More than 100 high school swimmers gathered behind the starting blocks at the Howard Community College pool, waiting for the Howard County High School Swimming Championships to begin.
They laughed, joked and shouted to their friends as meet officials struggled to get their attention.
When it was their turn to race, the relay swimmers turned slightly more serious, but the laughing and joking continued as they climbed out of the pool.
The annual meet, held Sunday, marks the only time that high school students can represent their school in the pool, as swimming is not recognized as a varsity sport in the county.
This year's meet featured a record 277 swimmers, compared with 200 last year, from 12 high schools.
Students voiced pride in the chance to support their school, but they described the meet as more of a playful meeting between schools than a fierce competition between rivals.
Howard High School sophomore Caitlyn Fuller described the mood as "fun and friendly." Fuller swims year-round for the Retriever Aquatic Club but said she prefers Sunday's meet to the more serious meets she typically swims.
"It's not as stressful," Fuller said. "It's more fun to be kind of competitive but not really."
The students did have incentive to win, as the top eight finishers in each race received ribbons, and the top three teams received trophies.
Atholton High School finished first for the fourth year straight year with 767 points, followed by Wilde Lake (675) and Centennial (560). The top schools earned awards toward a "chemical-free graduation party" from the Columbia Clippers, receiving $150, $100 and $75 respectively. The remaining schools received a $25 award for competing.
There was a three-way tie for the top boys performer among Michael Lazris, a freshman at Wilde Lake, Nick Sharp, a junior at Glenelg, and Preston Wolter, a senior at Atholton. Each finished with 60 points.
In the girls competition, Kelsey Brosi, a senior at Wilde Lake, and Sam Gelb, a senior at River Hill, tied for top honors with 60 points.
Serious competitors and casual swimmers alike competed in the meet, as there were no qualifying times or other requirements needed to enter.
"There are kids who wouldn't swim otherwise, but they want to support their school," said Susan McDonald, one of the meet's organizers.
McDonald was "shocked" but pleased with the high turnout, but she is worried for what it might mean for next year.
The pool deck was too small to hold all the swimmers this year, forcing them to congregate in the gymnasium between races.
"We may be so big [next year] that we don't have a big enough facility," McDonald said, adding that it might be necessary to hold the meet outside the county.
The large number of competitors also meant a longer meet. McDonald said recent championship meets lasted three to four hours. Sunday's meet was almost five hours.
The meet was sponsored by the Clippers, the Columbia Association and Howard Community College.
Organization was left to high school students, as team captains were responsible for all administrative duties, including forms, fees and assigning students to the individual races.
"That was the most fun -- no, not really" said Centennial High School captain Morgan Joseph. "That was the most stressful."
Despite all the work that went into preparing for the event, Joseph said she looks forward to the meet every year.
Joseph also swims for Retriever Aquatic Club, but as a graduating senior, she said, she wishes she had more opportunities to swim for her school.
"I'm sad I missed out on that aspect -- swimming for my school," she said. "But I'm glad I get this. I love this meet."
Here are the first-place finishers in the 2008 Howard County High School Swimming Championships at Howard Community College. (Lengths are in yards.)
200 freestyle relay - Atholton, 1:35.16 (Preston Wolter, Matt Fitzenreiter, Jimmy Forest, Nick Solomotis)
200 IM - Preston Wolter, Atholton, 2:04.62
50 freestyle - Andy Vorel, Centennial, 24.02
100 butterfly - Michael Lazris, Wilde Lake, 53:28
50 breaststroke - Nick Sharp, Glenelg, 28.72
100 backstroke - Michael Lazris, Wilde Lake, 54.78
200 medley relay - Atholton, 1:52.04 (Jimmy Forest, Billy DeBoissiere, Matthew Nakagama, Nick Solomotis)
50 butterfly - Michael Lazris, Wilde Lake, 24.83
100 freestyle - Preston Wolter, Atholton, 50.56
50 backstroke - Nour Saad, Oakland Mills, 26.70
100 backstroke - Nick Sharp, Glenelg, 1:02.89
200 freestyle - Preston Wolter, Atholton, 1:49.68
100 IM - Nick Sharp, Glenelg, 55.94
200 freestyle relay - Wilde Lake, 1:43.07 (Victoria Weston-Dawkes, Mary Rzegocki, Ginny Glover, Kelsey Brosi)
200 IM - Brittany Radcliffe, Atholton, 2:14.54
50 freestyle - Sarah Hall, Centennial, 25.68
100 butterfly - Elana Donald, Wilde Lake, 1:02.50
50 breaststroke - Sam Gelb, River Hill, 31.90
100 backstroke - Kelsey Brosi, Wilde Lake, 1:01.35
200 medley relay - Centennial, 2:04.85 (Kelsey Abernathy, Melanie Lovalvo, Sarah Ault, Olivia Joseph)
50 butterfly - Elana Donald, Wilde Lake, 28.22
100 freestyle - Kelsey Brosi, Wilde Lake, 54.35
50 backstroke - Kelsey Brosi, Wilde Lake, 28.58
100 backstroke - Sam Gelb, River Hill, 1:08.66
200 freestyle - Ginny Glover, Wilde Lake, 1:57.67
100 IM - Sam Gelb, River Hill, 1:01.42
200 medley relay - Wilde Lake, 1:51.19 (Kelsey Brosi, Trevor Kozlow, Michael Lazris, Ginny Glover)
250 freestyle relay - Atholton, 2:09.84 (Katie Fitzenreiter, Brittany Radcliffe, Matt Fitzenreiter, Preston Wolter)