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Bend the Knee to the Ladies Who Tap

Fandom is a bit new to me. While I admit to a small soft spot for those crazy John Wick movies and an unnerving affinity for Law & Order reruns, I’ve never been a very good fanatic. The Marvel Universe came and went without much fuss from me. I never got into Game of Thrones, either. (At the one GoT party I attended, I commented that this culture had an odd love of grandma-defying brooches—and I was never invited back again.)

I used to think this inability to fan was a personality flaw all my own, but now—after witnessing some marvelous action at the American Water Works Association’s pipe-tapping finals in Denver last week—I  finally know the truth: I just never found a group worthy of my adoration.

Until I met that Alamo Tappers, that is. Now, I am claiming my rightful fan status. (See the slew of pictures in this piece for proof of my zeal.) I fully expect jerseys, bobbleheads and maybe even thematic brooches to follow.

The packed audience at the Denver Convention Center awaits the start of the competition. 

Representing the great Texas city’s water utility, San Antonio Water System (SAWS), the Tappers are an all-female competition pipe-tapping team that competed with great gusto and much heart in the Denver finals.

Nancy, Rosie, Yolie and Dorrena clock in as coach, copper, cranker and setter, respectively. (In the lead picture to this story, which is toward the end of one of the two taps allowed in the finals, Dorrena is far left, followed by Nancy, Yolie and Rosie on the far right.)

While pipe-tapping is traditionally done by a water utility “in the wild” (and usually without a stopwatch looming), in competition form, it requires a four-person team—one of whom, the coach, doesn’t actually touch anything. The team taps a pressurized iron pipe and installs a couple of stops (corp and curb) and a copper tube (representing a service line) before connecting the line to a meter yoke.

Dorrena preps for the first tap.

And they time it. In the end, after time penalties are allotted for infractions (like leaks), the fastest time wins. (Winning times tend to clock in between a minute and a few seconds and two minutes.)

For a visual, click our short gif of the ladies who tap in action (featuring the power of Yolie) right here.

The Alamo Tappers put together their game plan for the competition.

Coach Nancy Carrizales works in SAWS fleet facility on a day-to-day basis. While relatively new to the competition team, you cannot fault her dedication and drive. As the eagle eye spotting potential hurdles and encouraging the team to the right action at the right time, she was the unruffled calming factor in the two taps of the finals I saw (and cheered through).

When I spoke to her, the team was anxiously eyeing the competition. They were the first to tap and then had to wait through the two other women’s teams who made it through to this round. When I asked her what they would do if they did win the competition, she told me they’d celebrate as a family. (In fact, all of the women on the team saw themselves as part of a larger more supportive group—SAWS as an extended family network—which was delightfully refreshing in a world that can be overrun by corporate speak.)

The  ladies who tap hard at work mid-competition. 

Yolie Garcia, who serves as the team’s backbone as the heavy-lift cranker, also represents SAWS in another milestone way outside of the team: she’s the utility’s first female superintendent. (She’s also a big recruiter of other amazing women both for the utility and for their women’s pipe-tapping team.)

Yolie started at SAWS as a utility laborer and worked her way up one rung at a time. When I talked to her she was reworking in her mind the team’s hiccups on the first tap in the finals, lamenting that they should have “stayed longer on the pipe.” Despite being a four-time national champion with well over a decade working on this team, Yolie still has her huge heart all in the game. (When I asked her how she’d celebrate, she admitted she just might cry.)

The team gets set to tapsafely. 

I was chatting with Tapper team member Rosie Castillo, who works inside SAWS as a distribution and collection coordinator, when it became obvious that the Lansing Lethal Ladies had pushed the Tappers from their top slot in the finals. While her face fell for a second (and there was a very soft, very minor curse), Rosie recovered almost immediately and was quick to take the sporting high road, noting that the field was super tough and extremely competitive this year and she was proud of how they did—no matter what the outcome.

Castillo and teammate Dorrena Guerrero, who at 4’11” may the tiniest (but mightiest) competitor on the field, both talked about how amazing it was to be a Tapper team member, the comradery among the women involved (and the coaches that support them both on the field and in training) and how amazing they felt to be examples of what women can accomplish in a traditionally male-dominated world.

Focus and teamwork in action.

All the ladies revealed that, in fact, they hadn’t gotten a whole lot of sleep the night before the finals.

They weren’t out partying, but they were up texting each other in nervous anticipation. And while every one of them was delightful to talk to and amazingly friendly and polite to the random stranger standing before them asking them questions, that distracted, wired undercurrent—fueled by lack of sleep and anticipation and hope—was palpable throughout the morning. It charged the atmosphere something fierce for a small corner of the Denver Convention Center. After all, this is what they had spent six months training for—up to three times a week in the few weeks before the trip to Denver.

In the end, SAWS’ Alamo Tappers captured third place behind The Big D Lady Tappers and the Lansing Lethal Ladies in the annual competition, but they’ll always be #1 for this new fan.

I told all the SAWS ladies that I’m now a Tapper for life and that I plan to follow all the action next year as they prepare for another shot at the title.

Tapper domination in 2020. You can bet on it, and you can bet this newly-minted fanatic will be there to cheer them on.

On a personal note: Thanks to Nancy, Rosie, Yolie and Dorrena for being willing to share their time with me. And to Leamon and Daniel for coordinating. And, finally, to Guadalupe and Deborah, for making me feel like a part of the support team for the Tappers. 

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