Kenge Norris Jr. was celebrating his 13th birthday with family and friends at a community swimming pool on Memorial Day when another boy spotted him at the bottom of the pool. Another party guest tried unsuccessfully to revive him before Indianapolis firefighters arrived.
The same day, 15-year-old Austin Israel disappeared while swimming in the Whitewater River near Richmond with other residents of the Wernle Youth & Family Treatment Center. Police divers, who recovered his body, blamed a current running in the river, along with the boy’s swimming ability.
The boys were among seven young Hoosiers who drowned in just more than a two-week period in pools, rivers or creeks. In response, the Indiana Department of Child Services scheduled a news conference this morning to raise awareness about water safety.
Its message is one for parents and public officials to note: Swimming instruction and water safety, literally, are life-saving lessons. Greater efforts must be made to ensure children learn to swim and to teach them the dangers posed by unsupervised pools and hazard-filled lakes and rivers.
Northeast Indiana has an abundance of those lakes and rivers, presenting plenty of risks for non-swimmers, but the region also offers opportunities to learn how to enjoy the water safely.
Since 1998, the Lifetime Sports Academy has offered free swimming (and tennis and golf) instruction to children ages 8-18. The lessons, at McMillen Park, emphasize skill development, training and participation and are taught by certified Red Cross Learn-to-Swim instructors. Those who complete level 3 lessons are eligible for the Competitive Swim Training Program, with instruction on stroke improvement, endurance, starts and turns.
All area YMCA programs offer swimming, including the new Renaissance Pointe YMCA, with a wheelchair-accessible pool.
Learn-to-swim classes are available through the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department at Northside Pool in Bob Arnold Park, including sessions for preschoolers and toddlers. New Haven Parks & Recreation will offer swim classes at the newly opened Jury Park Pool, as well as Meadowbrook Park Pool.
Fort Wayne Community Schools offers lessons for all ages at the Helen P. Brown Natatorium. The natatorium staff has repeatedly earned the Platinum International Aquatic Safety Award from Ellis & Associates, an aquatic risk management consultant. Southwest Allen and Northwest Allen county schools both offer classes through their natatorium programs.
It takes some effort to enroll children in swim classes, and the increasing popularity of splash parks makes it easier to find a refreshing and fun place for children to play in water besides swimming pools.
But swimming and water safety skills are lifelong gifts every child should receive. Take the time to ensure the children you know learn to swim.