Suzanne Perez Tobias

Now that city leaders have saved McAdams pool, let’s make sure it makes a big splash

The Wichita City Council’s decision to renovate six public swimming pools — including one at McAdams Park — is a win for activists who fought fiercely for the impoverished neighborhood near I-135 and 13th Street.

It’s also a victory for children in the area who, starting next summer, should be able to dive, splash and swim at an actual swimming pool — not just a splash pad — within walking or biking distance of their homes.

But it won’t be enough to just renovate and reopen public pools: Community leaders now must make sure pools remain accessible and affordable and that swimming instruction becomes a top priority in Wichita.

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 1 to 4, making it a major public health concern.

That concern is magnified in minority communities, like the neighborhoods around McAdams Park. According to a 2017 study conducted by the USA Swimming Foundation, nearly two-thirds of African-American children can’t swim, compared to 40 percent of white children.

Low-income neighborhoods need public pools. But they also need free or low-cost swimming lessons, swim teams, organized water activities and other incentives to combat what had been consistently low attendance when the pool was open.

In 2015, when threats of McAdams’ closing started to surface, members of the Ninth Street Church of God bought more than 1,600 admission tickets and left them at the pool for any child who wanted to swim. Another effort that summer by Jane Deterding, chairman of Citizens Bank of Kansas, raised money to buy one-day passes to any public pool in the city, which the Salvation Army distributed to needy families.

One neighborhood resident near McAdams told The Eagle that she brought her six grandchildren to the pool almost every day after learning about the free admission.

“It keeps them out of trouble, it keeps them active, and it keeps them cool,” Janice Moore said in 2015.

Those efforts will need to continue even after the city completes its $20 million aquatics master plan. The new pool, water slide and interactive water features planned for McAdams won’t mean much if families can’t afford the admission price or say they just don’t like swimming.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones, who survived a near-drowning at a Pennsylvania amusement park at 5 years old and went on to become a world record holder, now encourages young swimmers as part of the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make A Splash initiative and works to shatter the stereotype that African-Americans don’t swim.

How cool would it be for Jones, Simone Manuel or other African-American swimmers to be part of a grand opening celebration at the McAdams pool, teaching kids the importance of learning to swim?

Now that city leaders have saved the McAdams pool, we have a year to make sure it makes a big splash.

Suzanne Perez Tobias is a columnist and member of The Eagle’s editorial board. During her nearly 30 years at the newspaper, she has covered breaking news, education, local government and other topics. An avid reader, Suzanne also oversees The Eagle’s books coverage and coordinates the annual #ReadICT Challenge. She can be reached at 316-268-6567.