Maryland Pumps Out America’s Best Swimmers

Article written and courtesy from Charles Hartley.

While growing up I used to hear about where all the fastest swimmers in the country were: Mission Viejo, California. It was the swimming mecca of America.

I don’t hear as much about Mission Viejo these days as a state that could make a strong case as the center of America’s swimming universe. And it’s not where you might expect.

This state is not in the South in the warm weather climate. It’s a place that’s cold in the winter. It’s not in the rolling hills just miles from the ocean like Mission Viejo. It’s part of a hectic, crowded, large and hyper-competitive metropolitan region.

It’s Maryland.

Guess who’s from there?

Of course you know – the incomparable, inimitable and best swimmer who has ever lived, Michael Phelps.

Hailing from the Baltimore area, the human shark has whipped every Southern California kid who has ever swam, along with any others who cans swim year round outside such as Florida and Texas. Any swimmers in any country around the world can’t beat him either. So there’s that.

Mark Spitz, arguably the second greatest swimmer ever, grew up and swam in Arden Hills, and then Brian Goodman and Shirley Babashoff in the 1970s put Mission Viejo on the map, making the sport very California-centric for the better part of 30 years.

But Phelps put Maryland at the top of the heap.

While the superstar attempts to build on his 18 Gold Medals in the upcoming Olympics, there will be another spectacular American swimmer pursuing those same dreams. Her name is Katie Ledecky.

Guess where she’s from… Yes, Maryland.

A native of a suburb called Bethesda, she is favored to win medals in Rio de Janeiro in the 200, 400, and 800 freestyle relay events. She has risen to become, probably, the best female swimmer in the world.

Another member of the team will be Jack Conger. A Rockville, Maryland native, he will compete in the 200 meter freestyle relay. Conger is one of the best male swimmers in the world.

In the 1992 Olympics, Mike Barrowman, also from Rockville, captured the Gold Medal in the 200 meter breast stroke.

There is another swimming prodigy from yesteryear that definitely deserves a mention. His name is Clay Britt, probably the biggest swimming legend in Maryland history besides Phelps.

Born and raised in Rockville, he was an age-group swimming-record-breaking machine who went on to star for the University of Texas. He had a legitimate chance to win a medal at the 1980 Olympics had America not boycotted them for political reasons.

The rise of these Maryland-based swimmers to Olympic fame raises an obvious question: why Maryland?

There isn’t a totally rational explanation for this; it’s mostly a coincidence. The state just happens to be where global swimming sensations were born. Phelps would have been the greatest ever no matter where he was born.

As for the others, the common thread seems to be they lived in suburban Maryland in Bethesda and Rockville. For decades these have been upscale, upwardly mobile, competitive, and swimming-friendly towns.

I grew up in Bethesda and swam for Mohican Hills Swim Team in the Montgomery County Swim League. At the end of each season the fastest swimmers would race at the Rockville Municipal Swim Center, which was plush and high-end even in the 1970s.

Everyone in the league wanted to qualify for that meet so they could compete at that revered facility. Many could not because there were so many fast swimmers in the league. I was one of them. I made the qualifying time but so many others had better times I did not make the cut.

It was at that venue that I first heard and learned about Clay Britt, and swimming prodigy and legend.

At the age of eight I grabbed the meet program and turned the page that posted the meet records. At the age of 10, Britt’s name was next to the record for the 50 meter freestyle, 25 meter backstroke, 25 meter breast stroke, and 25 meter butterfly.

All of his times were so much faster than mine he seemed like an absolute mysterious person, so great it was awesome. Throughout his age-group swimming career he broke record after record after record. I read about his accomplishments constantly as a kid. Clay Britt was it.

At a meet filled with countless talented swimmers from Maryland, Britt proved again and again he was the best of them all. His times were so fast it was crazy. The guy stunned me.

Britt is the first Marylander I knew who was a premier, nationally ranked swimmer. Years later I heard about some other guy from Maryland who, it turns out, was even better than Britt.

I refer to Phelps, of course.

And there was Barrowman in 1992. And now Ledecky and Conger in 2016.

Maryland, my Maryland. How swift you are at swimming.

