If preventing your children from ever getting cancer was as easy as a few weeks of lessons, would you sign them up?
TBAE is committed to delivering educational and artistic information to our nearly 1.3 million viewers, so when Brandom Sports and Aquatic Center (BSAC) apprached us about airing their swimming safety PSA, we knew how beneficial such information would be to our audience. Although our main mission is to showcase artistic and educational programming, TBAE is dedicated to informing our community about impactful and beneficial information, whether that be in a classroom, or a pool. TBAE hopes that the airing of such a PSA will educate our diverse community of viewers and our outreach could potentially reduce the amount of drowning related incidents in Hillsborough County. This is a topic very pertinent to Florida Residents.
That's how important Cliff Burgess thinks swim lessons are. "Drowning is 100% preventable. If you ever speak to a parent who lost a child to drowning, who lives with that guilt for the rest of their lives ... you will make your child learn to swim," he said.
Burgess is the executive director at the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center (BSAC). The Center will be releasing a water safety Public Service Announcement (PSA) that will be broadcasted on Tampa Bay Arts & Education Network (TBAE) as part of a broader fall campaign to combat Florida's shocking child drowning numbers.
A humbling epidemic
"Frankly, Florida should be embarrassed by the statistics, considering the number of pools here," Burgess said. Most young drowning incidents in Florida happen not in natural bodies of water but in backyard pools. "Children are less likely to be supervised there, and adequate safety equipment is less readily available."
Safety first, practice always
combats these sobering numbers in multiple ways. Acquatics director Theresa Hickie visits preschool and elementary classrooms across the county year-round to teach water safety.
"[The nightmare scenario is] you're over your buddy's house. He wants to go in the pool, and you know you're not supposed to. Suddenly, your buddy falls in. What do you do? Do you run away? Do you go find an adult?," Hickie said. "I have them think a little bit about what they should do in a sudden situation." Preventing drowning accidents also means combating some parents' idea that lessons are superfluous after a certain age.
"Sometimes at age 6, the parents say 'Oh, my child knows how to swim now,' and they stop lessons," Hickie said. "The child might be able to get across the pool, but can they tread water? Can they do two of the four basic strokes?"
Tennis director Allen Liberato stopped his own son's lessons at age 6, but put him back in three years later. "I realized he wasn't really proficient. We were hanging out at pools, and I would see him just get by. He was getting across the pool in various ways, but not really swimming," Liberato said. His son is now on the center's swim team.
"When you're growing at that age, your body changes. Your center of gravity and sense of balance changes," Hickie said, so children often compromise their swimming technique in less-than-ideal ways. Even one winter is time enough for young swimmers to forget their lessons, grimly highlighted by a spike in drownings as pools open in late spring. "It's like tennis," Liberato said. "I have kids taking lessons in the summer. But when they come back after the break, they can hit the ball, but it takes a while to come back to where they are."
Lessons are not just for children
BSAC's staff all agree that basic swimming safety for children is just the tip of the iceberg. Adults and teenagers face the same risks, sometimes moreso because of a lack of information. Liberato pointed out that even the Gulf of Mexico's calm waters give a false sense of security, particularly about riptides.
"I'm from New Jersey originally, and you'll know when you see them there," he said. "But people here get lulled into believing they're not here."
Hickie and Burgess noted that adults shouldn't trust their own childhood swimming lessons to make them waterproof, either. Both told stories of lifeguards, sheriff's office deputies, and even USF Navy ROTC recruits overestimating their ability and struggling during swimming tests. "It was amazing to see some of these people having trouble [treading water]," Burgess said. Hickie added, "I'm actually sad when I see that, because they missed something as they were growing up."
Giving the gift
Burgess hopes that the Public Service Announcemnet that TBAE will broadcast will help broaden awareness of the center and its range of activities meant to help everyone swim safe. Hundreds of children pass through each week in the summer, but lessons are year-round. The center has a surprisingly storied history, according to the staff; they've sent a competitive diver tied in someway to BSAC to every Summer Olympics since 1968.
"We have been unsung heroes here in the community. We've been here for 51 years, but a lot of people still don't know about us," he said. The center was formerly the private Brandon Swim and Tennis Club, before becoming a nonprofit 10 years ago.
Registration is also ongoing for their annual run and swim fundraiser Dash & Splash, which is scheduled for Saturday, September 13th. Burgess thinks the event's motto -- "Every Step. Every Stroke. Every Child." -- sums up the mission quite tidily.
"We don't want any child to be denied lessons
because they can't afford them, especially that age group. The number one risk factor group is ... typically minorities, lower income neighborhoods, and almost all the time, those are where the [drowning] statistics are," he said.
"You're not teaching the kid to get from one side to the other. You're giving your child the gift of swimming," said Hickie. "You might not be able to play tennis until you're 90, to do Zumba or run a 5K, but hopefully you'll always know how to swim."
Written by Justin Chapura