It's been six weeks since the Chesterbrook swim team in McLean ended its finest Northern Virginia Swim League season, but pardon the club members if they are still a bit giddy over their undefeated summer.

After all, the last time Chesterbrook ended the season with anything to celebrate was 1981, and this year's division title is only its fourth in 35 years of competition.

In fact, it was only a year ago that virtually the same Chesterbrook team finished the summer without winning a single meet. But after changing their name and look, the Buccaneers, formerly the Flippers, enjoyed a significantly better season.

So excuse coach Ron Hershner if he remains excited by his team's statistical flip-turn.

"We're ecstatic about how the season went," said Hershner, whose team won all five of its meets. "When we were 0-5 {in 1989}, I couldn't wait for the season to be over, and this year I didn't want to see it end."

Although the Chesterbrook celebration continues, the season has ended. Hundreds of teams and thousands of youngsters in the area closed another summer of swimming, an activity that has become one of the area's most popular summertime sports.

"If you're playing baseball or something, you're out in the heat. But swimming, you can be in the pool cooling off," said Chesterbrook 12-year-old all-star Tom Grossi. "It's a lot of fun because everyone tries to get everyone psyched up for the meets."

In the Northern Virginia Swim League there are 101 teams and more than 10,000 swimmers. Reston, Prince William and Loudoun counties also sport large competitive leagues. In Maryland, the Montgomery County Swim League has 80 teams comprising more than 6,000 swimmers, and the Prince-Mont League boasts 36 teams with more than 3,000 participants.

The reason for the popularity is simple.

"It's just good, wholesome fun," said Steve Alterman, president of the Northern Virginia league.

Along with the weekly swim meets, the clubs have team parties, relay carnivals and general, all-around good times that coax youngsters out of bed and into the water each morning. And with as many as 50 parents volunteering at each meet -- as judges, timers, scorers and in other capacities -- swimming becomes a family affair.

Even the competition itself has a special charm. "Swimming is the only sport I know of where boys and girls compete on the same team," said Chesterbrook team representative Harry Siegel. "Eight-year-olds and 18-year-olds contribute the same amount of points for their team. The young kids cheer for the older kids and the older kids cheer for the young ones. It's like getting a varsity letter in the first grade."

But Chesterbrook hasn't always had that much to cheer about. A charter member when the league was founded in 1956 with nine pools, Chesterbrook won the Division II championship in 1960. Thirteen years later the club claimed a Division VIII title, and in 1981 it swam to the Division III crown. But since being promoted in 1987 to Division I, the most competitive of the league's 17 six-team divisions, the Buccaneers have struggled, finishing no higher than third.

This year, with many of his swimmers reaching the older end of their age group, Hershner had cause for optimism. But, after last year's long, hot and winless summer, he looked only for this squad to be competitive -- not champions.

It didn't take long for visions of a championship to swim into his head, however. Chesterbrook defeated defending champion Vienna Woods in the season's first meet and a week later handed perennial favorite Overlee its first home loss in 14 years, according to Hershner. Next came a win against a strong Wakefield Chapel team.

"By that time I was definitely thinking 5-0, although I didn't go out and get my victory cigar until after the fifth meet," said Hershner.

But it was not only in the standings that Chesterbrook was hard to recognize. Siegel made other changes on the team in an attempt to instill a new attitude and purge memories of past seasons.

"I changed the blue and gold to black and silver and changed the name to the Chesterbrook Buccaneers," said Siegel. "I just thought it looked mean and nasty and maybe they would swim mean and nasty."

Complete with a skull and crossbones insignia, 22 Buccaneers qualified for the league's exclusive all-star meet, including Evan Oremland, who was unbeaten in dual meets and won the all-star's 8-and-under freestyle event.

"We used to be the Flippers. We didn't have a lot of backing," said Tom Grossi. "Now we have a more aggressive team name and it gets everyone hyped up a little more."

Eight-year-old Alyson Lipsky was an all-star in both the backstroke and the breast stroke. Nate Krill set pool records for the 9-10 age group in the freestyle and the backstroke, and Frances Cobb was outstanding for the 11-12 girls.

Melanie Spence set a record in the freestyle for the 9-10 age group, and Lindsey Martin was unbeaten in the freestyle and backstroke during the regular season. Kate Conway was a standout in the 15-18 girls events, and Misha Kandell and Laura Marean had strong showings at the all-star meet.

So pardon the commotion coming from the Chesterbrook faithful.