It must be July. From Shipley's Choice swim club in Anne Arundel County to the Box Hill pool in Harford County, swim-team practice is in full throttle as thousands of sleepy children -- and their caffeine-laced parents -- file into area pools for 8: 30 a.m. daily practices.
And that's only part of it. Summer swimming also means evening and Saturday drills -- and, of course, the hours-long, semiweekly swim meets.
For children, the ritual brings plenty of team spirit, fresh air and exercise. For parents, it's a marathon of driving miles to meets, baking brownies for fund-raisers, eating gooey clubhouse pizza, and spending hours as timers, scorekeepers or sideline watchers.
Many are counting the days until next month, when the competitions end.
"It is demanding," said Lori Taguding of Towson, sitting on a concrete ledge at Woodcroft swim club in Carney in a just-from-work black skirt, white blouse and high heels. "I had no idea."
Taguding, who shares pool-chauffeuring duties with her husband, Art, quickly has become immersed in the world of swim-team parents. Their children, Ryan, 8, and Lauren, 6, are swimming for the first time on Campus Cabana Seahorses, a team in Towson, and were competing against the Woodcroft Waves in an evening competition.
They join almost 8,000 other Baltimore-area summer swimmers in leagues that include the Central Maryland League, which has 42 teams in Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll and Baltimore counties and the city; the Freestate Swim League with eight teams in Baltimore County; and the Harford Swim League with 12 teams in Harford County.
"Summer swimming is definitely on the rise," says Todd Proa, national swim chair of the Amateur Athletic Union of the U.S., which includes many summer swimmers as members. "It gives the child who is not the elite swimmer or recruited swimmer the opportunity to compete."
Achieving 'personal best'
And having fun is what team swimming is all about. "We like to see them win," said Sandy Caslin of Carney, president of the Freestate league. "But we like to see them achieve their personal best."
That was clear at this month's Woodcroft meet, where children from ages 4 to 18 of all ability levels took to the water with their freestyle, breast and back strokes. Parents of the little ones watched anxiously as the children valiantly struggled to cross the pool, some hanging onto the buoyant lane dividers midway through.
But Abigail Lee, 6, of Campus Cabana -- slipping through the water in her royal-blue team suit -- didn't pause. "She feels so good about herself," said her mother, Sharon Lee of Towson, as Abby finished the heat.
Building self-esteem is a big part of the reason parents devote so much time to the summer program. For their efforts, children receive "I Made It" ribbons as well as more competitive first- , second- and third-place honors at each meet.
"It's just a thrill to see the kids coming to the end of the season and having accomplished swimming," said Gail Kiddy of
Baldwin, volunteer assistant director of the 180-member Campus Cabana Seahorses in the Freestate league.
As the mother of four children, including two team swimmers, Kiddy spends about 10 hours at the pool each day. "Everybody jokes about my parking spot in the front," she laughed.
Hectic day for parents
"It is craziness," said Chuck LaBerge of Riderwood, a good-natured engineer who volunteers as president of the Central Maryland League. His three children swim at Padonia Park Swim Club in Timonium.
"The real hectic part is Saturday mornings," he said of the league's meets, which often involve driving long distances to other localities. "There goes your Saturday.
"You've been in the hot sun all day. You're beat. You're not in the mood to cut the lawn."
But he readily acknowledges pluses. "It's an excuse to hang out at the pool. It's very sociable for parents."
And for the children, "You can't beat the camaraderie and team effort," said Gail Thomas, a mother of two swimmers who oversees the popular Campus Cabana bake table, which recently featured baked ziti, fruit salad and cupcakes. "It's like a camp to them. They become friends."
Creating team spirit
At Woodcroft, all ages rooted for their team members. Many, such as Megan Morgan, 11, have taken younger swimmers under their wings.
"I like to cheer for them so they can swim better," the Perry Hall Middle School student said.
Several swimmers also show team support by painting their bodies with waterproof messages, such as "Go Campus Cabana." And they create a sense of unity in their identical tank suits.
But that can be a problem -- some older boys drop off the team, refusing to wear the skimpy Speedos. At the Woodcroft competition, more than one male swimmer wore baggy trunks until just before the swimmers were called to the race.
End of season nears
For parents, summer swimming also eliminates conflicting schedules for their children.
"I really like it that all three are in the same place. The rest of the year we go in 12 different directions," said Chris McLaughlin of Abingdon, whose 13-year-old son and two daughters, 11 and 9, swim for the Emmorton Barracudas in the Harford league.
Starting this week, many divisions will be holding all-day, multiteam trophy meets to end the season. But, make no mistake, parents are looking forward to the end of the month.
"Everyone waits until August to go on vacation," said Jon Tolerton of Towson, a fourth-grade teacher who is director of the Campus Cabana team. "In August, the pool is virtually dead."
"In August, I collapse," joked LaBerge. "I enjoy not going to the pool."
By next summer, though, most families will be back.
"Nobody would volunteer unless they had kids in it. That's how you start," LaBerge said. "Then you get hooked and it starts to be fun."
Pub Date: 7/23/96