Ok, I figure it's been long enough. Here's the complete text of the MJS column I wrote. It 'reads' better in print (not as dry), as there's a lot to the idea of tailoring your writing to the medium. That, or I was just entranced by a suprisingly good photograph of me that ran with the piece.
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As a new community columnist, one of the instructions I received from my editor was: "You must zealously guard your credibility." That means disclosing a personal stake in an issue you're writing about, and I certainly have one here.
A few years ago, I managed a property that was the site of a pool drowning. It was a horrific day, for the victim's family most of all, and there has never been a day since when it hasn't weighed heavily on my mind.
Having seen the dangers of a pool firsthand, I was happy to hear of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
In 2002, the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker died when the suction from a spa drain trapped her underwater. The law enacted in her name specifies that by today drain covers must meet specific anti-entrapment requirements. Locally, that means most of the 193 licensed public pools and spas in Milwaukee must have upgraded their equipment. (The Bush administration said this week that public swimming pools and hot tubs must shut down after today if their drain covers don't meet the requirements.)
I have no objection to the law, which seems like a reasonable attempt to prevent injuries. But some statistics raise questions. Between 1997 and 2007, suction entrapment resulted in 74 accidents, including nine deaths, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Nine deaths in 10 years are nine too many, but consider this:
According to the National Swimming Pool Foundation, about 800 people drown each year in swimming pools or spas in this country. On average, 283 of those deaths involve children under age 6. That same age bracket produced more than 2,700 emergency room visits for pool injuries.
I have four children age 7 and under; small wonder I remain skittish about having them go swimming.
It's that last statement that reveals a serious problem. We can protect our children with all the legislation and physical barriers imaginable, but we can't forget the surest way to limit water-related injury: teaching them to swim.
An AP report from May revealed the results of a USA Swimming survey: 31% of Caucasian children couldn't swim, while a staggering 56% of Hispanics and 58% African-Americans couldn't swim.
Smarter people than me can sort out the reasons behind those numbers and the racial divide it demonstrates. I can tell you that I've heard fewer complaints about the proposed closing of Milwaukee County pools - the only structured water play for many children - than I have about locked restrooms in the parks.
I've taken my children to swim classes that were half full, and I've heard the instructor tell a girl that she could have a private lesson because no other student bothered to show up that day.
For a city located near a huge body of water, we seem woefully ignorant of the value of teaching our children to swim.
Here's hoping we change our priorities before another tragedy prompts a law to do it on our behalf.
As far as feedback: I had a great letter from a cousin of my Dad's, one from an old co-worker, one from Beth at Nutwood Junction (thanks!), and two from strangers who read the piece and wanted to give me their two cents. All were positive, and if I ever obtain permission from them to do so I'll repost them here.