All-City Swim Meet: Diversity program teaches underprivileged kids how to swim
While the Madison All-City Swim and Dive League, which now includes 13 area pools, has provided thousands of kids with recreational swimming opportunities for more than 40 years, the league continues to make strides toward helping the Madison swimming community become a more diverse and inclusive group.
Swimming is an expensive sport, and it can be difficult for many underprivileged children to find the guidance they need around the water.
“Our whole community will be healthier if all children have access to things like swimming lessons and sports,” said Carmella Glover, president of the Shelley Glover Foundation.
The All-City Swim Meet will host thousands of young swimmers and spectators today through Saturday at Nakoma Golf Club, and Glover believes in the importance of continuing to strengthen an already-budding swimming community.
Glover’s foundation was created in honor of her daughter, Shelley, who had the vision that every child should have the opportunity to experience the benefits of participating in sports. Shelley died in a skiing accident at age 17 in 2004.
The foundation has worked with area pools since 2006 to help with their Kids Swimming for Kids program, which raises funds to support swim lessons, pool passes and swim team scholarships for children in need who attend Goodman Pool.
Each summer, more than 500 children from eight Madison-area pools take pledges for every lap they can swim during one practice. The program has raised more than $60,000.
“It’s bringing kids from our community into the swimming community,” Westside coach Haley Chesnik said. “We see those kids that are taking swimming lessons, then they get a scholarship and join the Goodman swim team and enter the All-City league. That’s been a wonderful initiative.”
This summer, the foundation has taken it a step further by partnering with the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, which has provided transportation to swimming lessons for more than 200 underprivileged children in the area.
While many pools, including Goodman, the YMCA of Dane County and others, offer scholarships for children to join their swim teams, the foundation focuses on making sure children possess essential safety skills when around the water.
“Beyond competitive swimming, it’s such an important safety skill that children should learn,” Chesnik said. “I think it’s a high priority for most parents for their children to learn because it’s definitely a lifelong skill.
“As a safety skill, you’ll have that with you for the rest of your life. The younger you can get kids in the water and keep them in the water and getting them to learn skills, the better.”
There are other swimming programs in the area that help provide those essential skills, including SwimWest’s special needs program, which offers specialized swimming lessons for those with physical challenges, hearing or visual impairments, Down syndrome or autism.
Glover believes, though, the area still has plenty of room to grow in giving everyone opportunities to swim.
For the first time this year, the Shelley Glover Foundation is trying to collect data to show exactly how many hours it takes to teach a child how to swim.
The foundation also has plans to partner with the Foundation for Madison Public Schools and Madison School and Community Recreation to look at opportunities for underprivileged children to continue swimming lessons during the winter.
“We keep adding new partners together, and I’m so optimistic about the timing of this partnership,” Glover said. “I think by next year we’re going to start to see some real results.”