Coach Stanley Gainor is cheering. Eyes locked on his swimmers' every stroke as they cut through the water. Urging them to be first at the finish line.

He's watched the D.C. Public Schools' swimming program come a long way in its 16 years. Much of its growth can be attributed to him, coach of the Cardozo High School swim team.

A graduate of Washington's old Armstrong High School, now the Armstrong Adult Education Center at First and O streets NW, Gainor was a standout swimmer himself. He attended Tennessee State University on a swimming scholarship and stayed to earn his masters in health and physical education.

After two years of teaching at Southern University, he moved back to Washington in 1964 to teach at Cardozo. It was at that point that he started a swimming program at the school.

Dunbar introduced a program at about the same time, and the two began competing against local private schools whose swimmers had much more access to the sport than the inner city youngsters.

"We took our lumps in those early days against Georgetown Prep, St. Albans, Fort Hunt and the other schools we swam against," Gainor recalls. "But the kids learned one valuable thing from those experiences. They learned to hang in there."

Bruce Bradford, one of Gainor's swimmers back then, now coaching at H.D. Woodson High School, remembers those days when the prep school opposition regularly swam off with the honors.

"Being beaten made us hungrier," he says now. "The more exposure we got to them, the more competitive we became."

When hired as a teacher at the newly opened H.D. Woodson in 1972, Bradford -- inspired by his former coach -- immediately started a swimming program there, thus making it three teams in the Interhigh.

With Gainor's prodding and encouragement, Ballou, Wilson, McKinley and Roosevelt later came aboard, thus completing the present seven-team setup.

"I like to call Stan Gainor the 'Wizard of Washington' when it comes to Interhigh swimming," Bradford, also Woodson's tennis coach, says. "It was his dedication, encouragement and enticement more than anything else that helped the growth of the swimming program in D.C."

Despite recent successes, Gainor says it is getting harder to interest athletes in swimming. "First of all, swimming is not a glamorous sport," he said."There are no cheers from the crowd or any media coverage like basketball or football. It's more personal pride than anything else.

"Secondly, many of the kids in the inner city are economically disadvantaged. They can't afford to practice two or three hours a day after school. They often have to work to help make ends meet at home. That's why I always say that the swimmers are a different breed because they have to make the supreme sacrifice."

He takes heart that many of his former pupils have gone on to pursue degrees at Tennessee State, Holy Cross, Hampton Institute and Johnson C. Smith University, an independent school in Charlotte, N.C.Many are now teaching, coaching or just being "responsible citizens" as Gainor likes to call them.

During his 16 years at Cardozo, Gainor has guided the Dolphins to five Interhigh championships and won an impressive 164 meets against competition inside and outside the league.

His wife Hortense, a word processor at downtown mortgage company, gets into the act, too. Alternately called "Waterbug" and "Mrs. Dolphin" by the team members because of her own ability in the water, she helps her husband with the young women on the team. Not surprisingly, the two, who live in Southeast Washington, met at D.C.'s Banneker swimming pool.

This year's version of the Dolphins may be the most impressive ever. Despite swimming against much stiffer competition than in the past, the coed team has already registered 16 victories -- they swim about 20 meets a year -- including a first win ever against powerful Georgetown Prep.

More recently, the boys defeated a strong H.D. Woodson team in the D.C. Public School Relay Championship. The girls finished a close second to a good Wilson team, an accomplishment Gainor said he is particularly proud of.

Cardozo's pool is in the school's subbasement, surrounded by the collection of trophies and plaques gathered over the years. The walls are decorated with purple crowns for the school's colors, purple and white, and pictures of former dolphins. At the corner of the pool near the diving board is the team's motto, "Books AND CHLORINE."

"That is a reminder to the kids that education is first and then the water," Gainor explained. "Actualaly the two can work together. The discipline required in studying can be applied in the pool and vice versa."

Larry Taylor, senior and captain of this year's Dolphins, who is considering scholarship offers from Howard and Tennessee State, says Gainor has given him more than swimming instruction.

"I've learned three very important things -- discipline, leadership and communicating with the team," he said. "Mr. Gainor has helped me realize the importance of those things and how to use them in life."

Angela Riley, an honor student and member of the Dolphins, is just as high on Gainor. "When I first came out for the swimming team, I had no techniques, no confidence," she said. "Being 15 and a junior didn't help the cause any at all. But Mr. Gainor has really helped me grow up and make the adjustment. Now I have no confidence problems and I really enjoy swimming and the competition that goes along with it."

For his dedication and efforts in pioneering swimming in the District, Gainor has been nominated for Coach of the Year by the local swimming coaches in the National High School Coaches Athletic Association. The decision is expected to be announced by June.

Up until last year, swimming coaches were not paid for their services. But Gainor said what he does has more than just monetary value.

"This is my life," he said. "I get great satisfaction when some of my former pupils go out and make it in the world, whether it's teaching, working or just providing for their families as responsible citizens. That makes it all worth it."