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Mayor Richard M. Daley joined World Sport Chicago and the Chicago Park District today to raise awareness of the importance of learning how to swim, especially in Chicago’s minority communities.
“There are already plenty of opportunities to learn how to swim. We need to expand them even more and spread the word around the city that it is an important skill to master,” said Mayor Daley during a press conference at Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph. “It’s important not only for safety, of course, but because it’s a healthy and fun activity.”
According to a survey conducted by the University of Memphis, nearly 60 percent of African-American young people can’t swim compared to 31 percent of white children.
The non-swimming rate for Hispanic children is almost as high—56 percent.
As a result, the fatal drowning rate of African-American children ages 5 to 14 is more than three times that of white children in the same age range. For Native American and Alaskan Native children, the fatal drowning rate is more than twice as high as that of white children.
Joining the Mayor was Wanda Butts and John Cruzat, who arrived in Chicago earlier this week to visit local communities to spread the word on swimming education and safety. Butts is a leading proponent for swimming education and founded The Josh Project after she lost her 16-year-old son in a rafting accident. She has always felt that Josh would still be alive today if he had known how to swim.
Cruzat is a diversity specialist for USA Swimming and has been involved with the Make a Splash program, a national child-focused water safety initiative created by the USA Swimming Foundation.
The Chicago Park District has many opportunities for residents to learn vital swimming skills through their “Learn to Swim” program which is intended to educate residents on the importance of swimming. With nine people in the United States drowning each day, water safety is an important issue to stress throughout all Chicago communities, especially in the summertime.
The Park District will partner with World Sport Chicago, the “living legacy” of Chicago 2016, to further enhance the “Learn to Swim” program. They are asking schools, churches and other community organizations to help increase minority participation in swimming instruction and programs, especially among children.
In honor of the City’s 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid, Olympic Gold Medalist Adolph Kiefer (Swimming, 1936) will donate $20,000 worth of equipment, including kick boards and goggles, to help kids learn how to swim.
Kiefer, a Chicago native, is known as one of the greatest swimmers of his time. In the 1960s, he saw a need for swimming facilities and water safety education for inner city children. He implemented a plan with Mayor Richard J. Daley, to build these facilities across Chicago and these facilities were utilized by thousands of children who were given the opportunity to learn to swim for the first time. Today, through his current contribution, he is again promoting the importance of swimming as a sport.
Bill Scherr, Chairman of World Sport Chicago, commented, “Swimming education should be available to everyone and The Learn to Swim initiative is a great representation of our desire to offer tools to people from all different communities to help them achieve greatness both in athletics and in life.”
In conjunction with Chicago’s initiative, an array of supporters were in attendance to show their enthusiasm for swimming education, including World Sport Chicago President and Olympic Medalist Michael Conley (Track & Field, 1984, 1992), Paralympian Medalist Jason Wening (Paralympic Swimming, 1992,1996, 2000), Olympic Medalist Jamie Rauch (Swimming, 2000), 1980 Olympic Team Member David Sims, Chicago Sky Center Sylvia Fowles, Chicago Park District CEO and Superintendent Tim Mitchell and Alderman Walter J. Burnett, 27th Ward.
The Chicago Park District offers a variety of free swimming classes and locations. Schedules can be found by visiting the Chicago Park District Web site at www.chicagoparkdistrict.com.