When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Frances Meadows Aquatics Center
Cost: No charge
Teams participating: Chestatee, Flowery Branch, Gainesville, North Hall and Riverside Military.
High school swimming in Hall County has certainly come a long way as a club sport.
Though it still isn't accredited as a varsity sport, participation has skyrocketed, mainly from word of mouth, and really gained credibility as a popular after-school activity for students among the six high schools in Hall County that carry a team.
"When we started six years ago, we had two swimmers," Flowery Branch coach Valerie Lancaster said. "Now we have 35 with the middle school included in that."
On Friday, five of the schools will meet again under the same roof at the Frances Meadows Aquatics Center for the Hall County championships, where 22 events will be contested among the boys and girls teams.
North Hall has the biggest team with 45 members and a school-record three of its relay teams already qualified for the state championship meet Feb. 10-11 at Georgia Tech.
Also competing at Hall County are Chestatee and Gainesville, and the Riverside Military boys.
The Hall County swim meet is especially important with both local bragging rights and another opportunity to secure a spot at state in individual and relay events both on the line.
Lakeview Academy started a swim team this year, but will not be competing at the county meet.
"Swimming in Hall County has taken a big step forward," North Hall coach Debbie Duncan said. "The kids are absolutely thrilled."
The ambiance added by having a joint meet under the same roof at Gainesville's city-owned facility only adds to the build-up for such a new meet.
Only Riverside Military has its own pool on campus. The other schools all jointly use the Frances Meadows facility.
Gainesville and Chestatee both practice before school Monday-Thursday, while Flowery Branch and North Hall come in the afternoon.
"This is a remarkable facility here at Frances Meadows," Lancaster said. "They take great care of it and keep it in great shape."
This year, the Flowery Branch girls are seeking their fourth straight county title, while the boys are looking to defend after winning it in 2011.
"We're excited to go out and try to win another trophy," Lady Falcons junior Jordan Norris said. "We always have such a good time together."
The talent in the individual races is just as strong.
North Hall sophomore Paul Powers already finished seventh at the Junior Nationals with a time of 20.48 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle last month at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas.
He is a state qualifier for the Trojans in this event. He'll also swim the 500 freestyle and 100 backstroke this weekend, both events he has already qualified in at the state level.
Powers also leads North Hall's state-qualifying, four-man 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle medley teams.
Swimmers can only swim two individual and two relay events at state, which leaves some with a decision to make.
Flowery Branch senior Zack Miller-Hogg is also a top individual competitor, ranked in the top 10 among Class A-AAAA swimmers in the 100 freestyle (third), 200 freestyle (sixth) and 50 free (seventh). He's already a state-qualifier in four events, including all three of Flowery Branch's relay teams (200 medley relay, 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle).
Miller-Hogg, who is currently exploring college swimming opportunities, holds a sizable advantage in the 100 and 200 freestyle, based on qualifying times and would like to get those times in the individual events even lower before state.
He says the technique and athletic ability involved makes swimming one of the most difficult sports.
"I think it's one of the hardest sports, next to cross country and wrestling," Miller-Hogg said. "It's so much fun to watch the guys like (Olympic gold medalist) Michael Phelps."
Gainesville's Andy Doan has also put up some impressive individual accolades as a state qualifier in the 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke and part of its 200-medley relay team.
Chestatee's Jack Hene is also state-qualified in two individual disciplines.
North Hall's Margaret Schofield is a state qualifier in the 100 and 50 freestyle.
For those not already qualified for state, Hall County is not the final opportunity to make the cut.
Flowery Branch is turning around and swimming in the North Georgia Championships on Saturday in Dalton, and again at Westminster the following weekend.
North Hall is swimming in the Last Chance Meet on Saturday in Gainesville.
Since swimming is not a varsity sport in Hall County, athletes are forced to pay a substantial amount of money to cover the cost of entry fees, apparel and pool use for practice.
Flowery Branch junior Hudson Howard, a key part of its state-qualifying relay squads, says that it runs about $500 annually to be part of the team, but the cost is well worth it.
"I'd love to see swimming recognized as a varsity sport," Howard said. "But with all the cutbacks going on with the schools right now, I doubt it will happen any time soon."
However, most enjoy swimming for serving as a stress reliever after a long school day.
"You can't be in a bad mood after you've been swimming," added Lady Falcons junior Morgan Ryder.