Not Too Cool for the Pool

Over the weekend, while taking her dogs on an evening walk in Mount Washington, my girlfriend and I bumped into about 15 teenage boys who just happened to be walking along the same street we were.

Over the weekend, while taking her dogs on an evening walk in Mount Washington, my girlfriend and I bumped into about 15 teenage boys who just happened to be walking along the same street we were.

It was around 10 p.m. and, while we were on the sidewalk, the mass of juveniles decided the street was their domain and walked right down the center of it. That, in turn, forced cars on the relatively busy street to slow to an almost crawl to get around them.

As they walked passed Charlie, the cutest little black pug you could ever know, and me, I said hello. One of the boys piped up and said he would "kick the shit out of your little dog."

Charlie might be small, but he's a tough dog who has a problem with self-control if he thinks someone in his "pack" might be threatened. Coupled with an ability to open his mouth as wide as a Muppet and several sharp teeth, the boy who said that might not have realized how badly his ankles would hurt after the confrontation.

School's out in Cincinnati and soon to be around the rest of the region. With that comes the freedom to be out late for many young people usually forced indoors by parents or curfews.

There needs to be something to do for these kids, some guidance and leadership-teaching that can steer them toward positive activities.

In a town that prides itself on a massive park system and recreation commission, those options seem to be lacking.

Of the city's 39 public pools, about half opened May 31. The rest will open June 9, and nearly all will stay open until just before students return to the Cincinnati Public Schools in August, a departure from past years.

Each pool will be open for a few hours each day — some with longer hours than others — but none are open Monday through Friday noon until 8 p.m., as they once were. There used to be more pools, more than 50, and all pools were open Memorial Day through Labor Day. City budget shortfalls have disallowed such luxuries.

But at what cost? When I was a teenager, the YMCA was my playground. Starting from swimming lessons when I was in kindergarten, I can remember the positive influences and the many adults who took an interest in my growth and development.

Much of this came from my many camp counselors — because I had two parents who worked full-time — when I was dropped off at day camp Monday through Friday to play outside. I learned to behave and share with others, got OK skills in four-square and swam for hours, fingers shriveled in the Y's deep-water swimming pool.

When I was 13, I began volunteering as a Y junior camp counselor, then later was invited to join the Y's teen youth group, called the "Leaders Club," which required a minimum of five volunteer service hours per month just to remain a member. And all that was great fun.

Without those experiences, I doubt I would be who I am today.

I wonder about the teenagers who walk the streets of Mount Washington bullying grownups. What opportunities do they have? It doesn't seem like there are many.

Passes at all of the city's recreation commission pools cost money. Some, like the one in Washington Park near my house, cost $5. The Mount Washington pool's pass cost $10.

You would be surprised which kids come from families that cannot afford even the $5 fee, said Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, who has taken an active interest in providing opportunities for young people.

Councilwoman Laketa Cole's pool pass giveaway, where she raises private dollars to pay for passes for children, arrived a little late last year: July 20, about a month before the pools actually closed.

So instead the priority becomes adding police to go after the kids who idly threaten people, who could have otherwise been offered something to do with their time.

"Summer should be a period in time where we grow people — grow them physically, intellectually, financially," Mallory said.

In April, the mayor hosted a job fair that 2,500 youth and 180 potential employers attended. That's a step toward giving young people the chance to make positive choices. It proves there is a hunger.

"(A job) gives them a work ethic and gives them exposure to positive peers and helps them develop skills that they will need to be successful later in their lives," Mallory said.

It's a front-ended approach that might take years to bear fruit, but the end result will undoubtedly be better for everyone. It's all about priorities.

Contact Joe Wessels: [email protected]

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