City's McHenry school lacks pool but builds swim team, Olympic dream

June 03, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Anthony Gilmer dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer. He recently moved a stroke closer to realizing his goal by joining Baltimore's only elementary school swim team.

Anthony knows that it won't be easy to reach the Olympics, but the 12-year-old says he wouldn't have a chance at all without the swim team at James McHenry Elementary School. The school does not have a pool and the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood where Anthony lives doesn't have a pool that's open year-round.

Twice a week, 20 students are bused from the school at 31 S. Schroeder St. to the Callowhill Aquatics Center on Oakley Avenue in Pimlico for extracurricular swim practice.

And Anthony has become quite confident of his swimming abilities.

"I'm good," Anthony says. "I'm good because it's something that I like to do."

Wearing royal blue swimsuits, the McHenry Eagles -- six girls and 14 boys in the third, fourth and fifth grades -- recently had their first, and only, swim meet of the year.

They swam against a group of students from Pimlico Elementary School. A score was kept and ribbons were awarded, but neither times nor prizes were important.

"It's not at all about winning. It's just about being able to participate," says Vernetta McCallum, a teacher at the school and organizer of the swim team. "These kids don't always have the opportunity to do things. They see it on TV and wonder, 'Why can't I do that?' "

Earlier this year, the school received a $1,000 grant from the U.S. tTC Department of Education's Drug Free Schools and Community Projects program to organize a swim team, Ms. McCallum says.

The money paid for swim wear, gym bags and a modest awards ceremony that was held last Thursday. Transportation costs are also paid by the federal agency.

City school officials say several elementary schools have swimming programs in their curriculums, but none has organized a swim team.

Don Williams, a curriculum specialist for city schools, says that, because the elementary schools don't have pools, swimming classes are held at nearby high schools that have pools.

"We think they should get every opportunity they can," Mr. Williams says. "I think it's good."

There are no requirements for joining the McHenry team. However, problem behavior can get students tossed off the team.

"Kids with bad behavior change with something positive," Ms. McCallum says. "These kids persevere, they hang in there. That makes them winners."

Defone Davis, 11, a fifth-grader at McHenry who lives in the Poe Homes public housing development, says he likes swimming almost as much as football and basketball.

"Not as much, just almost," Defone says. "I can play basketball all of the time, but I can't go swimming all of the time. I wouldn't mind if I could, though."

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