Knowing how to swim is a lifesaving skill. According to The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, 107 children 17 and younger drowned in the state in 2016. Several park board employees have made it their mission to pass along this valuable skill to children through a nonprofit learn-to-swim program.
Kara Harrison and Tony Pryor, both members of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol, are among several lifeguards and other community members who coach the Galveston Island Swim Team. Pryor, head coach for the GIST, has been involved in the program since 1998, and Harrison, the assistant head coach, began participating in 2009.
The program’s goal is to provide every team member an opportunity to improve their swimming skills and achieve success at his or her level of ability. Team members range in age from 4 to 18.
The GIST is comprised of a learn-to-swim program and a competitive swimming program. Pryor said participants can take away much more from the program than just swimming basics.
“Hopefully, they will want to become more involved in competitive swimming,” Pryor said. “And if they stick with it, swimming can be a lifelong pursuit that has many health and fitness benefits.”
During his nearly 20-year tenure as swim coach, Pryor has interacted with hundreds of students. He said several of them have gone on to compete in college and on the state level. Some have also become part of the beach patrol.
“Our learn-to-swim coach, Cheyenne Herrera, has been helping for about five years,” Harrison said. “She actually learned to swim at the swim team and was one of Tony’s swimmers when she was younger.”
The swim lessons take place at the indoor pool at Ball High School and are held year-round. Competitive swimming participants are encouraged to train at least two days a week, but can train up to four days each week. Throughout the year, swim meets allow participants to compete with other area swim teams in long-course and short-course events.
Harrison said there are 50 to 80 kids on the swim team every year, but the number tends to swell during Summer Olympics years. For more information about the GIST, visit www.teamunify.com.
Park board meetings are open to the public and the public may address the board of trustees during the meetings. Park board meetings are typically held on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 1:30 p.m. at 601 Tremont St. If you are interested in seeing a park board issue discussed in this column, or if you have any questions, please send them my way. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.