In the summer of 2003, the Woodcliffe Wahoos swim team was formed to represent Germantown’s newest neighborhood. By 2006 — after three years in the Gaithersburg-Germantown Swim League — Woodcliffe, according to the team’s website, grew in size and strength and joined the historic 91-team Montgomery County Swim League.
The now 56-year-old league has been the starting point for several Olympians and though it fosters a relaxed environment, still features the Washington, D.C. area’s best talent. After starting in the MCSL’s 15th and lowest division in their 2006 inaugural campaign — Division O — the Wahoos have rocketed all the way up to Division A in eight years. Woodcliffe, which has grown in size to about 250 members, according to coach Jonathan Taylor, even vaulted from Division E to Division A in the past two summers — teams move up and down among the divisions each year based on virtual swim-offs where season times are “raced.”
The impressive feat is symptomatic of a recent overall trend: The rise of swimming in the Germantown area as a whole. And there are two main reasons for it: The influx of families with young children that flocked to newer communities and an upper county area where the cost of living is slightly less than the heart of Montgomery County and the 2006 opening of the state-of-the-art Germantown Indoor Swim Center. The latter provided an accessibility to year-round swimming that the area had not seen before.
“Summer swimming was always popular [in Germantown], now more kids have the opportunity to swim year-round,” said Northwest High School swimming and diving coach Amy Mason. “They used to have to travel but now it’s much easier. It’s the new swim center and also there’s a lot of developments of younger families who moved up county for more affordable [housing] and now we’re seeing kids going through the system. Kids who moved into Germantown when they were 8 are now swimming in the 13-14 age group.”
Jenny Garvey, a Woodcliffe parent representative and the mother of rising Northwest High freshman Noah Garvey — who as a 13-year-old last summer finished fourth in the Boys 13-14 50-meter breaststroke at the season-ending individual all-star meet — agreed.
“[The indoor swim center] is definitely a draw,” the elder Garvey said. “I think it helps people stick with it. In talking to neighbors we always joke around that if it wasn’t right in our backyard it would be much harder to do.”
Woodcliffe is one of five Germantown- or Gaithersburg-based teams among the MCSL’s top two divisions. And area high school swim teams have also started to reap the benefits of increased interest in swimming in the northern part of Montgomery County.
In 2014 Northwest’s girls, who were propelled by a strong freshman class, finished ninth at the Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving championships and the boys placed 11th. The Jaguar girls took sixth place at the season-ending state championship, the boys, 11th. Seneca Valley’s boys, who finished middle-of-the-pack at Metros, took third in the small schools state championship, the girls finished ninth.
Six years ago, in 2008, Northwest finished 17th at Metros on the girls’ side and 25th on the boys’ and Seneca Valley was even lower.
Mason said an influx of year-round swimmers has helped boost the Jaguars. And if MCSL results, which high school coaches say they do keep tabs on, are any indication, northern county teams should have longevity toward the top.
After two-plus undefeated seasons the Wahoos are 0-3 in Division A but not by a huge point differential — except for this week’s fairly lopsided loss, Woodcliffe has hung within 30 points of the county’s best. And despite the record the Wahoos have relished the opportunity to compete at the highest level, Taylor and Noah Garvey agreed.
“I think people are definitely paying more attention to swimming, getting more involved in the swimming community,” Noah Garvey said. “People ask you what your sport is and when you say swimming they’re like, ‘Oh, cool, I want to try that.’”