Open pools and free lessons make a splash in Sacramento

Bobbie Morton and her four kids, eager for relief from the heat on Wednesday, lined up outside McClatchy Pool in Oak Park 15 minutes before the pool’s 1 p.m. opening. They planned to stay until nearly 6 p.m., when Morton’s two daughters, ages 5 and 6, finish their free swim lessons.

Thanks to the Measure U sales tax increase and an improving economy, Sacramento’s aquatic offerings are the most robust they’ve been since 2008, the last summer before budget cuts forced the Department of Parks and Recreation to shutter pools and cut hours. This summer, 11 city pools are open full-time and only one is operated by the YMCA; last year, Oki and Mangan pools were open just three days a week, and the YMCA ran three pools because the city couldn’t afford to.

Terri Webster Schrandt, program supervisor for aquatics and adult sports, said the changes are equivalent to adding three pools from 2013. Compared to 2012, the expanded offerings are even more significant. That year, six pools were open – and only after Save Mart Supermarkets launched a fundraiser to secure $1 million to operate them with reduced hours.

“The last of our golden age was 2008,” Webster Schrandt said. “Now we’re clawing our way back.”

The city’s comeback is not complete. The YMCA is still operating Tahoe Pool, and there are no plans to fully reopen four high school pools that were used for summer recreation until 2009, though Natomas High School’s pool offers swim lessons and water aerobics. But pool-goers can also find two new offerings this summer: free swim lessons and free lunches for kids at some city pools.

Parents can find the free lessons at McClatchy, Southside, Mangan, George Sim and Doyle. The $50,000 funding came from the city budget and also provides free lifeguard training and swim-team opportunities. The lunches, supplied by the Sacramento City Unified School District, are available at McClatchy, Southside, Clunie, Johnston and Doyle pools, and the Robertson Play Pool.

Children ages 7 and under, with adult supervision, can visit the city’s five play pools for free.

Joseph Devlin, chief of staff for Councilman Jay Schenirer, began pushing for the funds for free lessons last year. Devlin was a lifeguard in city pools as a teenager, and he views lifeguarding as a good employment opportunity for local teens. The only problem, he said, is that it’s not the kind of job where applicants “can just walk in off the street” and sign up.

Typically, teens who become lifeguards spent their childhoods taking swim lessons and competing on swim teams. Schenirer hopes the funding – the first aquatics scholarship program in city history – will create a pipeline that allows low-income kids to get the experience necessary to be lifeguards when they get older.

“It’s a nominal cost in terms of the overall cost of operating all these pools,” Schenirer said. “The programs of the swim team, swim lessons and junior lifeguard really are amazing, healthy, constructive, positive programs for kids in our city, and I hope that they take advantage of it.”

Shortly after opening Wednesday afternoon, McClatchy manager Camron Bowker walked out to the deck to shout “Lunch time!” to a pool packed with nearly 70 kids. Most weren’t interested. Morton’s kids and several others, however, picked up free meals of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, strawberry applesauce, cheese sticks and Fritos chips.

Bowker is spending his fourth summer working for the city pools and his first as a manager. He said he and other pool managers he knows are happy to be able to offer meals for kids.

“Most of the time last year, the kids just wouldn’t bring any food,” Bowker said. “They’d stay all day and go hungry.”

Bowker has also seen positive results from the funding for swim lessons. Last year, just two kids competed on McClatchy’s swim team. This year, the team boasts 12. Between 20 and 30 kids take free lessons during each two-week session.

Morton said without the free lessons, her kids likely wouldn’t learn to swim unless she taught them herself. If the pool weren’t open, they’d head to the river.

“This is better,” Morton said. “It’s safer, and there’s less drama. I don’t have to worry about them cutting their feet or drowning.”

On Wednesday, two McClatchy regulars, Marcelous Bell, 16, and Ramon Young, 13, said they planned to stay until closing at 5 p.m. and might pick up lunch, as well. The bigger draw, however, was the water itself. Without a neighborhood pool, Young said, he’d be at home and he’d be hot.

Bell said he has been at the pool every day since it opened June 16.

“This is like my summer second home,” Bell said.

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