In the wake of:
a recent Citiparks Aquatics Division audit by City Controller Michael Lamb, as well as
my participation with the PPS Athletic Reform Task Force, and
the merger of some PPS high school sports teams to the WPIAL, and
the 2012 arrival of additional, terrible, institutional roadblocks at PPS,
it is prudent push all involved to 'think again' about aquatics. An overhaul of aquatics with the city, PPS and others is past due, especially in these times of tight budget constraints and a shrinking district. I feel it is most important to get our kids playing well with others. We should aim to “create literate Olympians here.”
This vision of quality programs can happen without additional costs to the district and the city if some simple supports come in other ways, especially access. Access to pools and to meets is most pressing. The PPS swim pool permit process is completely broken. Other minor policies need to be changed either with the superintendent or the PPS board.
In almost all instances, access to public school buildings and swim pools at times when the custodians are already on duty – costing nothing. We need time after school ends, before school begins in some instances, throughout the evenings, on the weekends and in association with summer programming. We'll need space to teach, meet and store equipment. We'll deploy technology at the pools with the kids. Of course, we can serve as security fixtures with coaches being able to lock doors and turning out the lights – typical things that coaches and teachers do every day.
Both the PPS physical education teachers and City of Pittsburgh's Citiparks' staff do wonderful work. To their credit, Citiparks employees open and close the pools and perform well as lifeguards. They work hard to insure none get hurt. I am a lifeguard too, and safety is always the top priority. But I've got a long list of other priorities for other hours beyond the school day. I am a coach. I want us all to be super safe, full of wellness, in top fitness, focused on goals, and growing strong as individuals and collectively.
Our biggest challenge as a society and within the greater Pittsburgh community is to play well with others. I think we fail too often when it comes to building places and situations where we can learn, grow, practice and champion this playing-well-with-others framework. Swim lessons make the first step in a movement, but to really play well with others, we might as well strive to create literate Olympians here. Swimming can diminish violence if coaches are involved. Coaches push and pull people, especially kids and athletes. Coaches take people out of their comfort zones. With three keys – coaches, access to facilities and this serious program of aquatics – our community and its kids will greatly improve.
In Pittsburgh, a sports town with three rivers, I think we begin to tie everything together and make waves, at young ages, with water and our swim pools. And, we are ready to make waves. The potential and the opportunities are present in 2012. The concepts are proven. Many elements are in place. Great relationships are established. This is the year that the superintendent and mayor are needed to “dive in” so that the students and citizens can go to new heights. We need serious attention to fitness, wellness and coaching in the city, especially at under-utilized swim pools such as at Westinghouse and Peabody in the east, at PCA and Langley in the west, and at Oliver in the north.
For years I've stressed to the PPS Superintendent, and anyone else who will listen, that the population decline in the PPS district has much to do with the frail after school opportunities in sports, music and community enrichment. The trend for families with the means to do so has been to exiting the city because opportunities in the city and in suburban districts are not similar. I am thrilled that Pittsburgh Public Schools is going to start to compete within the WPIAL with some of its high school sports teams in the fall of 2012. That program move and decision requires this type of follow-up now.
All in all, sadly, I feel that our city kids are not challenged, don't know each other as they should, have petty rivalry, and act out when confronted as they have little to live for and have too much idle time. Motivation is absent. Coaching and boosters are pathetic in many places. Too often, too quickly, because of a lack of solid competitive sports, life happens on the streets leading to drop outs, drugs, violence, guns and worse.
The spring 2012 Controller's Audit of the Aquatics Division reported that the average daily attendance at Ammon pool was 77 people. Ammon, in Pittsburgh's Hill District, is the second largest pool in the city, is one of the oldest facilites and has nearly the lowest attendance. With my plans already in place, thanks to countless supporters including PPS and Citiparks, I expect that I'll be bringing more than 100 people, mostly kids, to the Ammon pool this summer. So, attendance can more than double in one year at one pool with one program, 77 average + >100 new swimmers. This occurs with little additional staffing costs and no extra expenses with facilities as the pool was already built and maintained.
On Thursday, August 18, 2011, I organized water polo at Ammon, before the pool opened to the public, and we had 42 players attend. We have had some incredible success. The proof of concept has been awesome. In Summer Dreamers 2011 at Peabody, we taught 150 kids how to swim in a proficient way. This summer marks the third year of a waterpolo activities with cooperation of Neighborhood Learning Alliance, the 501(c)(3), Pittsburgh Public Schools Summer Dreamers, and fourth with Citiparks. This winter we turned Westinghouse into a water polo and swimming site too.
Waterpolo is fun. It is safe. It works wonders for the participants. Kids show up and want to do more. But the there have been countless and senseless roadblocks from administrative management that have prevented the programs from being able to flourish as it should and could. This need to be rectified by the mayor, the superintendent and with new public policies.
Westinghouse can be a waterpolo center for six days a week, rather than one, if we strive for quality programs and engage kids from around the area, beyond our own students. The city can host Winning Swimming Rookie Camps at the Oliver Bath House on the South Side so that 750 kids the age of seven can participate in a robust, competitive swimming experience, for free. We can turn Pittsburgh into an aquatics town know for four rivers, the fourth being the public swim pools united by the energy of our kids.