Braving the weather to make first splash

Ritual: Rain and chilly weather won't stop children from anticipating summer with a dip in the pool.

May 27, 2001|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF

When Colleen Collins opened her eyes yesterday morning, her first thought was: Where's my swimsuit?

The second was: No thunder. Rain, yes. Steady, cold, relentless rain on the roof of her family's home in Ten Hills. But no thunder, no lightning, and nothing that could get between Colleen and her quest to be the first kid to break the surface at Hunting Hills Swim Club.

Some people might have considered yesterday's weather less than ideal for an outdoor dip. Colleen, 10, has a name for such people. She calls them grown-ups. Colleen never doubted that she was going to find her black-and-purple racing suit and head for the neighborhood pool.

The calendar said May 26. The weather said, "Go inside." But for Colleen and her brothers, Jack and Eddie, for Adam and William Stokes, for Patrick and Katie Martel, for Tommy Savitsky and Matthew Kruse, yesterday was the official first day of summer, because it marked the opening of the 2001 season at this private swim club in Southwest Baltimore.

A similar ritual was under way throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area. Although city public pools will not open until June 16, private swim clubs have traditionally started their season the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, rain or shine.

`Kids are crazy'

As lifeguards shivered and parents watched in a kind of resigned awe, young swimmers took to the water, insisting, through chattering teeth and over the sound of their knocking knees: "It's not that cold."

For three years, the Collins children have angled to be the first to hit the water at Hunting Hills. Technically, they were not. Several lifeguards had submerged themselves over the course of the morning for last-minute cleaning and preparation.

With the water temperature at 68 degrees, and the outside temperature only a few degrees higher, their tasks left them with blue lips and fingertips -- and little desire to mount the guard stations around the L-shaped pool.

But they knew the young ones would come. They always do, said Joseph Miller, an 18-year-old senior at Mount St. Joseph High School who has been a lifeguard since 1999 and a member for almost a decade. "It's always like this," he said, as the children began drifting in, conscious of the 11:30 a.m. start time. "The kids are crazy."

Little change

Hunting Hills, which opened in 1958, has changed little over the past 40 years. The high diving board was replaced with a lower one about a decade ago because of liability issues. The snack bar has expanded its menu, and the clubhouse has added video games. A computerized membership program will be in use this summer.

Otherwise, it is what it always was: a hidden oasis in the hairpin curve of Nottingham Road. Running and street shoes are still prohibited within the fenced pool area. Adult swim still takes up 15 minutes of every hour the pool is open -- and it is still the bane of the children's existence.

Yesterday, however, there was no threat of adult swim because no adult wanted anything to do with the water. The kids, about a dozen in all, had the pool to themselves.

"Last year, the same thing happened," said Kathleen Collins, holding a ceramic mug of coffee. "I was down here in my winter coat."

Matthew Collins said he professed amazement when Colleen announced over breakfast that it was time to leave for Hunting Hills. "I'm like, we're not going to the pool, what are you talking about?"

But within minutes, the entire Collins family and the two Stokes boys had piled in the Collins' BMW to make the two-block trek to the pool. They arrived at 11:20 to cheerful greetings from the staff. The oldest three -- Colleen, 11-year-old Jack and 10-year-old Adam -- took strategic positions at the pool's three gates, waiting for pool manager Ellen Drennan to blow her whistle.

An unofficial handicap gave Adam the edge, for he had the shortest distance to cover between gate and poolside. Jack is sure he hit the water first. But spectators say the winner, by a hair, was Colleen, who chose to dive. Drennan agreed: Colleen was No. 1 of the 2001 season. Protests were registered. The official clock was called into question. There were even allegations of a fix. But Drennan's word is law at Hunting Hills.

Many firsts

Within 15 minutes, many more firsts had been clocked. First trip off the diving board (Jack). First trip to the snack bar (also Jack). First splash (Colleen, sluicing water at Katie Martel). First backward flip, kind of (Patrick).

Other firsts are still to be attained. The first game of Marco Polo. First sunburn (not an issue yesterday). First belly flop. But when the Collins and Stokes children left at 12:10 p.m. yesterday, they came close to grabbing one more honor: first item in the lost-and-found, Adam's sandals. Luckily, an alert lifeguard made sure Adam didn't forget them.

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