A time for fun, school spirit

Annual Howard meet enables students to swim competitively with their lassmates.

April 13, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Amilee Smith, a junior at Howard High School, wakes up before 4 a.m. three days a week to swim in Silver Spring with the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club. She goes every afternoon after school for more swimming.

"It doesn't give you much time to do anything else," she said.

She is a serious swimmer with hopes of reaching the Olympics. But she is the only person from her school swimming in Montgomery County with the RMSC. Her swimming life and her school life are separate.

That's why she likes attending the annual Howard County High School Championship swim meet, she said, shivering in her wet bathing suit at the Howard Community College pool Sunday after competing in the 100-yard breast stroke.

FOR THE RECORD - In Sunday's article on the Howard County High School Swimming Championships in The Sun in Howard County, Tony Mazzarella was listed at the meet director. Mazzarella is the former director. Steve Klement is the meet director. The Sun regrets the error.

"It's a school thing," she said.

Though swimming is a serious -- and popular -- sport in Howard County, high schools don't have teams. That means competitive swimmers have to join private teams such as RMSC or the Columbia Clippers, a team that swims at the Supreme Sports Club in Columbia.

The meet gives county students their only opportunity to swim competitively with their school mates. The event seems to get bigger each year, participants say, and Sunday it attracted 126 girls and 94 boys.

Swimmers range in ability from Olympic-caliber to dabblers because the serious swimmers encourage their classmates to give competitive swimming a try at the event.

"This is really just for fun," said Tony Mazzarella, the meet manager. "It's for bragging rights."

The winning team gets a trophy and $200 for a drug-free prom party, and the second-place team gets $100. Individual swimmers win trophies.

Kids and their parents did not seem to mind being in a steamy indoor room on a glorious spring afternoon. The sides of the pool were so crowded that there was barely room to walk. Swimmers, some wrapped in towels, others still wearing swim caps, cheered on their classmates or chatted with friends, while rows of parents sat on folding chairs along one wall. T-shirts, sodas and sports drinks sold at a brisk pace.

"It sort of gets swimming noticed," said Trevor Ziegler, a River Hill junior. Like other competitive swimmers, he practices six to eight times a week and attends five or six meets a year in the mid-Atlantic region. But he likes the Howard meet because it enables him to swim for his school.

Daniele Surkovich, 17, agreed. She swims with the Retriever Aquatic Club, which uses the pool at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, but she likes the meet because "it's fun to compete with your high school."

Although he could not swim because of recent leg surgery, Stephen Henderson, a Wilde Lake freshman, attended the meet. "I'm having fun just cheering," he said. A swimmer since age 9, he is eager to get back to his schedule of practicing twice a week at 4:55 a.m., as well as most afternoons.

But despite all the good cheer, there's a Rodney Dangerfield undercurrent to the meet.

These athletes get up before 5 a.m., spend half their lives smelling like chlorine and miss out on other school activities because of the hours they devote to swimming. But the recognition other athletes who participate on school teams receive is not there.

And it's not likely to change anytime soon.

"Swimming is a great sport, there's no doubt about that," said Mike Williams, coordinator of athletics. But "I don't see it [making it a county sport] happening in the near future."

Participants on Sunday seemed to think more casual swimmers would become competitive if the schools had teams. Kristen Segasser, a junior at Mount Hebron High School, was the only student from her school at the meet, but she is convinced that more students would join swim teams if schools sponsored them.

"I think it would be awesome to have a high school team," she said.

She has been swimming with the Clippers since she was 5, though she is now taking a few months off, she said. "It's really demanding."

The swimming life is demanding for parents, too.

Maureen Dell, mother of River Hill junior Christine Dell, sat in the "splash zone" of the front row, chatting with Sarah DeLuca, mother of Atholton junior Gena DeLuca. "Going to swim meets is my life," Dell said. "We spend weekends at the pool, not just Sundays, and I'm car-pooling every day."

Christine, like other members of the Clippers, swims Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and every afternoon from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Members of the team are required to make seven out of the eight weekly training sessions. Dell noted that swimmers are involved in the sport year-round. "I think some of the best athletes in high school are swimmers, and they're not recognized," she said.

DeLuca, though, said that all the time and effort pays off. "It's a camaraderie, and it keeps them in shape," she said.

RESULTS

Here are the top three finishers in Sunday's Howard County High School Championship:

Mixed

250-Yard Freestyle Relay - 1, Wilde Lake `A' 2:09.46; 2, Hammond `B' 2:16.28; 3, Atholton 'A' 2:22.64.

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