By Jeff Commings//Contributor | Wednesday, March 28, 2018
George Clooney’s character in Up In the Air would be envious of the amount of time Colleen Jennings-Roggensack spends on airplanes flying from her home in Phoenix to New York City. Her role as executive director of the Gammage Theatre on the campus of Arizona State University requires her to see every Broadway play and musical, and she’ll often see her favorites more than once. Her three decades of influence in the theater community means her fingerprints are on just about every well-known show through the years, from Rent to Hamilton.
When she’s not spending her time catching up on a Broadway show or scheduling a new season for the Gammage, Jennings-Roggensack most likely will be found on a pool deck as a referee for a USA Swimming, college or Masters swim meet in the Phoenix area. In a recent interview after returning from a quick trip to New York, Jennings-Roggensack looked back on the highlights of more than 20 years serving as a volunteer on the pool deck.
How her daughter got her involved with USA Swimming:
We moved from Dartmouth College to Arizona, and Kelsey was 18 months old. The first thing we were invited to was a party at Christine Wilkinson’s house. She was the vice president’s secretary for the university. She had this huge outdoor unfenced pool. I spent the whole time panic stricken about where Kelsey was, and of course she gravitated to the water.
We would go to the (former Student Recreation Center) to swim, and she would stand there and watch the age group kids go up and down the pool. So I knew then that we had a water baby. At four years old, she joined the Kiwanis Piranhas, a rec swim club at the Kiwanis Rec Center. She did a 25-yard swim at a meet, dove in and finished first. Her coach told us that Kelsey should be on a USA Swimming team. I knew nothing at the time about swimming. Kelsey loved it, and I didn’t want to be one of those parents that was in the stands gossiping.
I learned about being a stroke and turn judge. I learned how to be a starter. I took the referee course and passed. We were a travel team, so I would write to the host club where we were traveling and tell them that I wasn’t interested in being in the stands and watching the meet. If they needed any officials, I was more than happy to help out. Almost all of them accepted my offer.
How to deal with officiating at an outdoor pool on a rainy day:
I remember one meet where I was referee at the former Phoenix Swim Club pool. It was the year when it was raining and so cold in December that the steam was rising up from the pool. The New York Times published a photo of the pool. It was a five-day meet, prelims and finals, and we stood in the rain for five days. There’s no other way to do it. I learned that if you take your wet shoes off and stuff newspapers in your shoes, they will dry out quicker.
Her biggest mistakes as an official:
We were doing flyover starts at one of my first meets. I was getting ready to send off the next heat and didn’t realize there was a swimmer in lane eight still swimming. The next heat went off before the previous heat’s swimmer had finished. So, I had to ask the swimmer in lane eight if she wanted to re-swim it, and bring that entire heat back.
There was another meet where I was counting the laps for a heat of the mile. One of my officials wanted to ring the bell (indicating 50 yards left) for his daughter who was leading the heat, but I told him there wasn’t time to do that yet because she had 100 yards left. He swore it was time to ring the bell, so I bowed to his wisdom. As soon as he rang the bell, the coach came running over to scream at him. She picked up her pace, even though it wasn’t really the end of the race.
Why she thinks starting is “an art form”:
I love to start, but the only problem is there isn’t another referee available, so I don’t get to start as much as I like. The key is lowering your voice three octaves for “Take your mark.” You could say “shoot the dog,” or “close the door,” and those swimmers will get set. All they are listening for is that tone. That’s the only art form as an official. If the field is not settled, you have to re-settle it on your terms.
Dealing with unruly coaches and athletes:
I had a coach shake me once at an age-group meet. I was so new that it didn’t dawn on me that he wasn’t supposed to do that. After I explained it later to someone, the coach was thrown off the deck. I run a fair deck now, and I don’t allow any of that behavior.
At one meet, (former national team member) Nick Brunelli got out of the pool and he threw down his cap in anger. I went to him and told him that he was a famous swimmer, and every kid on the deck was watching him and will do everything that he does. I told him if he did something like that again, I would remove him from the deck and he would get no times. I saw the light bulb over his head after that.
What’s important is keeping the dignity of the sport. If you let the deck get out of hand, you set the tone for the meet.
Read more about Colleen Jennings-Roggensack in the Spring issue of Splash Magazine, in mailboxes soon.