By Reach for the Wall staff.
As a result of a huge number of outdoor pools, well-organized and competitive summer swim leagues, and an ambitious collection of parents, the Washington D.C. metro area has become a national hotbed for swimming that continues to produce Olympic gold medalists and a long line of scholarship athletes.
As we move into the summer league swim season, we want to recognize each of the 12 summer swim leagues that have helped make our area such a swimming powerhouse. In subsequent articles, we will focus on teams and athletes within some of these leagues.
The Country Club Swimming & Diving Association was founded in 1952, making it the oldest private swim league in the Washington, DC area. The league consists of 15 clubs throughout the Washington, DC metro area and is home to more than 1,700 swimmers and 300 divers.
CCSDA is divided into 3 divisions, and the 5 teams in each division compete in dual meets over 5 weeks and in divisional relay and individual championship meets. All 15 teams also compete in the CCSDA Championship Swim Meet at the end of the season, which determines the overall league winner.
The league has fostered 6 Olympic swimmers, including Tom Dolan (Washington Golf), who won gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Established in 1956, the Northern Virginia Swimming League is the biggest league in our region, with 102 swim teams and 48 diving teams in Arlington and Fairfax counties that give about 17,000 kids the opportunity to participate in aquatic sports every summer.
The swim league is divided into 17 divisions, and the 6 teams in each division compete each Saturday in dual “A” meets over 5 weeks and in divisional relay and individual championship meets. The swim league also holds “B” meets on Monday nights for those who don’t qualify to swim in the Saturday “A” meets.
At the end of the season, NVSL’s fastest 16 swimmers in each event (+ 2 alternates) from all of the divisional meets compete at “All-Star” relay and individual invitational meets (meaning that if a top swimmer has a bad day at Divisionals, s/he doesn’t qualify for All-Stars). This differs from MCSL (discussed below), where the top 16 swimmers (+ 2 alternates) can qualify for All-Stars from either Divisionals or any A meet.
The dive league is divided into 8 divisions, and the 6 teams in each division compete in dual meets over a 5 week season. Following the conclusion of the regular season, each division holds an individual division championship, which is used to qualify for the league’s Individual All-Star Championship Meet. The dive league also hosts the annual Cracker Jack Invitational, which is one of the world’s largest one-day diving competitions.
NVSL has produced at least 7 Olympic swimmers, including Melissa Belote, a three time gold medalist at the 1972 Munich Olympics at the age of 15, and Ed Moses, gold medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
The Montgomery County Swim League began in 1958, with the initial pools of Cedarbrook, Connecticut-Belair, Garrett Park, Glenwood, Kensington Heights (now Kenmont) and Merlands. The league has 90 teams located in Montgomery County, Maryland and approximately 14,000 swimmers.
The league is divided into 15 divisions, and (similar to NVSL) the 6 teams in each division compete each Saturday in dual “A” meets and in divisional relay and individual championship meets. The swim league also holds “B” meets on Wednesday nights for those who don’t qualify to swim in the Saturday “A” meets.
In the middle of the summer season, 8 of MCSL’s fastest swimmers in each event compete in the USA Swimming-sanctioned Coaches Long Course meet, which is swum in a long course (50 meter) pool instead of the regular short course (25 meter) pool. At the end of the season, MCSL’s 16 fastest swimmers in each event (whether swum at Divisionals or any A meet) compete at an All-Star championship meet (and the fastest relays from each division compete at an All-Star relay meet).
Besides who qualifies to swim at MCSL and NVSL All-Star meets, below are other key differences between the 2 leagues:
- NVSL holds relays for each age group + a mixed age crescendo freestyle relay at the end of the meet whereas MCSL only holds two relays: an open medley relay at the beginning of the meet and a crescendo freestyle relay at the end of the meet.
- Each age group in NVSL (except 8 & unders) swim 50’s in each stroke, whereas in MCSL, 9-10 year olds swim 25’s in every stoke (except 50 free) and 15-18 year olds swim 100’s in every event (except 50 fly).
