Youth in Derby join thousands in pool event

With her arms stretched out and a huge grin on her face, 4-year-old Angelea Hansen posed in her bright bathing suit for her mom, who was taking a picture.

"I'm excited to swim," Angelea exclaimed from the rock she was standing on.

She joined 173 other children for a swimming lesson Thursday at the Rock River Rapids Aquatic Park in Derby. The free lesson was part of the World's Largest Swimming Lesson, an event that happened simultaneously across four continents.

Organizers of the event, which advocates swimming lessons to prevent drowning, were expecting more than 10,000 participants, which would set a Guinness World Record. Other Kansas locations that took part in the lesson were in Kansas City and Arkansas City.

Darcie Parkhurst, aquatics director for the Derby Recreation Commission, said this was the first time a simultaneous lesson had been attempted. Participants will know by Wednesday whether they set a record.

More than setting a record, though, the 45-minute event focused on teaching children basic pool safety and swimming skills. Instructors encouraged their students to feel comfortable in the water.

One teacher, Matthew Patterson, held the hands of a little boy in his group as the boy jumped into the pool.

"I've got you; I won't let you go, I promise," Patterson said.

Kevin Brubaker brought his 6-year-old son, Andrew, to the lesson. At first, Andrew seemed timid in the water, but he became more relaxed as the lesson progressed, which his dad said was important.

"Who knows when he's going to need to know how?" Brubaker said.

Between 1994 and 2007, 163 children have drowned in Kansas, about 12 per year, according to the Kansas Child Death Review Board. The most common age group for children who drowned was 1 to 4 years old.

Angie Nordhus, executive director of the board, said the average appears to be rising as the board reviews deaths for 2008 to 2010.

Nordhus said swimming lessons like the one in Derby are great first steps, but encouraged parents to follow through with more lessons and proper supervision.

"I think any steps taken toward water safety are good," she said. "However, one lesson on one day isn't going to cut the mustard."