October 2, 2003
Heather Brooks went to cheer for her daughter during a swim meet in 1997 and became a team parent. Now she is retiring.
Brooks, a Princess Drive resident, took on the responsibilities of the North Brunswick Department of Parks and Recreation Rapids Swim team parent seven years ago when her daughter, Marissa, started swimming competitively.
Since then Brooks has dedicated a majority of her spare time to organizing and staffing the teamís swim meets, but has decided to turn in her towel.
"I havenít really missed a meet in all of these years," Brooks said.
She defines her role as a team parent as "a liaison between the coaches, the parents and the Department of Parks and Recreation."
Brooks not only has the responsibility of looking after the kids on the swim team, but also "parenting" the parents.
"It is often difficult to get busy parents to volunteer for jobs, like timing the races and serving refreshments during the meets," Brooks said.
To ensure the same group of parents do not have to work every meet, Brooks said she is very proud to have implemented a work bond for parents to divide the tasks.
"I asked that they give us $50 at the beginning of the season," Brooks said. "If parents work three meets, we do not cash their bond."
The most difficult obstacle Brooks said she has had to overcome over the years has been absenteeism of parent volunteers.
"It is a shame when the parents donít get there on time, or donít show up. Then the meet is forfeited," Brooks said. "Luckily most of the meets run smoothly."
Both of Brooks children, Marissa, 16, and Joshua, 13, swim with the Rapids.
"They both just took to the water at a very young age," Brooks said.
When their daughter started swimming with the Rapids, Brooks and her husband, Alan, made the meets a family affair.
"Alan designed T-shirts for the championship meets that we would sell," Brooks said. "We would donate about $500 to the team as a result of the sales.
"I decided to retire this year because Marissa will not be swimming on the team anymore," Brooks said.
Her daughter will swim with the North Brunswick Township High School swim team.
Brooks also said the job became more difficult in the last few years as a result of her multiple sclerosis.
"When youíre working the meets indoors, it gets very hot, and because of my condition, Iím heat sensitive," Brooks said.
Despite any physical strain, Brooks said it was always easy for her to dedicate her time and efforts to the swim team.
"Lou Ann Benson is such a great lady," Brooks said. "Iíve been working with her since the beginning, since she was just the head of the swim team and there wasnít even a Department of Parks and Recreation."
Brooks said she decided to become the team parent as the result of her working so well alongside Benson, who is now the Department of Parks and Recreation director.
"People like Heather are the fabric that holds this community together," Benson said.
She commended Brooks for offering so much of her time, dedication, thought and concern over the years to the swim team.
"It is people like Heather that sustain the tradition of our townshipís programming," Benson said.
Benson presented Brooks with a proclamation for her dedication to the swim team from the township during a regular council meeting Sept. 3.
"I felt so honored," Brooks said.
She said her success as the team parent over the years came as a result of the cooperation of so many others.
Pam Barnhard, another swim team member parent, helped her run the meets.
"You really need two people," Brooks said. "She did a wonderful job."
Barnhard will most likely take on the responsibilities of team parent next year, according to Brooks.
She said she would not have been able to organize the events over the years without the support and cooperation of other team membersí parents, refreshment worker Roberta Mitchell, coaches Jessica and Teri Socha, and their assistant Nate Umbriak.
Brooksí children couldnít express enough gratitude toward everyone involved with the swim team.
"You meet a lot of really nice people on the swim team," Marissa said. "Itís great because everyone involved focuses on good sportsmanship and fun rather than competition."
Brooks said the Rapids lost every meet this year.
"Itís not about winning," Brooks said. "Itís a sport in which the kids take care of each other and root for each other, and thereís a great group of parents."
Brooks has resided in North Brunswick for the last 12 years. She is
a special education teacher at Woodbrook School in Edison.
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