40-year rivalry fuels Cabarrus swim league

One of the richest traditions in Cabarrus County youth sports is celebrating its 40th anniversary this summer.

In 1971, swim clubs were created at Cabarrus Country Club and the Concord Swim Club, marking the beginnings of an aquatic rivalry as fierce as that between the British fleet and the Spanish Armada.... Well, at least on the swim clubs' terms.

The Concord-based teams became the cornerstones of the Southern Piedmont Swim Conference, which originated with four squads in the 1970s. With five other teams from Cabarrus County and additional clubs from Monroe and Salisbury, the conference has blossomed to nine teams in recent years.

At least in the last half of the 40-year rivalry, Concord Swim Club has dominated competition in the SPSC. Concord (sometimes known as "Eastcliff Pool") has won nine of the last 10 season-ending conference meets, starting in 2001.

This year's conference meet will be July 22-23 at the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatic Center.

The swim programs are for ages 5-18. Swimmers are divided by gender and compete in six different age groups in five individual events and two relays.

At a meet, all the competitors' points are combined for a total team score. Teams compete only against other SPSC teams, in a season that runs from early June to mid-July.

Now the swim coach at Concord High, Ray Morgan was a teenager when he was hired to coach Cabarrus Country Club's first team in 1971. Each facility's pool was built only a few years before that.

"In 1971, we ordered the same suits that the Americans used in the Mexico Olympics in 1968," Morgan said. "So we looked pretty hot."

Before the conference was formed, Cabarrus Country Club and Concord Swim Club competed against each other and had occasional meets against a couple of other programs outside the county.

A Charlotte resident and college student at the time, Morgan led the team during its first three years. In those early days, Morgan said, each team had about 50 to 60 swimmers.

Along with a team from the Concord's Beverly Hills Swim Club (which no longer competes) and one from Monroe (not the same Monroe program of today), Concord Swim Club (known as the Breakers) and Cabarrus Country Club (Green Wave) helped form the SPSC.

"Honestly, I don't think anyone knows if one has beaten the other more," said Buddy Judy, chairman of the Concord club's swim team committee, "because you just get together for the kids and hope the weather is good and everyone has a good time."

One particular meet nine years ago, however, meant more to the Green Wave than any others over the past decade or so. In 2002, the Green Wave defeated the Breakers in head-to-head competition for the first time in recent memory, a feat it hasn't accomplished since.

"When we beat Eastcliff, it's a big deal," said Cabarrus club coach Trey McMillian. "When we beat them in 2003, my kids threw me in the water."

McMillian, 31, has been involved in the rivalry since 1988, when he was 7 and swimming for the Green Wave. When he reached his teens, he helped coach the youngest swimmers; eventually he became the program's head coach.

The Cabarrus club last won the conference in 2001. Concord has won the conference every year since except for 2009, when Northwest Cabarrus ruled for a year.

Though conference teams are not guaranteed to compete head-to-head against the others every year, an exception is made for the Concord and Cabarrus clubs. On June 24, they met for the 40th straight year.

As host of the meet, the Cabarrus club honored both teams with a sheet cake presented by Karen Byrd, Cabarrus swim team committee chairperson. Half of it was decorated with green and white icing for the Green Wave; the other half was in red and white for the Breakers.