Every public pool turns summer into joy

Nearly a half-century ago, we taught Red Cross swimming lessons in the pool at Guilderland’s Tawasentha Park. All these years later, we can still see, in our mind’s eye, the upturned faces of kids on the first day of class.

We can smell the chlorine and suntan oil, and hear the words of encouragement called from watchful parents. We can feel the sun, warm on our back.

Many of the children we taught had splashed in wading pools at home but most of them did not know how to swim. In their faces were expressions that ran the gamut from fear to glee.

One girl clung to us so tightly as she made her first foray into the water that her nails left a line of purple marks on our skin. Day by day, she went through the steps that taught her how to trust herself enough to float, to let the water hold her as she lay still.

She learned how to shape her hands, not like a fork, with fingers splayed; not like a knife, with palm and fingers rigid; but like a spoon, with fingers together and cupped. She could propel herself through the water by paddling her hands and kicking her feet.

By the end of the program, her fear had turned to glee — she could swim!

Such transformations — each a tiny miracle — occur every summer at a public pool. The problem is, as governments are strapped meeting basic needs, fewer and fewer places have public pools.

John Boyd Thacher State park attracted a half-million visitors annually in the 1950s, the heyday of public pools in the United States. The Olympic-sized pool, which served the Hilltowns in the Helderbergs and drew kids from the city of Albany and surrounding suburbs as well, was torn up in 2007. The original plan, under Governor George Pataki, had been to create a then-trendy $3 million waterslide park at Thacher, the first in a New York State park. That plan tanked with the economy and new plans for Thacher don’t include a pool.

So, when flames took the pool house at Guilderland’s Tawasentha Park early on Sunday morning, we were worried it might be an end to that public pool as well.

Our phone started ringing Monday morning as Guilderland residents worried about the fate of their pool. Calls from parents predominated as they had signed up their children for swimming lessons, to begin the last week in June. One caller made the point that only rich kids, those whose families own pools or belong to country clubs, would be able to swim.

We were gratified, when we called Scott Jill, assistant chief of the Guilderland Fire Department, which battled the blaze, that the pool itself was saved. We commend the volunteers, many of them fathers, who spent their Father’s Day morning, starting in the wee hours, containing the inferno.

We were also gratified, when we called Guilderland’s supervisor, Kenneth Runion, to learn that the town planned not only to rebuild the pool house but also to hold the summer swimming lessons as scheduled. We posted the story on our website Monday and drew 815 readers the first day, and thousands more through social media.

Runion called us back on Tuesday to update us on the latest. The town has insurance coverage that will pay to replace a pool house and also has parkland funds it can use. The first week of summer swimming lessons will be held at the YMCA and, by July 1, rental facilities, on trailers, will be in place with bathrooms and changing areas so lessons can continue at Tawasentha.

Bravo! Summer is upon us and Guilderland residents will be able to cool off and have fun at their public pool.

Most importantly, kids will be able to learn to swim. We urge parents to take advantage of these lessons for their children and to learn to swim themselves if they haven’t already. The statistics are sobering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 people in the United States die every day from drowning. The leading cause is lack of swimming ability.

And, also according to the CDC, for every child who died from drowning, another five receive emergency care with more than half requiring hospitalization; this compares with a hospitalization rate of about 6 percent for all unintentional injuries.

The drowning injuries that don’t kill can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic function — a vegetative state.

Many adults and children report that they can’t swim and, says the CDC in its report on unintentional drowning, “Research has shown that participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning.”

So, we conclude with this advice for Guilderland residents, young and old, rich and poor: You are lucky to have a public pool — use it.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

More Editorials

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.