Third Ward-based swim team holds annual festival, highlighting water safety for children

Brandon Hamilton Image
Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Third Ward-based swim team aims to lessen drownings during festival
The International Water Safety Day Festival highlights drowning prevention for children at Texas Southern University with a Third Ward swim team.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- With the official start of summer just days away, water safety is at the forefront of parents' and the community's minds.

How can everyone help prevent drownings?

For the swim team Johnnie Means Aquatics, it starts by encouraging swimming lessons at an early age.

The team, based in Houston's Third Ward, held its third annual International Water Safety Day Festival at Texas Southern University in conjunction with the Gamma Phi Sigma Alumni Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.

"This is an opportunity our children deserve, and they are worthy to have long and fruitful lives. We shouldn't take any risks with their lives," chapter president Kolby Robinson said.

Robinson's 5-year-old twins' swim time was only inside a tub until the lessons at TSU's on-campus swimming pool.

"We should be doing everything we can to make sure in all areas they are safe and productive human beings," she said.

For Coach Johnnie Means, whom the club is named after, teaching children how to swim in an equitable way is personal.

"It's all about water safety to lessen the amount of fatalities we've been having over the years," he said.

Means, a legendary swimmer and coach, fought for the desegregation of the sport in Texas. He also started a swim team at TSU in 1963.

"As you know, our community as African Americans, we have the largest group of kids that are drowning. We're on the Gulf Coast, where a lot of people live around water. So, it's important for us to be able to get these kids to learn to swim, understand the value of swimming, and be able to save themselves, if necessary," he said.

According to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the number one cause of death for children ages 1-4.

The agency's data shows that drowning death rates for Black people were 28% higher in 2021 than in 2019.

Data also shows that only 28%of Hispanic and 37% of Black people have taken swimming lessons.

"It's okay if you don't know how to swim, but let's go ahead and get that journey started so that we know how to swim," Maritza McClendon said.

McClendon, a silver medalist and member of Sigma Gamma Rho, was the featured guest speaker. She is the first African American woman to make the USA Swim Team and earn a medal.

"Unfortunately, our Black and brown communities are plagued more than any other community out there, and it includes the adults, not just the kids. This is a family activity," she said.

McClendon was able to teach safe practices, including how to get into a pool.

"Slowly, it's not just jumping in. You don't know how deep the water is," she added.

Candess Tucker and Dominique Hamilton are coaches who run Johnnie Means Aquatics.

For this event, junior coaches also played a pivotal role in helping with lessons.

"For me, at least, it's just as important as walking. It's a life skill you need to have," junior coach Chirsten Mayo said.

RELATED: 3 tips to keep your children safe around the pool this summer