On Saturday, the 46th annual Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships will be held at the Germantown Indoor Swim Center in Boyds.
The meet, better know as Metros, is one of the top championships in the region, hosting several of the area’s top high school programs from both the public and private school sectors.
Bill Bullough, who started the Richard Montgomery Swim Club in 1968 and helped to organize the first Metros Championship, took some time to reflect on the meet, its history and some of his favorite memories…
How did Metros come about?
It actually started as a small invitational meet at Georgetown Prep many years ago by the coach at Prep at the time, his name was Frank Martin, and that was what 49 years ago? Back then there were obviously only a few schools swimming, Prep had a pool – there were hardly any pools at the time – but there were a lot of good swimmers coming from the Montgomery County Swim League and Northern Virginia Swim League so he would invite the schools that could field a team. Gee, I think in Montgomery County I think Walt Whitman and Walter Johnson and Northwood were three of the few way back then that could pull a team together but they were somewhat clubs back then.
On how Metros nearly went away…
I used to help Frank run those meets and about the time that I went to the Rockville Municipal Swim Center when it was first built back in 1968, Frank left Georgetown Prep and the meet was going to die so I picked it up, I think we had the next one at Rockville Municipal and we started to expand it.
The whole idea of it back then was to foster high school swimming. We knew there were swimmers in every school but the party line everywhere was, ‘We don’t have a pool so were not going to start a swim team.’ There were kids swimming year round at clubs and a lot of summer swimmers so we thought that’s something we should stimulate. We created rules that all you have to do is have two dual meets minimum and have the principal sign off that you’re allowed to represent the school at the Metros meet and you could come. We had a handful of teams actually practicing regularly and a few would put kids together and we’d help them find pool time and they’d swim a couple dual meets ad hoc and we’d consider them eligible and they’d come to the met and have a ball. They’d say, ‘Look at all the guys we got here to form this team. Let’s go back to school next year and see if we can get pool time’ and so on and so forth.
On the next step in the growth of the meet…
It grew from a real small meet and a small pool and then – I can’t remember exactly what year – we decided things were coming along and we decided the next step was to offer girls’ events — before it was just for boys. We offered girls’ events and people kept saying girls can’t swim the same distances, so some events were half as long, but we knew there were a lot of great girls swimming around the area. But it was somewhat traditional even in college to have girls do lesser events. I think we had one year like that and then we said, ‘you know what, we’re going to offer the same events like National Federation does.’ and people thought girls wouldn’t come and of course they did and swam great.
New rules to help swimming gain recognition in the hallways…
This happened around the Beltway, Northern Virginia schools participated, and you started seeing more pools. It kind of fostered a spiral. Kids swam in the summer league longer instead of quitting at 15 and the one thing we insisted on later on was from now on you can’t be a club. You still have to swim two dual meets and you have to be able to letter in your school.’ A lot of these kids and parents leaned on their school and said, ‘we want recognition, our kids our athletes too.’ As more pools started being built around, it was natural these teams would rent pool time from YMCAs or college pools and parents would officiate. The schools would say, ‘we don’t have a budget for it,’ and we said we don’t need a budget. If anything would need your help to rent pool time and until you can kids pitched in and bought their own suits, parents would officiate and we didn’t need school buses.
On the changes in participants in the meet…
Northern Virginia, they developed a state meet and so forth and regionals and districts, and they felt a number of years ago that they had a full slate and wouldn’t sanction public school kids to come to Metros. That was okay, they had a full slate and as they had to drop out we kept adding more schools that heretofore hadn’t existed, kids from Frederick and places like that, southern Maryland, and as they constituted a swim program they didn’t need Metros any longer either, but that was okay, that was just what we were trying to do. We’ve added teams, newer schools since then and the meet is about as crowded as it can be, and if there are state meets around and county meets around that’s all to the good.
Was there a time the meet really grew more quickly or was it gradual?
In the 70s and 80s it really took off because that’s when we were getting more pools built around the Beltway and we had set a standard. We’ve had kids making high school All-American consistently, divers and swimmers. I would say that’s when it took off. Once we had the model, I remember back in the 70s every year I’d get a call from a new private school or some place we didn’t hear of and they’d say, ‘hey we’d like to enter Metros.’ And I told them [the rules] and they’d say, ‘okay,’ and the next year they’d come back and enter and comply. And then the school next to them in their neighborhood said, ‘hey, why don’t we do the same thing? Lets see how much interest we have.’ They’d have a meeting after school and 40 kids would show up.
Is there a memory that stands out from the early days of the meet?
I remember one of the earliest meets, Clay Britt [a three-time NCAA champion at Texas], who swam for Bullis, I think. Bullis entered a couple years back then but they entered a team of about six or eight guys, but they were good and they could do a relay or two. Clay Britt set the national high school record for the 100 yard backstroke, broke a national record in our meet and those kind of things happen – it happened just a few years ago at Germantown when Ziegler did it – but we would always send our times in to Swimming World magazine, which posted times from all of the United States, Florida and California, the sunshine states, and Michigan, all these traditional places where the high school swimming was dominant, every school had a pool. And you’d see our times and our kids being included in those with national swims and people were saying, ‘What’s this from Washington D.C., I didn’t even know they swam there.” But this has been a traditional power in swimming and diving.
What makes the Metros meet such an important event?
I think [that it has public and private schools is] an extremely important component and therefore nobody knows how its going to come out because they haven’t swum each other in the dual meets, so there’s a little mystery to the outcome. And things going in cycles. After 49 years some of the teams, and I don’t think some even know it, some that are in the middle of the pack and some that have fallen down, back in the old days those teams were in the top five. It goes in cycles.
What’s the most impressive performance you remember from a Metros meet?
We’ve had a bunch, we really have. When you think about the Olympians we had, Clay Britt did his thing at our meet, Mike Barrowman from Churchill, Dan Veatch from Churchill and Kate Ziegler’s swim was fantastic. You look at our records, the Metros records will stand up nationally everywhere. It blows my mind to see, you can take those swims anywhere. And we’ll rake out a whole bunch of high school All-Americans every year. …
How have you seen the event change most?
Adding the girls’ events was the biggest thing because it eventually doubled the size of the meet. It just added so much. We were kind of one of the first to do that and we were real glad we did. And most people wouldn’t even remember that but there was no reason not to [add them]. And the other thing is we stuck with the diving. There are more kids diving now in this metro area than ever before and I think a lot is because if they’ve got those kind of skills, and some may have started swimming and then went to dive, knowing they can dive for their high school is a big deal. You hear swimmers too in middle school and summer meets they’re looking forward to go to high school because they are looking forward to swimming for their high school team. … And it’s also fun to see the principals and athletic directors come to their first swim meet. They come to Metros for the first time and see all these people and see this meet is run so efficiently and with not one paid official out there … running like clockwork and kids are going nuts, it’s an eye opener.
Bullough is now the Aquatics Director for Gaithersburg Parks and Recreation. He started RMSC in 1968 and worked for Rockville for five years before leaving to serve as Aquatics Director for Montgomery County Recreation. After retiring from Montgomery County, he joined Gaithersburg Recreation and Parks.