Posted Online: Feb. 04, 2013, 5:40 pm

Prep swimming kicking up surf ... again

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During the last two high school boys' swim seasons, United Township, Rock Island and Moline have traded powerhouse positions. Who's up and who's down has varied from month to month, but during the 2012-13 season, the Rocks have had the edge in the chlorine.

Heading into the 2011-12 season, the Panthers had not lost a dual meet since January 2007 — a dominating 36 straight dual-meet victories. UT's reign, however, was snapped in late 2011 when Moline edged them by three points.

Last season, the Maroons swam undefeated and splashed to the Western Big 6 Conference title. That was last season, when dual meets among all three teams were the closest in modern Quad-Cities swimming history.

Moline, minus three-time state-qualifier Matt Roche most of the year, recently battled to win the 12-team Rockford Relays, but let its dual-meet record slip to 3-4. They've got talent but have been a couple swimmers short of hitting their groove. The Panthers, loaded with depth and divers, remain very competitive in every contest.

Splash back to the Rock Island vs. Moline meets in the late 1960s and early 1970s (before East Moline had built its pool). During that high-tide era, the names Keith and Marc Gilliam and Gary Conelly jumped out of the water at you.

When the meets were on the line, Rock Island turned to the Gilliam brothers and Moline called on Conelly. The three of them swam to a combined eight individual state championships from 1968-1971. Both teams have had other state champs, but none as prolific in the water as these three.

And then in the 1970s and early '80s, local waters turned Maroon. During a seven-year stretch (from 1973-79), the Maroons, led by coach Joe Ruberg, amassed a 71-4 dual-meet record.

Two swimmers exemplified Moline's dominance over those years: Brian Forsberg and Doug McNeil. The pair combined for a total of 13 top-6 finishes at state (in both individual and relay events) during their high school careers. During the '70s, Moline advanced seven relays to the top four at state.

"That's a pretty incredible feat when you take into consideration that Illinois is one of the top five fastest swimming states in the nation," said QC-area attorney John Callas, who swam for the Maroons (1973-75).

Then it was East Moline's turn to build a new pool — and a new dynasty that followed. Helped by a family of powerhouse swimmers himself, Dave Busch and the Panthers sent several ace swimmers to state and racked up lots of Big 6 titles along the way. Names such as Brown, Dassow, Hernandez and Gunderson powered their squads.

Too young to remember the Gilliam brothers, the 2013 Rocks are swimming at high tide. But, if modern history is any guide, look for the Panthers and Maroons to find their openings as all three teams kick up big surf at the Big 6 meet and sectional the next two Saturdays.
Porter McNeil is a guest columnist specializing in Quad-Cities swimming. He can be reached at pmcneil10@mchsi.com.