The air was heavy with moisture, heat and chlorine inside the Dale City Recreation Center one recent weekend, but that couldn't dampen the spirits of Prince William County's first high school swim teams.

Friends and relatives packed the tiny bleachers, eager to see Gar-Field and Osbourn Park face off.

Yellow caps emblazoned with Osbourn Park's yellow-jacket emblem bobbed up and down as swimmers breast-stroked across the pools, and Gar-Field Indians clad in red and black chanted rhythmically to spur their classmates on.

Osbourn Park won the meet handily. The boys team won 127-40, and the score for the girls was 115-54. But for all the participants, just having the meet was victory enough.

Gar-Field's coach, Rosemarie Hayes, said she had fought for high school swim teams for the last 12 years, and her daughter, Linda Hayes, who coaches Osbourn Park, said she wasn't expecting any formal meets this year, the program's first.

"The objective was to get the kids in the water," Rosemarie Hayes said.

More than 25 students swam for Gar-Field's team, and nearly 40 signed up for Osbourn Park.

"I love it," said Osbourn Park's Mike Mulvihill, who also swims for a year-round team in Quantico. He said he doesn't care which team he is swimming for. "A coach is a coach. You'll swim fast if you want to swim fast."

Finding enough pool time for practice has been a struggle for the teams because Prince William does not have any county-run indoor pools. The Dale City Recreation Center, which receives funds from a special tax on Dale City residents, allowed the teams to conduct two meets there.

And the Hayeses arranged to have both Gar-Field and Osbourn Park share practice time at the center with the Prince William Swim Club, which they also coach. The county's third start-up swim team, the Woodbridge Vikings, had to rent water time from a local health club, and could afford only an abbreviated season, Rosemarie Hayes said.

The swim teams have only club status, so they do not receive funding from the school system. With the cost of water time, entry fees and swimsuits, the price of participating on Osbourn Park's team came to nearly $120 for each student, said senior Erin Withers, 17.

Even Gar-Field could find only enough water time to practice three days a week. Team members had to do calisthenics the other days.

But that hasn't dulled the swimmers' enthusiasm.

"I like to keep myself in shape," said Gar-Field swimmer Jennine Miller, 15. "I like being busy, going from one activity to another."

The high school teams draw their best swimmers from the county's year-round and summer swim clubs, and quite a few of the swimmers compete for both a club and a school. But they said swimming for their high schools has special meaning.

"People ask us questions in school now, and they never used to do that," said Withers, who also belongs to the year-round Prince William Swim Club.

For some, the new teams are their only chance to win a high school letter. "A lot of swimmers, you're not competitive in any other sport. You can't throw a ball and the only way you can get recognition in school" is through swimming, said Osbourn Park senior Holly Tuxbury.

Said Mulvihill, "It makes other people know what we go through."

Sometimes swimming on a start-up team can be discouraging, participants said.

When Gar-Field's team sent entries to a 16-team Northern Virginia relay competition in Wakefield, Denis Riba, 15, found the competition "overwhelming. Everyone in Fairfax County swims. We were glad that no one from Gar-Field was there" to watch.

And the Hayeses have had to readjust their coaching methods. Unlike swim club participants, many of the Gar-Field students aren't used to swimming 500 yards at a stretch.

"You get a square-one mentality when you look at little kids, but you don't realize the entry level at high school," Rosemarie Hayes said.

Whether they were year-round club participants, football players using swimming to stay in shape or first-time swim team participants, all the swimmers applauded the school system's decision to allow the teams.

"I really wish we had had it when I was younger," said Gar-Field swimmer Scott Kramer, 17, who said he has been swimming for 10 years.