Blue Dolphins celebrate swimming success

ABC7 Focus on Solutions
August 7, 2008 7:22:43 PM PDT
One of San Francisco's most troubled neighborhoods is celebrating the success of a children's swim team. The team hasn't set any speed records yet, but they are breaking racial barriers.

It starts with any kid, any skill level, and any dream of success. These children are the future of the Blue Dolphin youth swim team.

"People, they can practice hard and they could do their best here," said 9-year-old Jana.

The Blue Dolphins swim at the Martin Luther King Pool in San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood. The team has just been accepted as a member of USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming. That is a first for this neighborhood and a big deal for a racially-mixed team in a sport that is not known for diversity.

"We always thought that swimming -- swim teams -- were for white kids, and we didn't realize that it was accessible to us," said parent Frank Sanchez.

Sanchez has two daughters on the team. He says they swim better than he does.

"It's really been helping me because I used to never exercise. I used to just eat, not exercise, not pay attention to my work. And now I just feel like someone different. I'm swimming, I'm doing karate, and it's really fun," said 8-year-old Sofia.

A study commissioned by USA Swimming found almost 60 percent of African-American and Latino children do not know how to swim. That is nearly twice the number of non-swimmers as in the general population.

James Ross is the Blue Dolphin's parent coordinator. He believes the key to swimming success is parents.

"I think they should get their kids out here and I think they as parents should learn how to swim, so that it will be more beneficial for them and beneficial for the kids because a child will do what their parents do," said Ross.

Another key to the Blue Dolphins' success in attracting children from many ethnic groups is the focus on building a team. Even beginning lessons work on racing technique and teamwork so kids want to keep coming back.

"My friends are here and I like to swim," said 10-year-old Brian.

"I like that you get to meet new people when you go to swim meets," said 9-year-old Jordan.

While the children focus on the racing team, the coaches focus on inclusion. Speed is encouraged, but not required.

"As long as the child can swim fast enough to not be in the way of the majority of the swimmers, I'm going to let them stay," said Don Lane, founder of the Blue Dolphins.

Lane manages the pool and founded the team six years ago. He believes every child should swim for the health benefits, and more.

"Our next president might come from swimming because they got that focus and determination from it and moved it to other areas. I've seen people do that," said Lane.

So one of these kids may be a future president or Olympic medalist, or even just a healthy adult with a lifelong good habit.

"It like soothes you down, like if you are swimming and you had a bad day, you can like get it off by swimming," said 9-year-old Malia.

The Blue Dolphins are recruiting more swimmers for the team, ages six to 10. To find out more, call (415) 822-2807. For information about Martin Luther King Pool hours and rates, click here.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.


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