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4 years ago

Oh the MCSL. Definitely one of the, if not the, most competitive summer leagues in the country. I did have the honor of competing in the Rockville Municipal Swim Center for both the All-Star meet and the Coaches LC Invitational. It is amazing how such a small state has produced an incredible amount of great swimmers. We are very lucky to have a rich history of swimming that continues to breed more and even faster swimmers.

Reply to  Reilly
4 years ago

MCSL is crazy fast. Have to offer up the 14-team NSSL in the Detroit area, as well. Record book is eerily close to the MCSL (where comparable). My freshman year of high school, we had something like 9 All-Americans swimming the 15-18 boys 50 fly at our championship. During the biggest dual meets, it wasn’t uncommon to have 1200-1500 people at the pool.

Scary thing is that there are two OTHER summer leagues in the same area (another 14-team league, plus a 6-team league) where kids like Will Hamilton and Ali Deloof came up swimming, as well.

Reply to  Morgan Priestley
4 years ago

A few years ago, Texas’ Jack Conger, Stanford’s Sarah Haase and Notre Dame’s Catherine Mulquin were actually on the same community pool team in the MCSL, from a neighborhood called Flower Valley in Montgomery County, Md, just east of Rockville. Three years ago at the DC Metro area high school championships, you could see Conger and Ledecky shatter the national high school records in 500 free, within about 10 minutes of one another. Amazing.

This year, several of the top swimmers in the MCSL are headed to D1 schools. They include Griffin Alaniz (Florida State), Alex Vissering (Indiana), Morgan Hill (Virginia), and Hannah Lindsey (Wisconsin). Just across the river in Northern Virginia’s summer leagues, the swimming is awesome, too. In… Read more »

Reply to  SwimGuy
4 years ago

You have to mention James Murphy (Stanford) when you’re talking about crazy fast swimmers coming out of Northern Va.

Reply to  PVSFree
4 years ago

Absolutely, sorry I left him out. He’s probably the best of the bunch this year.

Reply to  SwimGuy
4 years ago

Catherine Mulquin swam never swam at Flower Valley. Buy they all went to Good Counsel High School together

Reply to  Mcsl
4 years ago

Sorry, you’re right. She was at Mill Creek Towne and they all swam together at GC. Conger and Haase were together at FV.

Reply to  Reilly
4 years ago

NVSL almost top to bottom destroys MCSL. They use blocks and the older kids swim 100’s so it’s harder, but just look at the times.

4 years ago

The history is a bit off here Spitz swam at Arden Hills not Mission Viejo. Mission Viejo rose to prominence in 1976 when Shirley Babashoff and Brian Goodell put them on the map under Mark Schubets leadership, then it became a destination program for ambitious and talented swimmers.

It’s been good to see the sport become less California-centric, with Olympians coming out of Illinois, Rhode Island and of course Florida and Texas. What’s really changed is how the world has caught up to the US over last 40 years, a very healthy outcome for the sport.

Reply to  PowerPlay
4 years ago

PowerPlay – good catch. Updated above.

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 years ago

Still says Brian Goodman though.

Cynthia mae Curran
Reply to  PowerPlay
4 years ago

Texas and Florida can grow more than any other state in swimming. The reason why California particularly in the coastal counties is too expensive for families with kids. When Shirley Bashashoff and Brian Goodell grew up in Orange County, tract housing was only 80,000 and now cost 657,000, most families can’t afford that. Same does for Los Angeles County where Bashashoff spent her childhood as well., her father probably only pay 25,000 to 30,000 for the family tract house in Norwalk which goes for at least 500,000. If Ca, does do anything on housing costs more elite swimmers will come out of other states.

Cynthia mae Curran
Reply to  Cynthia mae Curran
4 years ago

I mean any other states in swimming.

Stan Crump
4 years ago

Ummm. I could be wrong, but Spitz grew up and swam in Sacramento and Santa Clara. Then Indiana in college.

About Caley Oquist

Caley Oquist

Caley Oquist grew up in a small town in Central Minnesota where she learned to swim at the age of four. She found her passion to write when her mother was diagnosed with cancer at the age of nine and has been writing ever since. Apart from her love for …

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