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Making a Splash: Parents and Athletes Sound Off on District Pool Closures

At a special District 228 Board of Education meeting Thursday, officials approved a motion to bring all the District's pools into compliance with State regulations. All of the District's pools were closed on Monday, Oct. 3, by order of the Illinois Depart

Everybody out of the pool.

That was the announcement at high schools across the state, including all of those in . , , Hillcrest and for not complying with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.

The closures came as a surprise to the district, which has been working since June to meet regulations. There was a miscommunication within the district offices, District 228 Schools Superintendent Bill Kendall said Thursday at an emergency board meeting to discuss the issue.

“We were aware that this was happening, but I was told there was no problem, that everything was OK,” Kendall said. “I thought we were proceeding appropriately. Monday I got the letter from the (Illinois Department of Public Health) saying that our pools were closed and that was the first I heard about it.”

The board also heard from parents and students at the special Thursday meeting held at . Closures have been devastating for parents and athletes because of the disruptions they've caused for swimming and pool teams, they said.

“You can hear how upset everybody is over this,” Cindy Hesse, president of the Tinley Park Swim Boosters, said. “Some of these girls go to state, they're that good. They have recruiters looking at them. Every amount of time missed is an opportunity missed for them to further their education, by getting the opportunity to get a scholarship.”

For Oak Forest swim team members Lauren Stryzek and Leanne Latocha, the closures have put a dark cloud over a promising season. Stryzek, a senior, found no solace in the board's notion that the pools will hopefully reopen in time for the Bengals' Oct. 27 conference meet. She was unexpectedly forced to exit the pool during practice the day it was closed.

The closures also are forcing coordinators to rearrange teams' senior nights— a tradition that for the first time will not be held at the schools' pools.

“Our season will be over," Stryzek said, fighting back tears. "Conference, for some people, that's their last meet. They don't swim sectionals. Not everybody gets to go ... I'm a senior and I can't even have a senior night. Our senior night is in the cafeteria [now], what does that have to do with swimming? Nothing.”

Latocha, a sophomore who competed in the IHSA State meet as a freshman, said that although the alternatives to the four District 228 schools are helping the teams, they're not helping her. She can't practice at the Shepard pool with the rest of her teammates, she said.

“ ... I had an asthma attack today and the past two times I've been there,” she said. “So, it's not worth my health swimming there. I went to state last year as a freshman and now I can't swim at practice.”

Latocha said that if things don't improve or a new alternative isn't offered, she may have to leave the Bengals team for the rest of the year.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act states that all pool and spa drains must comply with anti-entrapment regulations for safety. It stems from the 2002 drowning death of 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker. Her hair was sucked into a hot tub's drain system and she wasn't able to free herself.

Work to bring the district's pools up to code is scheduled to begin Oct. 12, and comes with a $53,270 price tag. It's expected to take at least two weeks, although Kendall said the district is penciled in for inspection by the Illinois Department of Public Health Oct. 20. If the inspection does take place around that date, there is still a chemical test that must be passed before the pools can officially reopen.

The company doing the work has promised two crews for the district, with hopes that up to four crews will be available to complete all the job simultaneously. If only two crews are available, Kendall said a tough decision will have to be made.

“When that time comes, we're going to sit down and talk about it,” he said. “I'll make the hard decision, 50 percent of the district will be thanking me and 50 percent will be yelling at me.”

Looking for more news about the recent closures?

Darnell October 07, 2011 at 11:31 AM
The only reason this has happened is because of the news reports in the media stating that there were pools that weren't in compliance. So, even though the State was allowing these pools to remain in use while the districts were working with the state to come into compliance, the state must now cover their ass due to the reports in the media. Granted, safety first however, had the issue been THAT safety sensitive the pools would have been closed a LONG time ago. Typical Illinois political B.S.!
Stephen C. Lingle October 07, 2011 at 11:43 AM
Sad to say pools in this district have never been anything to write home about.
E Peterson October 07, 2011 at 02:02 PM
Safety comes first. Glad I paid the extra money and had a new pool drain cover installed on my pool. Would hate to see some child lose his or hers life because of a few dollars.
Ariel October 08, 2011 at 01:15 AM
I'm a recent graduate of Tinley Park High School, 2010. I'm currently attending college, all thanks to my swim scholarship I received. That pool may just be a pool to some, but to me and lots of others its the main reason why some of us get to continue on with higher educations. I can't believe this has happened. I know some of these girls swimming now, know that the pain that they're going through not getting to swim this season right. It's unbelievably sad to have a senior swim season, chance at winning conference, chance at going to state and a great season be taken away by some pointless law. To all my district 228 girls, Bengals, Titans, and Braves, don't let this bring you down, just use it as a means to kick ass the rest of season!!! Good luck and love to you all.
Julie Shaunnessey October 08, 2011 at 04:23 AM
Well said Ariel! These pools may be nothing special to some, but for me to witness my children become athletes in front of my eyes is miraculous! Those Coaches dedicate hours to teaching the young men and women. My son as a freshman could not swim, coach Boor from TPHS took him under his wing slapped some fins on his size 13 feet and hoped he didn't drown! That was six years ago, my son hung on all four years and even was a conference winner. He learned slot about himself and senior night was a night of tears for me . It doesn't matter what the pool is like what matters is the way they walk away as graduates and the lessons learned. This cannot be taught in a classroom. I highly recommend TPHS swim programs, they have the best I highly recommend Tinley Park High School for anyone who loves a small school atmosphere and teachers that honestly care! Thanks for reading! GO TITANS!!'

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