NEWS

Swimmers left dry

Citing COVID, mayor doesn't plan to reopen pool soon

By ARDEN BASTIA
Posted 10/22/20

By ARDEN BASTIA Swimmers, community members want McDermott Pool open, but Solomon won't dive in. Kaylee Collins, a junior at Pilgrim High School and a member of both the Pilgrim and Kent County YMCA swim teams, is disappointed at the possibility of not

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NEWS

Swimmers left dry

Citing COVID, mayor doesn't plan to reopen pool soon

Posted

Swimmers, community members want McDermott Pool open, but Solomon won’t dive in.

Kaylee Collins, a junior at Pilgrim High School and a member of both the Pilgrim and Kent County YMCA swim teams, is disappointed at the possibility of not having a high school swim season. Collins has been a swimmer for the past 7 years, and wants to swim in college one day. But without a high school season, Collins is missing out on potential scholarships and college opportunities. “High school season is a huge part of my life. That’s when recruiters come, they don’t go to club meets,” she said in an interview on Tuesday.

Mayor Joseph J. Solomon offered little hope yesterday of opening the pool anytime soon. Sympathetic to the pleas of students and seniors who are looking for the pool to reopen, he cited the increase of COVID cases across the country, adding that Rhode Island is among 15 states with the highest rates of the virus.

“We’re not headed in the proper direction,” he said. “I’m not going against the CDC, Department of Health, and all the experts.”

Yesterday’s rally at City Hall was largely youth organized. Word spread among swimmers, coaches, and concerned parents about yesterday’s rally.

Sally Miranda has been a lifelong swimmer, and for the past 16 years, a dedicated swim parent. Her three children all took swim lessons at McDermott Pool. Her son, Max previously qualified for Olympic Trials.

“It would be understandable if surrounding pools weren’t open, but the YMCA and other pools are open and this is something that impacts the whole community,” she stated in an interview. “It’s really disconcerting that teams reliant on McDermott for their swim season may not have a swim season.” The Kent County YMCA club team lacks a suitable sized pool for competition and adequate practice time.

Miranda is particularly passionate about the mental health benefits of swimming, especially for students. “These students are missing out on the opportunity to train, to burn of some steam, to get some time away from the screen, and to be with peers.”

Many student swimmers at the rally echoed these sentiments. Collins stated that swimming has “always helped with anxiety and stress.” For Jonathan Smith, a senior at Bishop Hendricken High School, “swimming was the way to get noticed by recruiters for college.”

Rob Cote is a professional scuba diving instructor with more than 12,000 hours spent underwater over his 40-year career. As a concerned swim parent, he spoke to the growth and maturity that a team sport can provide. Cote is also aware of the safety of the community. Warwick police and fire departments were users of McDermott pool, where they trained for underwater rescues and dive missions. The departments used the indoor pool, since dive skills are better practiced in a teaching or training facility. In an interview, Cote explained that if divers are not continually training, they could lose skills and techniques, not to mention their certifications. While the fire and police teams have not used McDermott Pool since its closing in March, they did have the opportunity to train in open waters when conditions were good, according to the Warwick Fire Department.

With 39 miles of coastline, Warwick has a high risk of water accidents. Both Miranda and Cote are concerned about the large population of young kids who have never had the chance to learn to swim. The United States Swimming Foundation is pushing the reopening of pools so there is access to learn to swim programs to avoid drowning fatalities. The USSF states that formal swim lessons between the ages of 1 and 4 can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent.

The closing of McDermott Pool doesn’t just affect the youngest in the community, but has also had a large impact on seniors. Many seniors have previously relied on McDermott for physical and social benefits. Karen and Maurice Lynch have been lifelong swimmers, and were previously regulars at McDermott Pool. “I wish there was more we could do,” Karen said at the rally. Both her and her husband aren’t concerned for the COVID risk; they just want to get back in the water.

Mayor Solomon declined to talk on the phone about the issue, but released a press statement on Tuesday stating that he is aware the high school swim season starts in November, but will not open the pool unless the CDC says it is safe to do so.

Rhode Island Interscholastic League has deemed individual swimming a lower risk event, but swimming relays are still considered a moderate risk event. Thomas Marcello, the RIIL Executive Director, stated in an interview that as of right now, the league has not formally announced that winter sports like swimming will be taking place, and leaves the decision to open pools to local officials.

The CDC announced that there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of recreational waters, and while they do recommend certain protocols, the CDC has left the decision of reopening up to local health officials.

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