Scenes from Thursday night's GCSL in Suwanee.  Lansmoore Lasers hosted the meet against Edinburgh34.  (Photo- Nicole Seitz).JPG

Swimmers dive in during last summer’s Gwinnett County Swim League meet between the Edinburgh Marlins and the Lansmoore Lasers in Suwanee.

Though practices have been underway for a couple of weeks, the Gwinnett County Swim League begins in earnest this week.

That’s when loads of parked cars fill up neighborhoods, and thousands gather at community pools around Gwinnett for a Thursday night tradition that began in 1973. The centerpiece is the swim meet, though the evenings are as much social gatherings as they are competitions in the pool.

All of it happens because of volunteers, the core of what keeps meets going in the massive league, which features 43 mostly neighborhood-based teams and more than 6,000 swimmers ages 18 and under this summer. Between the two competing teams at a meet, it takes between 80 to 100 parent volunteers for a Thursday night meet. Depending on what teams are involved, the crowds can get pretty large — Hamilton Mill is the biggest team with 240 young swimmers.

The season concludes annually with the GCSL Championships at Georgia Tech, where more than 2,000 swimmers compete. It takes between 300 and 400 volunteers for the season-ending meet.

“That’s why our council members (on each team) are so important, because running a meet takes a lot of volunteers,” GCSL president Bill Mahoney said. “You need people to time (races on stopwatches), people to run time cards back around, people to find swimmers and get them in the right place around the blocks, people to sell burgers and Gatorade. We rely on that so much. It’s certainly not a sport where you show up with your chair and sit there and watch all the time.”

The Lansmoore Lasers won last year’s county championship, a breakthrough victory after finishing in the top 10 every summer from 2010 to 2018. The Thunderbolts were the GCSL runners-up, followed by Spalding Corners, Chateau Elan and Wild Timber, the 2017 league champion. Ten county records fell last year at Tech.

This year’s county meet is July 13-14.

“It’s such a cool opportunity for those kids to get to swim in a pool where the Olympics were held,” Mahoney said. “The vast majority of swimmers who go to the county meet aren’t year-round (swimmers), so they don’t get an opporunity to swim at Tech otherwise.”

The defending division winners this season are Edgewater (North), Thunderbolts (North Central), Spalding Corners (West), Hanarry West (South) and Flowers Crossing (South Central). Edgewater, Flowers Crossing, Spalding Corners and Thunderbolts had perfect 6-0 records.

While competing for victories, the summer league teams also regularly host fundraisers, whether it’s a large charity like Swim Across America and its cancer initiatives, or something more hyperlocal.

“They all sort of search for a charity tie-in of their own,” Mahoney said. “Teams see it as something to do for their communities.”

The league itself also stresses philanthropy, through fundraisers and other missions. One project of note is funding registration for youngsters in the foster care system.

For more information on the league, go to www.gwinnettswimleague.com.

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Sports editor for the Gwinnett Daily Post. A Gwinnett native documenting Gwinnett County sports with the GDP since 1997.