One of the major incentives for the YMCA to launch a fund drive in 2000 to build a $12 million facility that will include two swimming pools was “the need to teach kids to swim,” said Tom Van Deinse, CEO of the YMCA.
A poll done by the Y showed “that 40 percent of seventh graders (in the region) can’t swim 25 yards and we have three times the state drowning rate per capita.”
Those are shocking figures, particularly in a place so defined by water. The most prominent geographic features in the county are the East and West arms of Grand Traverse Bay, Boardman Lake and the Boardman River. Lake Michigan dominates our weather and our sense of place. There’s water, water everywhere.
The poll has proven to be tragically prophetic. Traverse City West Senior High student Owen Williamson, 17, drowned May 31 in Grand Traverse County’s Twin Lakes Park, the third young person to drown there since 2010.
Nicholas Lawrence Wayne Cooper, 17, of Maple City, drowned at Twin Lakes in 2010 attempting to swim from a beach to another shore. Daniel Edward Doherty, 19, of Traverse City, drowned there in 2011 while searching for rocks.
In recent years other drownings have 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 have drowned in the region since 2010.
All that makes the Y’s mission even more compelling. The new facility off Silver Lake Road, which is due to open next spring, will have 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. It will also have the resources to teach 2,000 kids each year how to swim .
That’s a mission that should be fully embraced by parents and schools across the region; no child should make it through elementary school without getting at least one series of learn-to-swim lessons at the Y.