- The point system is different in each league (e.g., NVSL awards points to the top 3 finishers in individual events and only the top team in relay events, whereas MCSL awards points to the top 5 finishers in individual meets and the top 3 teams in relay events).
MCSL has produced several Olympic swimmers, including Katie Ledecky (Palisades), a multiple gold medal winner at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics, Jack Conger (Flower Valley), a gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and Mike Barrowman (Montgomery Square Copenhaver), a gold medalist at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Prince-Mont Swim League (PMSL)
The Prince-Mont Swim League, formed in 1959, has 40 teams from Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Charles County, Anne Arundel County, Howard County, Calvert County, and the District of Columbia and has approximately 5,000 swimmers.
The league is divided into 7 divisions, and the 5-6 teams in each division hold dual meets over 5 weeks. After that period, each team sends its 2 fastest swimmers in each event to compete in its division’s championship meet. Then, at the end of the season, the top swimmer in each event at each of the 7 divisional championship meets compete against each other at the All-Star Meet.
PMSL also has produced Olympic swimmers, including Brad Schumacher, a double gold medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and Mark Henderson, a gold medalist at the same 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Colonial Swim League (CSL)
The Colonial Swimming League, formed in 1962, has 24 teams in Arlington and Fairfax counties and more than 4,000 swimmers.
The league is divided into 4 divisions, and the 6 teams in each division compete in dual meets over 5 weeks and in divisional relay and individual championship meets. At the end of the season, CSL’s fastest swimmers in each event compete at an All-Star championship meet.
Matt McLean, a gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics, swam for the Cascades Rapids summer team in the CSL. Ed Moses also got his start in this league.
Dominion Country Club League (DCCL)
Established in 1972, the Dominion Country Club League has 10 teams located in Northern Virginia. The league is divided into 2 divisions, and the 5 teams in each division compete in dual meets and in divisional championship meets. The league’s fastest swimmers compete in an All-Stars Meet at the end of the season.
Prince William Swim League (PWSL)
Founded in 1973, the Prince William Swim League has 24 teams located in Prince William County, Virginia. The PWSL is divided into 8 divisions, each with 3 teams. The teams compete in dual meets over 6 weeks. Swimmers who have competed in at least 2 league sponsored meets are eligible to swim in the end-of-the-season Divisional Championship Meet.
The CNSL, formed in 1973, is comprised of 14 teams located throughout the Columbia, Ellicott City and Clarksville area in Howard County, Maryland. The teams compete in dual meets over 5 weeks, and each swimmer who swims in at least three dual meets (or two dual meets and time trials) can swim in the league’s end of the season All City Meet.
Reston Swim Team Association (RSTA)
The Reston Swim Team Association, founded in 1973, consists of 9 teams located throughout Reston, Virginia. The teams compete in round-robin dual meets over 7 weeks, and then hold an end of the season All-Stars Meet for RSTA’s top 12 swimmers in each event.
The Gaithersburg-Germantown Swim League began in 1980 and consists of 8 teams located in upper Montgomery County, Maryland. The teams compete in round-robin dual meets over 7 weeks, and then hold an end of the season GGSL Invitationals Championship, which is open to all league swimmers who have participated in at least three dual meets during the current season.
Herndon Swim League (HSL)
The Herndon Swim League, which began in 1983, has 8 swim teams located in western Fairfax County, Virginia. The teams compete in round-robin dual meets over 5 weeks, and then hold season-ending All-League Meets composed of a Championship Meet involving teams from the entire league and an All-Star Meet for the league’s fastest swimmers.
Old Dominion Swim League (ODSL)
The Old Dominion Swim League, established in 2004, has 28 member teams located around Loudoun County, Virginia. The league is divided into 4 divisions, and the 7 teams in each division compete in dual meets and in divisional championship meets. ODSL’s fastest swimmers compete in an All-Stars Meets at the end of the season.