TRAVERSE CITY — Young people in the Grand Traverse region are drowning at a pace that dwarfs such deaths elsewhere in Michigan, and poor swimming skills are the impetus for a local YMCA’s $17 million construction project that will include two pools and resources to teach 2,000 kids each year how to swim.
Construction is on schedule to open Grand Traverse Bay YMCA’s facility on Silver Lake Road in spring 2014. The new location will host an eight-lane, competition pool with a diving well, plus a warm water, recreational learn-to-swim training pool that won’t chill young children.
“The whole reason that started this project off in 2000 was the need to teach kids to swim,” said Tom Van Deinse, CEO of the YMCA. “Our poll showed us that 40 percent of seventh graders can’t swim 25 yards and we have three times the state drowning rate per capita.”
“It just amazes me that kids are growing up here never having learned how to swim,” Van Deinse said.
Owen Williamson, 17, drowned May 31 in Grand Traverse County’s Twin Lakes Park. The Traverse City West High student was the third young person to drown in the park’s lake since 2010, and in recent years other drownings occurred in Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City, in Torch Lake, and in Lake Michigan near Leland and Frankfort. At least six people age 21 or younger drowned in the region since 2010.
The Record-Eagle this week surveyed more than a dozen TCAPS high school students and just one, Tori Bartos, 16, said her mother placed her in swimming lessons as a child.
Bartos said she’s comfortable swimming several pool lengths without stopping.
Other students who spoke with the Record-Eagle acknowledged they weren’t strong swimmers. Some said their parents won’t allow them to go in water over their heads. Several said they more or less figured out how to swim on the fly.