Neighbors Play It Cool

Children pay a dollar for a fun dip in the City Springs Pool

Maryland Journal

August 08, 2005|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN STAFF

Phonicia Lewis tied her hair up, took a few paces to the edge of the swimming pool and plunged into the water.

Right behind her, Karon Smith, her 7-year-old nephew, stood by the metal rail overlooking the 5-foot-deep pool.

He wasn't going in as quickly.

Karon stared at the water and, with caution, plotted his entry.

He hopped in, quickly wiped the water from his face, and after a few paddles clutched the side of the pool.

The two joined a group of neighborhood children who paid $1 to cool down and swim at the City Springs Pool on East Baltimore Street during a recent afternoon.

Laughter and splashes from pool-goers muffled the urban noises of cars passing, police sirens screaming and people shouting to each other from across the busy city street.

Many said they make a daily trip to City Springs, which is only a few blocks from their houses and where they almost always meet up with neighborhood friends.

Karon acknowledges he can't swim. Still, he lowers himself into the water and hangs onto the pool walls. Sometimes he jumps in. Otherwise, he walks along the edge, watching the older kids splashing water in his direction.

Lewis, 26, was also there with her 13-year-old son, Garrick Powell, and a group of his friends. "I feel good about my child coming here, even without me," Lewis said. "It's good that they have something like this for the kids to keep busy."

Garrick and Adrian McFadden, 13, began throwing a pink rubber football in the water, and soon other kids joined in.

"This is the best pool in the world," Adrian said as he hung from the side of the pool, watching the ball being tossed.

Jeremy Taylor, 12, joined in as the boys continued to pass the ball from person to person and, occasionally, over the pool's fence.

Jeremy, Adrian and Garrick gave up on tossing the ball. They began swimming and splashing water - doing belly flops, cannonballs and, occasionally, a dive.

"Watch me do a handstand," Jeremy said, as others began to echo similar requests.

The afternoon sun was beaming off the water as some children hung out at a picnic table, listening to songs blaring from a cell phone, while others continued to run and jump into the pool and taunt friends to dunk them.

Lewis and a few girls joined the football toss and, suddenly, she had an idea: "Let's play keep away," she shouted.

It was the boys versus the girls, with one goal - keep the ball from the opponents.

Lewis and the girls tossed the ball to each other as the boys frantically tried to intercept the spiraling passes by jumping in the water and pushing the girls aside.

"Grab it, hurry, get it," Lewis shouted as she watched the wobbling ball slip from her hands. Eventually, the boys intercepted, and possession went back and forth.

As interest in "keep away" diminished, the chant, "Marco ... Polo" signaled a new game.

Andre Smith, the pool manager, looked on, twirling a string tied to a whistle. Smith said attendance was less than during a typical weekend day, when the pool averages 100 visitors. Smith jokingly said it was a relief, as he remembered the large crowds at the pool during a heat wave days earlier.

"When it was real hot, we got a lot of swimmers," Smith said. "Right now, it's slowing down, but when it gets hot again, it will pick right back up again."

Last week, as temperatures climbed into the mid-90s, the pool was alive again as neighborhood children and summer campers frolicked in the water.

Ebony James, a supervisor of Hope Village summer camp, sat at the children's pool with her feet in the water as she watched her more than 30 campers playing.

From his perch, Donte Foster, one of the pool lifeguards, yelled out commands for children to stop running and quit the horseplay. His shouts, as well as the sun-bleached sign saying "Walk," went unnoticed.

"They think we are trying to be mean to them," Foster said. He said there have been instances when horseplay turned dangerous and he had to stop kids from hurting themselves.

"You always get the group of kids that want to do what their friends do," he said.

Just after 2:30 p.m., the lifeguards blew their whistles and ordered everybody to exit the pool. The pool closes for a half-hour for a pool workers' break.

But some kids jumped back in the water to get a few more moments of pool time.

"The longer you take to get out, the longer it will take to open the pool back up," Smith yelled.

The pool-goers finally left, ran through a shower and sat outside the gate, waiting for Smith to reopen the pool.

Terrance Peterson, 15, sat with friends. It was Peterson's first time at the East Baltimore pool, and he summed up his experience with one phrase: "It was all right."

Peterson said he can't swim, but that he gains experience each time somebody dunks him.

"You're going to learn how to swim after you get dunked enough times," he said.

Others said they learned how to swim by watching or in organized lessons.

Wanda Moore, 39, watched as her 6-year-old grandson, Da'von Jones, showed her his swimming abilities.

Da'von pinched his nose, dipped under water and began to swim. Moore looked on as Da'von kicked his feet, spread his arms and maneuvered through the water.

"He was here the other day, and I was like, `Oh, my goodness,'" Moore said. "He's a regular fish now."

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