Competition, a splash of fun, too


Atholton wins county's 26th high school swim championships, which draws 202 participants


It was a warm, sunny spring day, but the weather did not matter. Friends and family of swimmers from Howard County's 12 public high schools wanted to be inside in a hot, stuffy, chlorine-filled atmosphere.

It was time for the 26th annual Howard County high school swim championships. Many were filling the limited number of seats around Howard Community College's pool an hour before Sunday's meet started.

But Christina Bird-Walker did not need a seat.

She walked around the pool throughout the meet to get a good view of Ananda, the eldest of her four children, who swam for Oakland Mills.

"I think the meet is fabulous," Bird-Walker said. "It gives them an opportunity to represent their schools and have fun swimming together."

The meet, organized by the Columbia Clippers, a private swim team, drew 202 swimmers, the highest number of participants that Steven Klement, the meet director, can remember.

Each high school has a captain, who volunteers to organize a team. Atholton had the largest team, with 42 swimmers, while Long Reach had the smallest, with four swimmers.

"Every year, it gets bigger," Klement said. "It's getting popular enough that now people call me to ask when's the meet."

The winning team, Atholton, received a trophy, $150 for a drug- and alcohol-free after-prom party and the Katie Hurley trophy, which is passed each year to the winning team's school in honor of a River Hill student and swimmer who died in December 1998 when a rock fell on her.

The second-place team, River Hill, received a trophy and $100 for an after-prom party. Medals were given to individual swimmers through sixth place.

For some who swim competitively on private teams, the meet is the only time during the year that they can represent their high schools because Howard County does not have varsity swimming. For others, the meet is another opportunity to mingle with friends.

Regardless of experience, the swimmers like to get involved for one reason: fun.

"We run this to give all the kids a chance," said Jeff Scrivener, Clippers' head coach. "We've got kids that this is the only time they swim all year, and other kids here swim every day of the week."

Conor Bell, a senior track and football player at Glenelg, swam in the meet for the first time. He joined Glenelg's team when he heard it needed swimmers.

"I'm having a great time," Bell said. "The social aspect is awesome. ... I'm just here to have fun."

Wilde Lake junior Ben Kolodner signed up after someone gave him a flier. "It's something to do in the afternoon, and I get to visit a few friends," he said.

Jessica Krauss, a senior and Atholton's captain, has been swimming year-round for the Clippers since she was in sixth grade. She practices three hours daily after school, two days a week at 5:30 a.m. and on Saturday mornings.

Krauss said her time commitment to swimming makes it hard to play other sports.

She said it is sometimes "disappointing" to walk through the halls and see athletes wearing their varsity jackets while she receives no school recognition for her sport. That is why she looks forward to the high school meet each year.

"For the people that don't really swim, they get to see what we do," said Krauss, who plans to swim competitively at Salisbury University in the fall.

Laura Leffner, a senior and Wilde Lake's team captain, agreed with Krauss.

"A lot of people don't understand how much goes into the sport," Leffner said. "It's a little annoying that it's not offered in Howard County because it is in other places."

Mike Williams, coordinator of athletics for the schools, said money, lack of facilities and safety and liability concerns are a few of the reasons swimming is not practical for Howard County. "Swimming is a great thing; it's just not something we can do."

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