The City of Dayton used to have a lot of swimming pools. A place for kids to go, play, with adult supervision, doing something healthy, and potentially life saving.
Now we have 2 pools, we can barely keep them open, and we have “splash pads” instead. No one learns how to swim in a splash pad. The waterpark at the Roosevelt center- is high and dry.
The national data, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is sobering: Drowning is the leading cause of death among 1- to 4-year-olds, the second-leading cause of accidental deaths by injury among children 5 to 14, and the third-leading cause of accidental death by injury for Americans 24 years and younger. Younger Black adolescents are more than three times as likely to drown as their white peers; Native American and Alaskan Native young adults are twice as likely to drown as white Americans. Eight in 10 drowning victims in the United States are male. Children with autism are 160 times as likely to drown or experience near-fatal drowning, a serious medical event that can cause severe and often permanent physical harm. The C.D.C. estimates that drowning costs the U.S. economy $53 billion each year.
The City claims they can’t get enough life guards to open the pools more. Right now, Lohrey is open M-W-F and Princeton T-TH-F. No weekends, and no swim lessons. Yet, when I go swimming, I see practices that make no sense at all, and when I talk to the director of recreation over the pools- the answers I get make less sense.
Like why the pools will be closed next week W-F- because of Lifeguard training. The lifeguard training is the evenings, the public lap swim is in the morning. I know all too well what , because since January, I’ve been swimming every morning it’s open. What started as rehab for my shoulder, has turned into a morning meditation- and workout. I’d forgotten how much I love the water.
This Wednesday through Friday, from 1-9 PM the City of Dayton is giving a lifeguard certification course, and it’s free if you are willing to work for the city. I’ve applied, however, the head lifeguard, called last Friday and left a shitty attitude voice mail (on my friend John’s phone) telling me I had to get him my email address, so he could send me materials that had to be completed before Wednesday or I’d be “ejected” from the course. I gave him my business card with email this morning- and nothing has shown up. A local judges daughter signed up too- after being told she couldn’t, and no one talked about any pre-registration materials to her either.
The flyer the city put out said you had to be 15, be able to swim 300 yards continuously, tread water with just your legs for 2 minutes, and perform a simulated water rescue. The course would be free if you were willing to work for the city.
The way things work now between 6-9am at Lohrey, there are 2-3 guards “working” every morning. That means 1 in the chair watching the pool, and one or two sitting in the back room, or sitting up at reception talking to the front desk person. Why they have 3 on duty, I’m not sure.
I talked to Lisa, the boss of the site manager about me being a lifeguard- I asked if I passed the class, and I was willing to work from 6am to 9am M-F could we open 5 days a week? She said no, she didn’t have enough guards. I was trying to suggest that if a few other people did this- we’d be good. Nope.
Then I asked if I did this, could I swim while on my breaks? Nope, I’m supposed to be doing something else. I’m wondering why I have to talk to Kiera at work at the front desk, instead of swim if the lanes are open?
And then I asked why they shut down the lap lanes when the Dayton Fire Department came in to do their certification swims on a Friday a few weeks ago. They have to be able to swim to do water rescue- and since the pool isn’t open T, Th, Sat or Sunday- why can’t they come in then? Lisa’s answer- “because they need a life guard on duty.” Really, seems like if they can’t save their own water rescue folks, we’re all in much deeper trouble in an emergency than we thought.
Lisa also went on about how lifeguards have a contract that requires them to have 2 consecutive days off, and how she only has 1 lifeguard that is Water Safety Instructor certified to teach swimming, so- we don’t have swim lessons. She’s actually wrong about that, other lifeguards have WSI certifications but are only part time, so she won’t let them teach swimming. This doesn’t make sense either- especially in light of the stats I cited above.
I learned to swim when I was about 3- and it was a throw the kid in the pool style training at first, and actual strokes later. It must have worked, I passed the Army Swim test, where I watched a group of 300 soldiers shrink to about 150, as one after another Black soldiers sank to the bottom of the pool. That’s when it hit me about white privilege and swimming pools.
I’d known we had 2 pools at Cleveland Heights High School, that by the time I got there were called the boys pool (the big competition one) and the girls pool (the small, old one where the swim cadets practiced. Swim cadets were a synchronized swim team). But, before I got there- the small pool was the “black” pool. The same was at the old Roosevelt High School I was told. I used to swim there- thanks to Fletcher Powers, long ago. Often, without a guard. Again, white privilege.
And yet, despite calls from the United Nations, the United States is one of the only developed countries without a federal plan to address the crisis. Thirty years of progress in decreasing the number of drowning deaths in the country appears to have plateaued, and disparities in deaths among some racial groups have worsened.
“It’s hard to imagine a more preventable cause of death. No one is going to say, ‘Oh, well, some people just drown,’” said William Ramos, an associate professor at Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington and the director of the school’s Aquatics Institute.
“It’s time to go deeper than the sad statistics and answer the ‘why’ and the ‘how,’” he said.
A parent who has never learned to swim yields an 87 percent chance that a child won’t, either, said Dr. Sadiqa A.I. Kendi, the division chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center, who studies the cyclical nature of injury and inequity.
“This is anthropology,” said Mr. Ramos. “To start a new narrative around water is not an easy task.”
I’m pretty sure that Kettering Parks and Rec director would face a firing squad if they closed the Kettering Rec on weekends, or the pool was only open 3x a week. A good parks and rec program is why people move to Kettering. Dayton needs to take notes. Instead of spending millions to constantly tear down abandoned houses, in abandoned neighborhoods, where there are no pools, no basketball courts, no pickleball courts- the city could be investing in amenities to attract private investment in the neighborhoods. In South Park, we used to have the pool at the Boys Club (which is now a charter school- and they filled in the pool) and the Bomberger Center, where the pool sits empty, and Old River if you knew someone. Now, we’ve got the Lohrey, unless you are lucky enough to work at UD.
One of the things I’ve talked to Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Dr. David Lawrence about is teaching DPS kids to swim. When he was with the Northmont schools as an Elementary School principal, he made sure his kids went to a pool and learned to swim. How to do it in Dayton, where the people in charge don’t care enough to make it possible, well, that’s going to be up to me, and maybe you, if you want a part time job that pays $15 an hour to sit in a pool and make sure everyone gets out alive.
And, after I get the lifeguarding thing down, and settle into a routine of early morning guarding, I’ll get a WSI certification as well, so I can help Dr. Lawrence teach our kids to swim. It’s not just about keeping kids safe, but, if you can’t swim, you’ll never be able to do one of the other things in life that gives me joy- SCUBA diving. I’ve got 2 SCUBA certifications, 1 from when I was in the Army and a second from Wright State where Dan Orr ran an amazing program before the bureaucrats ran him off for lack of a “terminal degree”- in SCUBA? The man was internationally recognized as one of the leading instructors in the world.
Once again, if you have visionless leadership, their first inclination is to poke everyones eyes out so we’re all blind to their stupidity. I’m hoping a few city commissioners take a closer look at why Jermaine and Jonquel can’t learn to swim in Dayton. Because, it is a matter of life and death.