Local Kids Who Don’t Know How To Swim “Make A Splash”

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Summertime is a time for enjoying the water at a pool or lake, but many children cannot or should not take part in the fun because they don’t know how to swim. It’s a bigger problem in poor minority neighborhoods where many kids don’t have access to pools and swimming lessons. As WOSU’s Sam Hendren reports, a local group is trying to teach inner-city kids a potentially life-saving skill — how to swim.

At Fort Rapids Water Park in Columbus three life guards introduce a group of young children to swimming. The training — which is free — is supervised by Steve Nye, head coach of the Greater Columbus Swim Team of Ohio. This particular event, Nye says, is an attempt to break a world record.

“It’s part of the world’s largest swimming lesson; trying to make kids aware of the need to learn to swim,” Nye said. “And they’re trying to set a Guinness Book of World Records for the most number of kids taking a swimming lesson simultaneously across the world – not just the United States.”

The event is sponsored in part by the Make A Splash program, part of the USA Swimming Foundation. The foundation is trying to get as many people as it can to learn how to swim. The training is especially needed among African-American and Hispanic children. According to the foundation, more than half of these children cannot swim. That’s nearly double the number of Caucasian children who don’t know how.

“It’s terrible,” Nye said. “It’s color and it’s background. It’s socioeconomic background more than anything else. And the problem is more and more pools are shutting down. It’s just very difficult to give these kids an opportunity to swim.”

The city of Columbus is opening only four pools this summer due to budget cuts.

Karen Hopson brought 4-year-old Lillian and 7-year-old Samuel to the swimming lesson. She watched as her children became comfortable in the water.

“Oh, I love it. I love it,” Hopson said. “My kids were scared to put their head in the water. My 4-year-old, her head has been under the water; she’s been blowing bubbles. And it’s awesome. They look like they’re having a lot of fun!”

Steve Nye says Make A Splash is providing grant money so that his group can offer more free lessons. The next Make a Splash date is July 2 in Gahanna. But Nye says other opportunities will also be available.

“We’re going to do it on the basis of financial need,” Nye says. “We’ll have days when we offer it to single parents, we’ll have days when we offer it to military families, anybody who’s in the active military; we’ll have grants available for those kids, too.

After their lesson in which they glided across the pool with the help of their instructors, Lillian and Samuel were excited.

“We go under water,” Lillian said.

“I learned how to swim,” Samuel said.

“I saw you put your head under the water,” Karen Hopson said. “You did awesome!”

“Thank you,” Lillian said.

“You’re welcome,” her mother said.

The USA Swimming Foundation has awarded $4,000 to Steve Nye’s group as scholarship money to teach more children how to swim. The Greater Columbus Swim Team of Ohio has chipped in another $2,000 for the effort.

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