After five years of lobbying by Prince George's County high school swimmers and their parents, the county Board of Education agreed last week to include $15,000 in its proposed budget to launch swimming as an interscholastic sport next fall.

Swimming is currently considered a club sport in the county, where about 250 students belong to swimming clubs at nine of 20 high schools. Swimming is a varsity sport in all other jurisdictions in the Washington area.

More than 50 persons, many waving signs and banners, packed the Prince George's school board meeting last week to show their support for the proposal, which must win final approval from the board during its lengthy budget process.

Varsity status would "basically give our youngsters the kind of recognition they deserve," said Douglas Sutherland, father of two swimmers at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt and coordinator of the lobbying effort. As varsity athletes, Sutherland said, swimmers would no longer be "second-class citizens" and would be entitled to varsity letters and other forms of recognition.

Varsity status would also help swimmers receive admission and scholarships to college, said Margaret Mary Teague, parent coordinator of the High Point High School swim club in Beltsville.

"The name 'swim club' does not carry the same importance (to colleges) as 'varsity sport.' It shows more involvement and commitment if it's a varsity sport," Teague said.

A survey conducted last year by an athletic review task force indicated that teachers, administrators, students, parents, coaches and booster clubs all recommended that swimming be made a varsity sport.

The 17-member task force, formed in April to review the county's athletic program and recommend ways to improve it, also reported that swimming was the fourth most popular sport in the county overall, trailing football, basketball and baseball/softball.

"We are already organized essentially the same way as varsity teams," Sutherland said. The swim clubs charge $30 to $60 per swimmer to fund the league, he said, and have volunteered to pay the county $30 per swimmer after the league reaches varsity status, so the county would have to pay only for coaching and pool rentals.

The county has said it will also provide free use of two pools owned by the Maryland-National Park and Planning and Commission.