USA Swimming has launched the ?Make A Splash? campaign, with the ambitious goals of tackling minority drowning, aquatic diversity and childhood obesity.
?What we?re doing is scouring the country for [cities] that have poorly programmed and underutilized facilities, and we connect them to our specialists here to ? create programs to activate those facilities,? said John Cruzat, diversity specialist at USA Swimming in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Make a Splash is working to connect kids to those programs, talking with schools and local governments about drowning and obesity statistics. Its target audience: The 2 percent of the organization?s membership that represents minority populations.
The program also emphasizes swimming as a healthy way to reduce children?s risk for more than 30 obesity-related diseases. According to USA Swimming, the percentage of overweight young people has more than tripled since 1980, and 31 percent of U.S. children are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.
The campaign is heavily promoting the recently released movie ?Pride,? starring Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac, about how schoolteacher Jim Ellis formed a black swim team in one of Philadelphia?s roughest neighborhoods in the 1970s. Ellis, a USA Swimming coach, serves as national campaign spokesperson with five-time Olympic medalist Janet Evans.
?When I first began coaching at the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, we gave kids the opportunity to try ... a sport they didn?t have the opportunity to experience on their own,? Ellis said. ?Now, through the Make a Splash program, everyone has the opportunity to make a difference.?
Make a Splash partnered with YMCAs, Boys & Girls clubs, Discovery Education, Lionsgate (producer of ?Pride?) and Speedo.
Lionsgate hosted pre-premiere screenings in swimming communities across the country, and Speedo is providing free kickboards, swimwear and goggles. Discovery Education is helping distribute water safety educational materials to teachers and PTAs in 25,000 schools nationwide this spring.
In addition, Make a Splash?s Web site recognizes local swimming heroes in coaching, educating or lifesaving. Heroes can be nominated by the general public. Such heroes include three-time Olympian Gary Hall Jr. and 6-year-old Hannah Bernui from Tennessee, who saved a soccer teammate from drowning.
The end-of-year goal is to get three metro areas Detroit, Miami and Oakland, Calif. up and running. Meanwhile, the campaign has made significant headway in Atlanta with a program that will teach 1,000 children to swim through the Boys & Girls Club.
The program?s guidelines for swim lessons include a minimum of 16 sessions at 45 minutes each, to teach children the four strokes. This positions them for pre-competition and qualifies them for scholarships at local swim clubs. For more information, visit www.makeasplash.org.