorable.”
Soccer and field hockey team member Katrina Okano â10 also attested that high-volume and high-energy music and chants help pump up the soccer team before games.
Halkett recalled how when she was an underclassman, a few swim team girls would take her to In âN Out Burger after practice. Though it was a very simple gesture, it made all the difference in her swim team experience.
“It made me feel a lot more comfortable as a member of a team than I ever would have, and I try to think about that because it helps me remember what it was like to be the new kid on the team and reminds me to make a conscious effort to include the younger kids, because if we do that enough it eventually becomes natural,” she said. “Thatâs when weâre truly a team.”