Lions Club dives in to start swim program; nearly 80 sign up

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An instructor helps a young participant learn to float during a lesson at the Hagerstown High School pool.

A long-held hope that the swimming pool at Hagerstown Jr.-Sr. High School could be used more by the community has come to pass.
Nearly 80 children and young people signed up for swimming lessons that started in June, the result of planning and fund-raising by the Nettle Creek Lions Club, according to Paige Gray, the coordinator.
When Hagerstown High School opened in the early 1970s, it included a swimming pool. During planning for the new building, some in the community saw no need for a pool. The Nettle Creek School Building Corporation board kept it in the plans because they saw a need for school children to learn to swim.
Lessons had not been offered there for several years. With the closing of the community’s outdoor pool several years ago, some residents saw a need for having lessons at HHS.
The Nettle Creek Lions Club stepped in. Longtime officer Robin Nugent approached members of the Nettle Creek School board, asking if the pool could be used for lessons. They told her to come back with a plan.
Then COVID-19 came along. Community activities screeched to a halt. But Nugent said the pause in activities gave the club time to plan and then raise money to start the program. Last winter, the Lions dedicated proceeds from its annual Plate to Palette event to starting the program. They raised more than $5,000, enough to send Gray and her staff to training and for the purchase of some equipment.
They worked with the HHS swim coach Jen Hill to identify a program structure and then paid the New Castle Trojan Swim Club to train Gray and her staff to run it. Several of the instructors are HHS swim team members and some are trained lifeguards.
The program started in June with 70 participants. Six more had enrolled by July 14, Gray said. Capacity is about 118. The program is open to anyone 3 or older. Although it’s all children and teens now, adults could sign up.
Half hour lessons are offered between 6-8 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays in the school swimming pool.
“Each kid is put into a group. There are four levels depending on how well they can swim, and kids learn different things in each group before they move on to the next group,” Gray said. Instruction is nearly individualized, with each instructor working with no more than three participants at a time.
After a participant completes the skills at Level 4, there isn’t a more advanced program. It might be that some of the swimmers will want to participate on the school swim team and that would be an added benefit, Gray said.
The fee — $35 a month — is paid a month at a time. Participants can quit and come back later, based on their personal schedule.
Lessons will continue until the varsity swim program season begins in November and will resume after it ends in March. The pool is utilized every night during swim season. Still, Gray is hopeful that they will find a way to have lessons in winter.
Gray credits Nugent and the Lions Club for getting the program started. “It took someone with passion to make this happen. All credit goes to them.”
“It’s very important for the community to have these lessons,” Gray said. “The main focus is for safety. There is a high rate of drowning of young people so this is a community service we are providing right down the street for everyone.”
Lessons cost $35 a month. Lap swimming is available on Wednesdays for $2 per session. More information is available on the Hagerstown School Pool Facebook page.

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